Telecom firms 'shun clients'

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The Independent Online

The Institute of Directors has attacked telecommunications companies for failing to meet customers' needs in the stampede to hook up users to new technologies.

The institute warned that the "land grab" for customers would hit saturation point by the end of the year. Unless the telecoms companies started to offer value-added services, customers would drift.

The call coincides with the publication of research, exclusively obtained by the Independent on Sunday, which reveals that customer services don't figure highly in telecoms companies' thinking

Jointly sponsored by US technology giants Cisco and Oracle, it reveals that only 18 per cent of UK telecoms companies surveyed considered loyalty an important business driver, while 60 per cent said they preferred to focus efforts on finding new customers.

Jim Norton, head of e-commerce policy at the Institute of Directors, said: "I want this to be a shot across the bows of the telecoms companies. With the convergence of telecoms and IT, the companies have to realise their best asset is their customer base."

He added that the UK is at a "significant advantage" to many of its continental European and US rivals, with the wider use of digital TV and third-generation mobile phones. If the UK telecoms companies paid more attention to customers and started cross- selling services, "the UK could be top of the league table", he said.

Mr Norton cited mobile banking as a potential growth area, and phone companies' billing systems offered a "great opportunity for cross-selling".

John Donovan, regional sales manager at Cisco, said: "Customer interface is very poor. Look at the traditional call centre. Everyone has a horror story to tell.".

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