In all the hub-bub surrounding new gadget launches and app. stores at the MWC event in Barcelona, most of the established mobile operators are treating their customers almost as an afterthought. So says Steve Bell, a 20-year Motorola veteran who has now set up his own consultancy, KeySo Global, to help industry players get more in tune with the customer experience, particularly when it comes to the mobile internet.

“Operators tend to put the consumer at the back-end of their decision-making processes where they build networks first and then think what to do with them,” he says. “We want to bring consumers into the front end of the process.” In turn, argues Bell, this will provide a quicker return on investment. According to Bell, there is too much ‘silo’ thinking in the mobile industry, where network suppliers, handset makers and application developers work separately without making a coordinated effort to work towards what consumers really want. 

But Bell is not targeting the tier one mobile operators, as he says their attitudes are “too entrenched in the old way of doing things”. Instead, he is targeting emerging operators, such as greenfield WiMAX players, the smaller suppliers of manufacturing devices, and application developers.

Helping KeySo in its task is Tom Grimm, CMO at Pam Murtaugh & Co, a specialist in analysing and quantifying the consumer experience and feelings associated with a service as a way to steer the direction of future service innovation. Although Grimm’s experience primarily lies in domestic products and the food & beverage industry, he believes the mobile sector can still learn from the tried and tested consumer testing techniques used elsewhere. “A consumer is a consumer,” he says. “Too often operators use the customer helpdesk as their source of service innovation by simply fixing what is wrong rather than taking a more forward-thinking approach to service development.” 

Bell believes there are opportunities to be had for WiMAX players, who are open to new ways of doing things, to establish strong market differentiators against incumbent operators.