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PwC Study Sees Service As 'Key Differentiator' For Online Companies

Rushing to market before you're technically or operationally mature may be hurting your bottom line.
Having surveyed some 8,000 of its employees worldwide about the future of online media and service companies, global consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has come to a conclusion that's been common knowledge for a century, if not more: The customer is always right.

"Customer focus may very well be the key differentiator in the months and years to come," states PwC's recently released report, Convergence Monitor: Digital Home. "Such a focus means knowing your customers, offering them the best experience, and making sure your organization truly listens to customers while having the agility to reach quickly to their changing expectations."

Perhaps even more shocking than this bold restatement of the obvious is that customer service is still an issue among online companies. Almost half of the respondents expressed unhappiness with the level of customer service they receive. Some 46% said they'd pay more for an improvement, such as a reduction in the four-hour or all-day window of availability that cable companies ask their customers to endure.

PwC attributes this to a competitive environment that forces businesses to rush to market before they're technically or operationally mature.

Specifically in the case of cable companies, which often have no direct competition, this assertion may be somewhat off the mark. Last year, the New Millennium Research Council, a telecommunications and technology policy group, said "expanded competition for cable/video services could save consumers $22 million a day, as well as delivering a wide range of other social and economic benefits for individuals and the communities in which they live."

The survey predicts that Internet access -- access, mind you, not anything to do with the production of content -- will be the fastest growing consumer segment of the entertainment and media industry, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.9% and a market value of $214 billion within the next four years.

It also says the global market for music downloads will grow at a CAGR of 59.2% to reach $6.2 billion by 2010. No doubt this will hearten those in the music industry contemplating unemployment in light of the 20% decline in CD sales during the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

The survey indicates "that customers are willing to pay for legal downloads, with 40% of respondents paying for music they download." If that means 60% of respondents don't pay for music they download, you have to wonder whether music piracy is rampant at PwC. [A PwC spokesperson said the firm has a policy against such behavior and notes that the 60% figure merely reflects a desire not to pay for music downloads.] PwC employees answered the survey questions and as the executive summary of the report makes clear, "As we talk about consumers throughout the report, we stress that we are referring to our survey population as opposed to the general population of consumers at large."

In light of its findings, PwC recommends that businesses make an effort to understand their customers and that they invest in ways to make them happier. Perhaps in another century, the message will get through.

Editor's note: This story was altered on March 28 to add PwC's statement that the company has a policy against music piracy.