In these fretful days when many consumers and businesses are refocusing on cost control, comparison site Uswitch raised the perennial issue of unused data allowances. Uswitch has been banging this drum for some time, but has largely failed to ignite interest in the issue because, to be frank, people like the predictability of contracts and didn’t used to care if they ‘wasted’ a bit of data each month. They were more concerned that they didn’t get charged overage fees.

Uswitch has put a new spin on the story for the COVID-19 era by revealing that at least £165 million of data – and to be frank, probably far more – has gone unused by UK customers because people are working from home and using WiFi and broadband rather than their mobile data allowances, resulting in a 21% drop in usage. That’s not true of everyone, though, because key workers are using 11% more data, and people living in rural areas may have no choice but to use a mobile data connection. But you get the idea – overall mobile data usage is down.

Uswitch asked customers what they’d like to do with their ‘leftover’ data. This revealed that:

  • 38% would like it to be rolled over
  • 22% would like the cost of it to be refunded
  • 19% would like to donate it either to charities or essential workers.

It has to be said that some service providers already offer the ability to roll data over – Sky and Virgin Media being cases in point. Others allow rollovers on specific deals.

But Sky really has the data highground here, as not only does it offer roll over of data into its ‘PiggyBank’ feature, but it also enables customers to swap the value of unused data for discounts on new devices, movie rentals or other perks. The company has confirmed that between 23 March and 3 May 2020, its customers saved over £36 million as a result of banking unused data.

Vodafone and EE have offered help in other ways – providing (temporary) free unlimited data upgrades for essential workers; while all fixed broadband companies have lifted data caps on their services.

But what’s curious is that no-one has acted on the other finding of the Uswitch survey. A fifth of customers – and likely more if the feature was publicised – would like to donate their unused data to others. Whether that’s to NHS workers or other key workers, to charities, or even potentially to those struggling financially or to isolated elderly people and so on. This converts a customer perception that something is being wasted (an uncomfortable sense of wastage or loss) into a perception that something is being altruistically donated (a warm fuzzy feeling of helpfulness). It also turns service providers from zeros to heroes, as Sky has shown us.

Donating data is something that’s not technically difficult to do with a modern convergent charging system. Cerillion’s Dominic Smith says: “Donating data or credit to other users is a natural evolution of the old family account concept. Now, instead of accounts needing to be related within a customer structure to share a balance, the latest charging systems enable users to transfer data to any other account. This really fits in with the idea of the Sharing Economy that we’ve seen grow so much over the last few years, and this allows CSPs to be seen as the digital enablers of such a service.”

In Omnisperience’s opinion service providers have everything to gain from Data Donation and very little to lose. But maximising the benefit for both customers and service providers means not just offering the facility, but being able to communicate the value to the customer.

This is a point that Soft-ex’s Grainne Magfhloinn emphasises. “Providing feedback to the customer on the bill about how their donated data has been used is a great way to engage customers. Just as it’s possible to highlight a customer’s own usage, it’s also possible to provide a message explaining how much data customers have donated to good causes, or to highlight someone who’s been helped as a result of the scheme. Bills are an important means of communication with customers – whether you’re asking for payment, explaining usage, providing information about additional products that would help the customer or, as in this case, adding a value-adding message. In this way, the bill can be transformed into a more proactive and positive experience. “

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa is the Chief Analyst at Omnisperience and has over 25 years' experience in the telecoms and technology markets. She is an expert on SME and enterprise telecoms, and has considerable vertical market expertise. Her research focus lies in helping B2B telecoms firms become more commercially successful by better understanding and meeting their customers' needs. She is a judge of the GSMA Global Mobile Awards (GloMo's) for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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