Cellphone users would like loyalty perks

ByMichelle Kessler, USA TODAY

SAN FRANCISCO -- Business travelers already earn loyalty points from airlines and hotels. Why not for cellphone service?

A new study out today from researcher In-Stat says such a program would go a long way toward winning over these lucrative — but unhappy — customers.

In-Stat surveyed 935 business cellphone users. Of those who spend at least $150 a month on service, more than 60% say they don't think their carrier appreciates them. About 1.8% of this group switches carriers each month, In-Stat says. That's 40% more turnover than among customers who spend less than $50 a month.

Fixing the problem is simple, In-Stat analyst Bill Hughes says. Most heavy cellphone users are also travelers. (About 89% of travelers on the road more than half the time spend more than $75 a month, he says.) Travelers are used to loyalty programs offered by airlines, hotels and rental car companies. For that reason, a loyalty program is the No. 1 perk desired by big spenders, Hughes says.

"We should be recognized," says Bob Zigler, 62, a salesman in Newark, Del. Zigler spends 90 days a year on the road, and racks up a $190 monthly cell bill. Despite that, "right now I am not being offered anything (extra)," he says.

Loyalty programs allow members to accrue points for money spent or trips taken with a particular company. These points can be redeemed for goods and services, such as free flights or hotel rooms.

They're hugely popular. American Airlines amr alone gave more than 4 million awards last year.

Cellphone carriers say they're trying to satisfy customers in other ways. AT&T says it offers big discounts if customers sign up for long-term contracts.

Verizon vz says it's improving coverage. Sprint s has expanded its customer service. Both companies have also made it easier for customers to change cellphone plans.

Sprint has a loyalty program, but it's only offered to businesses that spend more than $250 a month. If more customers asked for it, "it is something we would definitely consider," spokesman Roni Singleton says.

Hughes says it wouldn't cost carriers much to offer loyalty programs. They could give perks such as free cellphone travel chargers or extra batteries that would encourage customers to use phones more, he says. "It wouldn't be a huge drain on resources," he says.

And the programs might even pay for themselves. A typical heavy cellphone user will spend more than $12,000 on service over the course of his or her life, Hughes says. Retaining these customers could eventually translate into big profits, he says.

Salesman Marc Rapport in West Hartford, Conn., says his cellphone service is only "decent," despite his usual $125 monthly bill. A loyalty program would be "a little perk to say thank you," says Rapport, 67, who is on the road about four days a week. "That could keep you from switching (carriers)."

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