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Consumer Cellular remains focused amid increased competition

Finding a successful niche in the wireless space is no easy task, especially for a company providing wireless services. With four nationwide operators spending billions each year on advertising and serving more than 90% of the nation’s wireless needs, dozens of smaller players are left to fight over the remains.

One company that has found such a niche is Consumer Cellular, which through its nearly 19 years of existence has become the go-to carrier for wireless customers of a certain … maturity. Consumer Cellular CEO John Marick admits that the company’s focus on older wireless users may not lead to it rivaling the size and scale of rivals, but it has allowed the company to target the market differently than those larger players.

Marick explained that Consumer Cellular’s customer base allows the operator to stand back and wait a bit in terms of the latest technology or in following trends, which in turn allows for more efficient use of resources.

“We are able to be a fast follower to the market, which allows us to see how certain devices or offerings impact operations,” Marick said.

That is not too say that Consumer Cellular is not on top of offering the latest in devices and services. Despite having a customer base perceived as not being the most tech-savvy, Consumer Cellular does offer a broad assortment of smartphones to its customers and has for several years. The company rolled out smartphones powered by Google’s Android operating system a few years back and announced last month plans to add Apple’s iPhone 5S, 5C and 4S to its lineup. Marick noted that the carrier was interested in offering the device sooner, but that it had to work through some billing issues with its host network operator AT&T.

Consumer Cellular iPhone 5

“We were seeing some customer losses as well as losing out on sales because we did not offer the iPhone,” Marick said. “If you watch the numbers, the senior demographic is one of the fastest growing segments of the market so there are real numbers involved.”

Marick added that the move to bring on Apple products was spurred by the broad adoption of Apples iPad lineup by Consumer Cellular’s customer base, which provided an opening in that those customers were already familiar with Apple’s iOS and were looking for ways to further integrate their experience.

One of the perceived challenges of targeting an older cliental is that those customers tend to be more particular about their wireless service. While a younger wireless customer has been raised on expecting their service to sometimes not work in some places, older customers could be seen as having higher expectations when it comes to their telecommunications needs.

Consumer Cellular seems to be dealing well with that perceived challenge as Consumer Reports recently scored the company highest in overall customer satisfaction among all wireless operators, distancing itself from the likes of Verizon Wireless and its own host partner AT&T Mobility. The results were no fluke as Consumer Cellular received similar high marks in 2012.

“We have definitely found seniors to be a loyal group, though demanding,” Marick said, adding that the company’s main goal in terms of customer service is to eliminate reasons for complaints. This seems to be a similar pattern espoused by T-Mobile US CEO John Legere in rolling out its’ “Un-carrier” plans designed to take away customer “pain points.”

In support of its service, Marick noted that the company has had to basically create its own back-office systems. While that was – and continues to be – plenty of work, Marick said it was necessary for the company to handle its unique customer base.

“We understand that sometimes our customer care call lengths may be longer than average, but that is just something we needed to accept when it came to catering to our customer base,” Marick explained.

Consumer Cellular is not the only operator targeting the adult market, as Great Call’s Jitterbug service also caters to older consumers. However, Marick does not see these other operators as direct rivals and instead views Consumer Cellular’s more direct competition to be coming from the family plan space.

“The knee-jerk reaction is to perhaps over-react,” Marick said. “With the latest news surrounding family plans and no-contracts from T-Mobile, I think it has driven more awareness for other offerings out there. The no-contract options are becoming well known. We have rolled out device financing options to compete. It’s not foreign to customers now since everyone else is doing it.”

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