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What are the advantages and challenges of serving younger customers?

The "2007 Rural Youth Telecommunications Survey," conducted by the Foundation for Rural Service (FRS), found that nine out of 10 survey respondents between the ages of 14 and 24 have a cell phone. Rural telcos need to cultivate a relationship with these customers, but wooing a younger crowd can be challenging.

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Eric Vargas, customer operations director at The Ponderosa Telephone Co. (O'Neals, Calif.), looks to younger customers as a way of anticipating technological change and convergence. "Serving younger customers provides us with tremendous insight to the evolving telecommunications market because these customers will mature and change the conventional wisdom of where and how they want to manage their communication services," Vargas stated. "The advantage as a provider is that we can make sure our long-range plans include a convergence of communication products with greater control by the end-user. In the old days only the telephone company could turn on or turn off a feature. The challenge, of course, is keeping pace with converged technology and trying to stay one step ahead of this rapidly moving customer segment."

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Delbert Wilson, general manager at Hill Country Telephone Cooperative (Ingram, Texas), echoed that sentiment, adding that the mobility of younger customers makes them unique. "We see the advantages of serving the younger customers in enabling us to plan for the future by designing and deploying networks and associated services that meet their needs--services that will draw and encourage the younger customer to utilize our network," he stated. "The challenge in serving our younger customers is the tailoring of our network, products and services to meet the needs of the younger, more mobile customers."

Should rural companies rest on their laurels and let urban telcos dictate the industry standard as times and technologies change? Vickie Colaw, general manager at Spruce Knob Seneca Rocks Telephone Co. (Riverton, W.Va.), answered with an emphatic "no."

"Younger customers demand the latest and greatest technology. This creates challenges for us, but it also keeps us on the 'cutting edge' of technology as we endeavor to provide the best service possible in this ever-changing industry.

"Our new generation of subscribers does not care about the demographics of the area," Colaw stated. "Urban or rural, it doesn't matter. They do no accept the 'rural' excuse. This is a positive aspect, however, as younger customers' 'wants' tend to trickle down to the more mature [customers]. Younger customers want their parents and grandparents to be able to communicate with the same technology to which they are accustomed, such as e-mail, voice mail and the Internet."

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Those expectations keep rural telcos on their toes. Younger customers are tethered to their telecommunications devices--and providers--in ways that older generations never were, and that has telcos stretching to find ways to serve younger users.

"In order for rural telcos to reach and serve younger customers who comprise Generations X and Y, we must know their present communication needs, meet those demands efficiently, be accessible to them on their terms 24/7, deliver our marketing message without a lot of 'fluff' and get these messages delivered to them through non-traditional media sources," stated Janell King-Squires, director of marketing and sales at Heart of Iowa Communications Cooperative (Union, Iowa).

"The challenges rural telcos face is building and solidifying our relationships with younger customers, as well as building customer loyalty," she continued. "Younger customers now have many more choices of providers and means in which they communicate. Rural independent telcos need to have an in-depth and complete understanding of the lifestyles, communications needs, demands and purchasing behaviors of younger customers."

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But therein lies the rural telco's biggest advantage: When it comes to knowing customer needs, the rural telco can take advantage of the more personal relationships it maintains with customers. "The advantage for rural telcos is that we usually know many of the customers we serve, and can see, hear and meet their needs on a much more personal level," King-Squires stated. "The key here is that possibly we need to become better listeners to meet their demands for the future."

By Christian Hamaker, NTCA Managing Editor
COPYRIGHT 2008 National Telephone Cooperative Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:FIRST Person
Author:Hamaker, Christian
Publication:Rural Telecommunications
Article Type:Survey
Date:Jul 1, 2008
Words:686
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