Mobile phone shops’ sales methods must prioritize customer needs

Many people possess smartphones as a necessity for daily life. Major mobile phone companies need to step up their guidance to ensure that their sales agents give top priority to customer protection.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has compiled the results of a survey of mainly employees working at sales outlets for the three major carriers — NTT Docomo, Inc., KDDI Corp., which offers mobile phone service under the au brand name, and SoftBank Corp. — among other firms.

According to the survey, more than 40% of the respondents said that they have directed customers to choosing more expensive pricing plans without carefully confirming what the customers really want. A large number of employees said they have recommended expensive smartphones and accessories to customers without asking about their needs.

The ministry sets forth guidelines under the Telecommunications Business Law that consumers should be given sufficient explanations about fees and services so that mobile service contracts suit how the smartphones are actually used.

While the government is encouraging the reduction of cell phone service fees, it is a problem if shops are violating the guidelines and the practice of directing consumers toward expensive contracts has been rampant.

There are about 8,000 outlets affiliated with the three major carriers alone. Although they run under names such as “Docomo Shop” or “au Shop,” most of them are operated by other companies that do not have a capital relationship with the major carriers.

Their source of revenue is the sales incentives paid by the major carriers based on the amount of mobile phone service contracts and sales of handsets and additional options. In many cases, the major companies reportedly set sales targets and the higher the value of the contracts that outlets conclude, the higher the incentives.

These measures may have put pressure on the sales outlets, leading them to take customers lightly.

In the survey, some respondents said, “Not following sales targets would be a disadvantage for our business,” and “Success or failure in meeting the sales target affects my salary,” among other responses.

The major carriers have a responsibility to reexamine whether or not their current business practices are appropriate, to fully understand the actual situation of shops and to have outlets carry out customer-oriented sales. The ministry needs to strengthen its supervision.

This spring, the three major companies launched new plans, only available when applying online, with monthly fees of ¥3,000 or lower. There are concerns in the industry that in-person sales outlets will lose income and face a tougher business environment.

These shops remain important points of contact with customers. As the government moves forward with the digitization of society, they are also crucial for being consultation desks for elderly people who are confused about how to use smartphones. This function must further expand.

To promote the use of smartphones for administrative services, these shops are expected to play a role as a local base.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 9, 2021.