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Monday, 2 August 2010

The mobile phone industry is still bonkers

Orange and customers
don't mix?

In 2002 during a management training course I was taught the old premise that every penny spent on fire protection saved a pound (or was it a hundred pounds) on fire-fighting and recovery, and that this should serve as a lesson when dealing with customers.

If this theory holds then surely the whole mobile phone industry is collectively insane.

Clearly there is strong competition in the UK mobile services market; so why has the competitive market failed - at least given my own experiences - to drive an improvement in customer services?

Is this really the best capitalism has to offer?

Over the 13 or so years that I've owned a phone, an almost-annual tradition has emerged; a tradition I've come to dread:- dealing with whatever company I find myself with in order to strike the best deal or obtain a PAC code in order to transfer my number.

Stressful elements include the time needed to get through to a person able to improve the initial paltry offering, explaining the same facts to several people on the way, and the sheer pettiness shown by the phone companies at times - in stark contrast to the deal eventually struck.

On the occasions I've made up my mind before calling that I simply want a PAC code in order to move my number, I embark on the process with a resignation that there's probably going to be 45 minutes of my life I'll never get back wasted on a process that should be possible to complete in seconds over the internet.

Very little has changed and I don't understand why companies still prefer to rely on fire-fighting through freebies and enticements in order to appease customers whose frustrations stem from poor customer service.

Phone companies seem to be wasting relatively large sums of cash dealing with fires started by their own staff and systems.

My experience today dealing with Orange in the UK must surely go a fair way towards proving that just a few more pence (per customer) spent avoiding some customer service snags could save deploying the industry-standard fire-fighting technique (a bundle of freebies) costing approximately £50.

Orange UK's ability to wind me up at every juncture over the last 4 days ended up costing them:
- 1 free "spare" Nokia handset delivered to my door
- 1 free 3G SIM card
- 6 months free voicemail access
- £10 free top-up

UPDATE 3-Aug-10: Phone arrived in under 24 hours but SIM card arrived without the promised £10 credit and did not get me a 3G connection. After 90 minutes trying to contact Orange I gave in and finally demanded my PAC.  What looks like my PAC code came by text amidst a bunch of 20 (TWENTY) blank texts.  Make of this what you will!

All this was offered despite me being a no-ties pay-as-you-go customer, which makes me question whether techniques such as this represent an efficient model for customer service, and if not, what is the cost to the end customer in terms of higher call and service charges?

So why did it all kick off, and how could Orange have avoided this?

For various reasons I find myself in possession of:
- An orange pay-as-you-go SIM that won't let me access 3G data services (but is linked to my primary mobile number)
- O2 and T-mobile pay-as-you-go SIMs that will let me access 3G data services but not linked to the phone number I use every day
- A nice new Android phone

Friday: Message sent to Orange via the "contact us" option after signing into "My Account" on the Orange website. Note: no website facility to request PAC code or request SIM upgrade etc - seemingly entirely reliant on call centres.

Saturday: Receive an email: "message cannot be delivered - will retry" - odd, since I sent my original message via a form on their website. So many technical concerns with this method of message delivery I won't even start!

Monday 9am: checked the Orange website. No option to request a PAC code, no option to request a SIM upgrade.

10am: call in at the Orange shop in Farnham. They advise me to go home and phone Orange customer services and be offered a free SIM upgrade.

11:45am: Call placed to Orange customer services. Mildly outraged by the announcement that I would be charged a one-off fee for calling customer services (this alone was almost enough to make me want to change networks), I was further aggravated by:

a.) Being placed on hold

b.) Appalling abrasive on-hold music (what happened to Brahms?!)

c.) Being told by the customer services team that I needed to talk to sales, call transferred after a small additional wait

d.) Being told by sales that I would be charged for a 3G SIM, at which point I asked for my PAC code to change networks (the smart choice, given my experience to date) and was told I needed to be...

e.) ... transferred back to a customer service representative! After another short time on hold I could hardly hear the guy speak due to a very faint line - not great for a telco - and after struggling through security questions, I was told - you can probably guess - that I needed to be transferred to another department!

12:15am: I'm now speaking to a customer retention representative. I was quick to point out that I wanted to leave Orange, so why wasn't I speaking to a "here's your PAC code" representative?

At this point I need to apologise to the kind lady who clearly spends her whole life dealing with sarcastic comments from people like me who've spent what feels like a lifetime trying to sort out something which frankly should not be this hard to sort out.

But there's a clear lesson: these shenanigans not only cost me quite a bit of my own time, but given that surely I can't be the only person in such a situation, customer helplines are probably needlessly clogged up with frustrated customers.

On one hand any company can attempt to save money by "streamlining" their front line services, using lower-ranking staff to attempt to deal with standard queries by offering standard services.

But when this streamlining only serves to exacerbate customer frustrations then surely it's time to question whether it would not be better to simply connect each customer to a person qualified and authorised to deal with a wide range of customer problems?

Surely this approach would not only reduce the total number of customer-hours handled across all call centres, but also help present a more positive image to the customer.

At the very least, the company should attempt to ensure the range of "standard services" offered by front line staff closely match their customers' needs:

When there's clearly so much competition in a market, under what circumstances would a mobile phone company want to charge an existing customer for a replacement SIM?

It really should have been so simple...

Friday: receive an email from Orange, new SIM is on the way (or option to collect from shop)


Monday: Orange shop offers SIM upgrade over-the-counter.


10:45am: Call answered, SIM upgrade offered.


1 comment:

  1. I've just had an appalling experience with TalkTalk. I don't even want to go into it - I'll save that for Ofcom. But I agree with every word here. What is the rationale behind alienating customers? I never, never want to deal with TalkTalk again, not for the rest of my life. Super commercial result.


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