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Customer experience is a mindset, not just a function of technology

Customer experience has become an important focus area for us, as we work with companies that provide solutions that help operators deliver a better experience to customers. There are many innovations that take raw data, process it and provide insights to operators – and they are getting more interesting each year, as new capabilities such as AI and machine learning are incorporated, and as systems are integrated to remove silos.

It’s all very impressive, not to say important, and we love working with these solutions, which are often very exciting. But while technology offers considerable benefits, it’s only part of the solution. Culture and staff attitudes matter too. Successful companies are able to capitalise on innovations in technology as well as striving to build a culture that delivers customer satisfaction and a better experience. The two cannot simply be separated. This is hardly a revelation, but what is surprising is how little attention mobile operators seem to pay to this.

In widely reported news, UK consumer organisation Which? recently announced the results of a new survey of mobile subscribers – and the results should serve as a wake-up call to operators. The results revealed widespread dissatisfaction with traditional MNOs, many of which make a lot of noise about their investments in customer service, contact centres and technology. It seems that, despite this, MVNOs with much lighter infrastructure – and, in many cases, no call centres at all – rank much higher in terms of customer satisfaction.

So, what are they doing right? Some personal examples illustrate the frustration that many consumers feel about their mobile provider. Just before Christmas, I lost a mobile phone. The replacement – provided under the insurance policy held with Vodafone – was shipped relatively quickly and without too much fuss. However, the replacement SIM that was also delivered hadn’t been activated in Vodafone’s systems. Indeed, they had no record of it, so couldn’t activate it remotely and a second had to be sent. Although this worked, I then noticed recurring problems with the device, which required frequent resets, restores and updates. A call to support might help, but then problems would recur. During more than a month of growing frustration, there had been many conversations with the support team – but getting to the right people was difficult, time consuming and incredibly irritating, largely due to the fact that they persisted on playing the same dreadful song while I waited in the queue!

After some weeks, I was asked to return the device to a Vodafone store, which I duly did, only to be turned away by the local manager, who claimed it was not possible to deal with the issue in store. Further complaints ensued. Since the issue was now clearly identified as hardware-related, it was interesting that Vodafone didn’t just send out a new device. Finally, Vodafone agreed on a return and the device was left in the capable hands of an extremely helpful manager from a different branch.

Now, let’s compare this with Amazon. A recent delivery was left in the street outside my house and not in the usual safe place. A complaint was made, which was swiftly followed by an apology. There’s not much else they could do, but it was nice to be acknowledged. However, this was a multi-part delivery and the final parcel was forced through the letterbox, in the process of which, the package was damaged.

Cue a further complaint. Instead of prevaricating, Amazon immediately acknowledged the issue and shipped a replacement item. I am about to return the damaged book via the freepost service. No arguments about responsibility or anything else. Amazon took immediate action, neither accepted nor admitted liability, just said “sorry”, and got on with remedying the situation.

Now, one could argue that a book is a low-cost item, whereas an iPhone has much greater value and so Vodafone can’t simply ship new devices on the say-so of a customer. Well, before Christmas, a very large shipment containing a number of expensive presents was left with a neighbour. The neighbour failed to answer when I knocked on the door and, after a couple of days with Christmas rapidly approaching, I contacted Amazon via an email from the website to tell them that the parcels had still not been received – and how important the delivery was.

Within minutes, the phone rang. This was customer service, telling me that replacements had been found, that they would be dispatched, and that Christmas would be just fine. If the original shipment was found, then they would be much obliged if I returned the items, but regardless, they were happy to help.

Customer service? Customer excellence. At no time did I have to validate my identity (three times) on an IVR, there was no queuing, no on-hold music and, most importantly, no arguing about liability. Amazon treated me like an intelligent, honest customer. Vodafone treated me as an irritation.

There is a world of difference here. But, this is not a technical issue. It’s a matter of trust, culture and values. There may be all kinds of reasons to criticise the global behemoth that is Amazon, but its customer service is faultless. The people with whom I interacted via email and via the phone could not have been more helpful or more interested in resolving the situation. Vodafone won’t even speak to me unless I have authenticated myself – even if I am in a public place, or even if I had already done so via the IVR. Some agents are great, others less so. This is a matter of empowering people to do their jobs, enabling them to make decisions without reference to others and providing the easiest solution. If something is wrong, fix it.

In the case of Vodafone, it’s not as if I am an unknown subscriber. I have had a contract with them for more than 10 years. I spend a lot more than average, as I travel frequently and have done so throughout the contract period. I also pay for multiple accounts, as we are too small a company to have a single account (we can’t be bothered to face all the rounds of credit checks that are, apparently, necessary).

All of this is – or ought to have been known – and yet Vodafone either doesn’t have a way to have a global view of an account (yes, that’s a technical issue) or doesn’t care to investigate (a personal issue). In short, it’s a mess.

Amazon, on the other hand, trusted me and has all the information it needs at its fingertips – and yet there were no awkward questions, just a willingness to help. Now, this wasn’t handled via a call centre but through a generic email enquiry form, which was followed by direct contact with a representative. When I tried to complain about the delays and poor service to Vodafone, it was impossible to do so via the call centre. I had to complain via a form on the website, which promised an answer within a specified time period. It then took up to the limit of this time to receive an answer – and still no resolution.

And that sums it up. Amazon takes customer service seriously and Vodafone clearly does not, which is why it has been singled out as the worst performing mobile operator for seven years in a row. Why are MVNOs (generally) better? Because, while they may not have a call centre, they can adopt a culture of customer service, which means they have certain presumptions about customers and their behaviour.

Data analytics, predictive modelling and segmentation may make their marketing smarter, but in the end, customer service is down to a willingness to do things properly and not to hide behind processes. Unless and until Vodafone (and others) learn this, it won’t matter how much they spend on advanced CEM solutions, they still won’t get things right.