Customer experience

My telco divorce. How a continued focus on sales lead to relationship failure

There are some brands I just love. I’ve loved them a long time. I guess it’s complicated. We all know the story… we’ve had an exceptional customer service moment and their product just works brilliantly. But just like any relationship if it all gets a little too one sided it can leave you feeling like a mug. Ultimately this behaviour leads to churn. And businesses don’t care because they’ll simply continue to spend their way to acquire new customers.

It all started ever so young

Call me a tinkerer from taking apart the family toaster aged seven, to systematically dismantling a two-stroke engine (and failing to put it back together) I’ve always been interested in how things work and technology. When mobile phones came to the market for the masses I was washing dishes in a hotel at nights. I really wanted one. Securicor Telecom came to the rescue with an amazing Motorola. Of course, I had no use for it whatsoever. As things changed I got moved around to what became Cellnet in its various logo forms. I can’t remember how many handsets I’ve owned but they’ve always had the only operator SIM in them I trusted.

As time moved on I did the marketers dream – I recommended them. To everyone. I literally marched my whole family to their door… on the premise we’d all call each other most likely for free. What a perk. And I never missed a bill payment. Ever.


The step off the cliff

I’ve worked for a number of businesses over the years, filling my Trivial Pursuit pie. I wanted more diversity than I was getting at a single agency, rolling the usual pitches and client work. I knew I’d want to have my army of brands around me to make things easy to start consulting. They were all there willing to take the cash for going business grade and now I had VAT to contend with. Hello o2, my old friend.

Fast forward one whole year. Without a post mortem on the experience of working for myself it’s resulted in me thinking more, whilst at the same time working super hard and massively enjoying it. After all, every penny feels differently earned now.  I question why things are, realistically what could be different and what will be interesting. I observe and note things down more than ever, not in an OCD style but one where I want to think about common behaviours in brands.


The T-60

Much like the dreaded annual insurance policy game, 60 days before my new business grade contract came for renewal I received a text about when it would be convenient to receive a sales call. I got nudged three times before I responded. But then… no call. This was the start of the experience mapping. Whilst I completely appreciate most folks won’t naturally start plotting this, they will feel and share their sentiments with others.

After two weeks of no call I decided to forget about that as something that would happen. I’m sure they would have done… probably just a case of them calling when I was going through a tunnel, much like a birthday card getting lost in the post. Hello live chat. That’s great… available whenever I need it. But no… the operator didn’t have the tools or permission to offer me anything, that was either the contact centre or a store. How frustrating.

I decided to visit the store in Tunbridge Wells. Posh I know for a northerner. I was told to clear off, no one was available to see me for at least two hours. This was the beginning of the end. That was the very moment the relationship came crashing down where I felt like just another transaction ID, a record. I’m not under any false impression that this is how business at scale needs to operate but the core processes are focused around sales rather than in-life. 


A long comes a spider competitor

And there it was. In my moment of relationship downturn PlusNet target me with an offer – mates rates for having their broadband. Their offer is more than I’ve been getting for less than half the current cost. 25 years of loyalty went up in smoke. Why have I stuck with o2? Whatever have they done for me? The critical assessment starts.

Over the last year I’ve joined plenty of conference calls and online meetings where VoIP wasn’t an option. And did I find out the hard way that inclusive minutes are conditional for some of these numbers? No heads up, just getting spanked with a bill the month later. I didn’t even win the work I had the expensive call about, so double painful.

It made me think as a service provider they should intercept the call being placed with a note saying, “This is not included” I could then choose to have it read to me in future or turn the feature off. Helpful.

Then there’s a cryptic page on what numbers are and are not included. It’s like they’re trying to make it hard and catch you out. Being helpful to your customers is needed. A simple form to accept a number and generate a yes or no answer is all that is needed. With a push I could probably manage to code the process myself. It made me question who is looking at analytics with a pure in-life customer hat on? What’s their backlog? Who are they asking? 

Over the course of the year I tried to assess the value as a customer I received. A bill analyser tool that was an horrific user experience, some in-page Java app that ignored scrolling and just wanted to make life a little more difficult for the day you were attempting to use it. 

But how were they trying to help me with my consulting business? Did I receive anything? Did they come to me based on what I was doing? No, never. I needed to go to them for helpful content. The first challenge is, why would I think I need to go to my telco to get advice, what call to action? I did scan it out of curiosity but it was apparent there was little that could help me. And my bills had been paying agencies to come up with this stuff. Maybe they could have engaged with their customers to find out what really matters… like conference numbers… ahem.


The slap in the face

And there it was, I decided I was going to be as the industry likes to call it a ‘switcher’. I took to Live Chat to get the PAC code, but again that wasn’t a service the agent could deliver. I should have learnt my lesson. I called the customer services line and as soon I uttered the magic words, “Can I have my PAC please?” I was swiftly moved over to a retention team. When they asked what I was getting from Plusnet off the bat they said they’d match the price. So instead of being delighted with this, I leapt to full ripped-off anger. No thanks for the 25 years. Just another saved record on their part.


The transaction

The final blow was the PAC code delivered by a SMS. A 25 year relationship ended by a transaction. I wondered would o2 seek to follow up in any way by asking the five whys. On one hand I wanted to feel valued on the other I felt they were missing out valuable customer insight. I’ve been involved in telecoms business multiple times over the last 17 years. Yes, I am guilty as charged of designing these sales processes. The customer part always felt less shiny, not part of some glossy advertising campaign. It was never on the agenda. How wrong I’ve been. And no, o2, I very much doubt we’ll rekindle our love affair. Shame.

experience map
o2 Business experience map


How this be challenged by experience designers

People who know me have witnessed my obsession with trying to zoom out by plotting large diagrams to see everything on one page. Oh boy, I’ve used an enormous amount of plotter paper in my time. I don’t believe these interim deliverables should be designed to an inch of their life or take weeks on end to create. What matters is to create and action plan, get delivering and measuring it.

Job 1: create an experience map

There are multiple sources at the businesses disposal: social media, contact centre records, end of contract surveys. There’s no dark art to developing these, simply to decide on the X (macro and micro) lifecycle stages, Y emotional categories. Get plotting.

Job 2: gap analysis

Create a value model that measures each trough by the magical 3 customer outcomes:

  1. Will this enable the customer to purchase more from us?
  2. Will this be effective at stopping the customer from switching to a competitor?
  3. Will this enable the customer to share and talk about us?

Job 3: prioritise

Now be ruthless and look for the battlefields: what is most useful to everyone? You can’t change the whole customer journey, but you can know what will potentially have the biggest impact. Ultimately we want to give a damn about our customers (and not just prospects) and let them know.

Job 4: deliver, measure and budget switch

Prototyping, researching and designing the daylights out it. I’ve been there. Stop wasting your time. Go make. Go change. Go improve. And get data – which is the evidence to show why it works to the management team, shifting focus from constant sales initiatives, fixing churn, to being a magnetic brand that attracts customers because they outperform the competition.


A final word on banning the idea of separate experiences for sales and in-life customers

My recent revelation is that classic customer journey design is wrong. It starts with the blueprint of typically seven stages with a number of segments – both prospect and in-life customers.

This results in designed services that only work for these stages and consumer status types. I’ve found designing services that are for new customers (to explore and subscribe) and for existing customers (to deepen the community) can result in a ‘super-service’ that has value to all to make everyone feel valued. Of course the proof will be in the pudding when this launches in the Autumn, but at least I know there’s love for the existing customer at the heart of it. Which Telco will be the first to end the sales focus?

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