Vodafone expands their High St footprint

Vodafone recently announced plans to invest £100m in opening 150 new stores around the UK over the next year. This will develop their high-street footprint to over 500 stores, but why would a brand like Vodafone be investing in the high street when it costs so much and they already have a great online offering?

This is just one part of the Vodafone strategy. They are also ploughing an enormous amount of cash into improving their network so that over 98% of the country has access to their data services by 2015.

If the service itself is developed to be one of the best available then the customer service needs to match and having a mix of online and offline service channels does make sense. Many customers – even tech-savvy ones – often find it easier to go and talk to a real person about their phone problems so by placing the Vodafone team at the heart of almost every shopping centre in the country they will create a natural advantage over similar brands.

This strategy really confirms that customer service can be a key differentiator – it can make the difference between a customer using your service or not – assuming that the baseline of having a good product is there. If people see that Vodafone not only has a good online service centre, but is also in every local shopping centre then that will be a compelling reason for many people to use their service.

Customer service once again becomes the central part of an entire business strategy for a major brand.

Vodafone F1 racing car


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How should brands respond to customers on Twitter?

A Twitter user was fed up of being late for work so he tweeted the train service he used – London Overground – and begged them to improve their punctuality. He claimed that if he was late for work one more time then his employer was going to start docking his wages. The response from the London Overground Twitter account was succinct and suggested that if he wants to be on time he should leave home earlier.

This direct response has divided the Twitter community with some agreeing with the rail company for merely pointing out the truth and others who believe that the service is so poor that it cannot be relied on – lending weight to his original complaint.

But what really divided the online community is not whether London Overground or the twitter user was right or wrong, but the directness of the reply. Should a brand send a public message that is perhaps obvious, but not very respectful, as a reply to a question? Isn’t the customer always right?

In many cases this direct approach can work. Brands like Tesco Mobile use very direct Twitter messages to good effect. They don’t hold back.

But it is hard to get right. Irony or sarcasm is very difficult to convey using short text messages so the safest advice to brands is just to use text-based tools like Twitter in a very literal way – say what you mean and try to keep it positive.

London Overground


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How can virtual shopping work in real life?

I have often pondered what the retailer of the future may look like. The current struggle for most is to create an omnichannel where the online environment blends with the high street – allowing the ease of online retail with the realities of being able to see and touch products.

But where else might it go? I have seen retailers in South Korea that created virtual supermarket shelves inside a city metro station, allowing shoppers to scan items with their smart phone while waiting for a train – neatly blending the idea of physical shelves with virtual orders.

Now Tesco has created a virtual store within the Oculus Rift virtual reality system (recently bought by Facebook for $2bn). It might offer the option to pop into a virtual store while on a train journey or even from the office, but is this kind of sci-fi solution really going to take off?

I think that for most people, the existing online store is good enough anyway. If you want to buy a litre of milk, it’s easy to search for milk and to select what you want, without needing to simulate what you would do in a real store.

Where I do think that technology will move into real stores further is in augmented reality. Google Glass is already available to regular consumers and now they are striking deals with fashion brands – so there will soon be versions of Glass designed by brands such as Ray Ban or Oakley.

When this kind of discovery tool is common, retailers in physical stores should explore how they can help customers by offering information in real time. Customers should be able to find offers, find a product in an unfamiliar store, find recipes or advice or reviews and all then they are in front of the actual products, thanks to a tool like Glass.

This would combine the best of the information available online with the real physical experience of visiting a store. When is it going to happen? I would be surprised if some retailers have not already started exploring this kind of option now.

Oculus RiftPhoto by Sarah Roth licensed under Creative Commons


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Companies that thrive don’t only think about the sale

Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies is often help up as an example of an entrepreneur who started small and over the years has built a global empire of businesses – and all along following his own sense of how a business should operate.

He recently wrote a feature in Entrepreneur magazine that sends a logical message about business, but one that is often forgotten – your company does not exist to only serve customers.

Branson says: “Companies that survive and thrive over the long term have more significant interactions with their customers than just conducting transactions; great businesses are places where problems are solved and lives are improved. A sense of mission helps such enterprises to keep sight of the bigger picture.”

He suggests that all kinds of interactions with customers and potential customers beyond just the process of selling them something can be significant for a company – it’s all about interacting with the community around your business.

This kind of advice flies in the face of many business gurus who advise a laser-like focus on making the sale, but I think Branson’s view is right – in the long term a business needs to find a place in the community where it exists.

Branson suggests sending your team into local schools as volunteers. This helps to give the kids a real view on what people do at work and the business starts forming a relationship with future customers and employees at an early age.

This is just one idea, but it’s a good one. At Teleperformance our Citizen of the World programme encourages similar activities that allow our team to interact with their community. It’s not just about doing good for the sake of it – it helps the community and it can help your business too.

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson during the opening keynote at CTIA Wireless in Las Vegas, NV.


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Every telco complaint in a single database

Imagine a database of complaints against telcos that is freely available online for customers. It’s a proposal that has been put forward by public utility regulators in the USA recently as an idea that would allow consumers to easily compare the customer service of competing firms.

Of course this is not a radical idea, it is just a regulator suggesting that those in charge of managing regulated companies might want to learn from review and comparison tools that already exist. In the hotels business, everyone takes Tripadvisor seriously now, but an industry regulator did not create it and it works globally – not in just one market.

Regulated businesses such as telcos, banks, and insurance firms do need to start taking the service they provide more seriously. They do compete with each other in their own markets, but that competition is usually on price. If the USA example shows that regulators want to start highlighting service too then there is nothing to stop similar measures in the UK.

Many comparison engines already exist in the UK allowing customers to compare pre and post pay packages from every phone operator. It would not need a regulator to add service quality and complaints on these existing tools – how long before it happens anyway?

Leave a comment on the blog here if you think this will happen soon or just tweet me on @simondillsworth.

complaint deptPhoto by Tamara licensed under Creative Commons


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Are people really worried about protecting their personal data?

A recent article on the Engage Customer blog described new research by Mintel that found how consumers of all ages are concerned about data privacy online, but younger Millennial consumers are over-sharing data far more than their Baby Boomer parents.

At first sight, this is obvious. Take a look at the Facebook wall of a younger person and it’s often filled with photos and highly personal information shared openly to a relatively large group of friends – usually numbering several hundred people. This is usually not the case when looking at the Facebook wall of their parents – who often find the concept of openly sharing information slightly bizarre and dangerous.

But the Mintel study did notice some specific differences in attitude beyond this generic difference in attitudes to privacy.

60% of Millennials will happily share personal information with marketers, but older consumers are much more protective when contacted by brands. Millennials would even reveal highly personal information if they were going to be rewarded in return – like a shopping voucher in return for their age, contact details, and ‘likes’ on Facebook.

But when asked for an old-fashioned home address, rather than a like on Facebook, the older consumers are much more likely to give this away than the Millennial generation. 40% of Baby Boomers are happy to give brands their home address compared to 38% of Millenials.

We are entering a new generation where social sharing has become a way of life for an entire generation. A major change in attitudes to privacy could be the only thing that derails this social future, but it doesn’t look like this will change any time soon – not for the Millennial generation anyway.


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When will the set-top box be replaced by an app?

Total Telecom published an article recently that featured several commentators arguing that the set-top box (STB) is here to stay. It is argued that the operators can create much stickier customers if the customer is forced to use a piece of hardware, rather than just selecting the operator as an app on their smart TV.

The numbers do support this theory. 270 million STBs were sold worldwide in 2013, up 8% on the year before and this is predicted to increase further to 286 million units this year. The market for STBs is expected to be worth over $2bn by 2017.

But doesn’t all this excitement about the sale of STBs rather miss the point?

Do the operators really believe that their customers are staying loyal to them just because they cannot find the time or energy to replace their STB with that used by a rival operator?

If my own provider suggested that they could eliminate my STB and replace all that functionality with a cloud-based app on the TV then I would feel more inclined to remain with them.

There is a strange contradiction in the growth of the STB market because pressure on margins means that they are almost certainly going to be discarded at some point in the future. Once one major operator ditches the STBs and goes for the cloud, surely all of them will need to follow?

What do you think? Is the set-top box really here for the long term? Leave a comment on the blog here or tweet me on @simondillsworth.

Something satisfying about hacking hardware


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