Is T-Mobile leading the way in listening to customers?

The CEO of T-Mobile US, John Legere, has promised to shake up the entire telco industry with a series of recent blog posts highlighting a new deal for his customers.

This quote from one of his blogs last week shows how agressive he is prepared to be in setting out T-Mobile as a different kind of phone company – an ‘un-carrier’ as he puts it:

“It’s been fascinating to watch the big, fat old-guard carriers stumble as they try to respond and slow the change we are driving into this industry,” he wrote. “I don’t know whether to laugh or cringe as they try to present themselves as anything other than the merciless greedy utilities they are.”

He is openly calling his competition merciless and greedy. That’s probably how most people would refer to all telcos, but he is trying to change some standard industry practices that really could lead to a better deal for all consumers.

A good example is data use. T-Mobile has announced a new $40 package that includes a 500MB data allowance. Typically if customers broke their data limit then data would either just stop working or be charged at a very high per-mb rate.

T-Mobile is now just throttling back the speeds clients can use on their phones if they have exceeded the limit. This still allows them to access the Internet, just not as fast as they might need to when playing a video or some other data-hungry activity.

It’s about time the phone companies listened to their customers and reacted – with this news from T-Mobile it sounds like at least one of them is.

T-Mobile Inmusic Festival: The Flaming Lips

 

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Is Twitter really the least effective channel for #custserv?

Econsultancy featured an article recently that explored new research suggesting that Twitter is the least effective customer service channel in the UK.

The research found that companies do respond to tweets, and some respond very quickly indeed, but it is not necessarily the best way to resolve a problem. The research suggests that even though email is slower and a less public method of communication, it does lead to a quicker resolution.

Of course there are conflicting studies all over the Internet about this subject and the eConsultancy article does point to some that have very conflicting results showing that surveys are often hard to rely on – it is real behaviour rather than survey answers that should the basis of decision-making.

But regardless of the speed of answering customers on various channels, the article seems to ignore one important point, that customers using any channel expect an answer on the same channel. If you Tweet a question, you don’t expect an email response.

This is important and worth remembering when planning a multichannel strategy because it helps with your resource planning across the multiple channels that can be used – social, blogs, forums. They are all places where customers might expect a response in addition to the more traditional call or email.

What are your observations on social customer service? Is it getting better or worse in your own experience? Leave a comment on the blog here or tweet me on @juliagibbs1

Twitter escultura de arena

 

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British customers don’t believe that the omnichannel is working

Marketing Week focused on customer service last week as one of their trending topics, in particular why and how customers will switch brands because of poor service. New research published in Accenture’s Global Consumer Pulse suggests that 53% of consumers will switch brand if they are not happy with the service they receive – across all industries.

You can read more in the Marketing Week feature here, which also includes some nice graphical summaries of the data, but the figure that shocked me most when reading the results was that about omnichannel service – or the lack of it really existing.

Only 4% of British consumers believe that brands are connecting their various customer support channels together well. That’s the worst sentiment in the entire world, except for Japan where only 2% of consumers think that brands are doing a good job.

The message from consumers is clear, they expect better service whatever channel they use to get in touch and if they are calling for help a few hours after emailing, they expect your agents to know that there was an email.

Getting omnichannel service right is going to be tough for many brands, but with 96% of British consumers thinking that brands do a terrible job at this, imagine the opportunties for your company if you are doing it well. There is scope here for a great customer service team to actually be driving sales and promoting the brand.

Have you seen any British brands doing omnichannel customer support really well and did it make you more likely to buy from them again? Leave a comment here or tweet me on @matt_sims1.

Customer Service Think Tank hosted by Dell

 

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Will Oculus Rift change the social web forever?

Facebook has been on something of a spending spree recently. Not content with their $1bn purchase of photo sharing app they recently spent $19bn on the messaging service WhatsApp and, even more recently, $2bn on the Virtual Reality firm Oculus – make of the Rift virtual reality hardware system.

Messaging and photos are easier to understand, even though the prices sound outrageous for companies that are essentially not making any money, but why buy a virtual reality company?

Well there could just be something to it. The Oculus Rift might look strange – watching someone using it is like looking at a person with a plastic box on his or her head – but everyone who uses it raves about the immersive experience.

The Rift allows the user to be immersed into an artificial world – if you turn your head then your view changes. To date it has been seen mainly as a tool for immersive video gaming, but with Facebook involved there could be a new direction ahead.

I can imagine that users of social networks will eventually expect them to be immersive. Chatting with friends will feel more like you are there with your friend, not typing text to each other. In fact, what we now think of as a news feed may eventually become a floating stream of photos and information in the air all around you – you can just watch it and physically pull out a photo that looks interesting.

And beyond the social experience, there are already brands like Tesco that have experimented with the recreation of their stores inside virtual tools like the Rift.

It could be that virtual reality will eventually allow us to be in two places at the same time, at work, with friends, checking news, going shopping, and all without ever leaving home.

Oculus Intel

 

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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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