A 4G network running on 1G customer service

Do you know how difficult it is to get a device replacement when yours gets lost or damaged? Well, it’s bloody hard – too hard, in fact. I can vouch for that because last weekend, I decided I’d had enough of my Samsung and threw my phone down the toilet – not really, it fell out of my pocket. A frantic rush for the rice and several expletives later, what ensued was a set of unfortunate events that hammered home just how wanting operator customer service is. Last weekend, it wasn’t just my phone that went down the toilet, it was also my relationship with EE.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, here’s another moaning millennial complaining about not getting a free replacement phone, despite not having bought insurance. Well, you’re right – sort of. I didn’t buy insurance, I was offered it, but quite frankly it was an additional cost on top of the £50 p/month contract that I wasn’t willing to pay for. In hindsight, should I have brought the device insurance? Most definitely. Would I have bought it had it been cheaper (i.e. subsidized by EE)? For sure. Could it have been the difference between me staying or leaving EE? 100%.

As an industry, we always hear how terrible operators are at customer service, how low their Net Promoter Scores (NPS) are and just how much catching up they have to do to create a truly compelling customer experience. So when you are left with a damaged, unusable phone, with no device insurance and no free early upgrades, what are your options? For EE, the solution was to offer me the privilege of paying £90 to upgrade. Luckily, they saved the day by throwing in a free BT Sports package, said no one ever.

But that’s the thing right, operators have such a close relationship with their subscribers, and yet they know so little about them. They possess a wealth of data on who their customers are, how old they are, where they live, how they use their data and to what end. And yet, despite this intelligence, they fail to provide a bespoke, tailored, personalised experience and instead prefer the ‘one-size-fits-all’, ‘hope for the best’ approach that unsurprisingly leads to subscriber disengagement and churn.

This is exactly where operators are going wrong. In these changing times, and with millennials and generation Z applying more pressure for on-demand, instantaneous and seamless customer experience, operators just cannot afford to lose subscribers simply because they seem unwilling to change their operating models. Operators must find a way to improve customer experience by ensuring a seamless customer journey, one that encompasses both retail and digital channels, but most of all, one that reflects the needs of the individual – why would EE offer me BT Sports when they don’t even know if I own a TV, let alone watch sports?

And this is where the story becomes an even bleaker one. The reality is that EE, and the rest, know all of the above. They know they’re bad at customer experience, they know their NPS is low, and they also know that subscriber engagement is nowhere near what it should be. They know this because they’ve sat on the sidelines watching the OTTs become subscriber favourites, transforming the telco into a mere commodity. As a result, subscribers, such as myself, feel no way about switching operators – as long as I can still go on Instagram, use Netflix and tweet, I don’t care which network I’m using.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad, and with operators bowing their heads and throwing their hands up to say “enough is enough”, there’s hope yet that the times, they are a changin’.

Recent worries around data protection and privacy, worsened by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, are contributing to what could be seen as the operator Renaissance. As revealed by an Openet study earlier this year, consumers trust their operators far more than they do the OTTs and 92% of global consumers would be prepared to pay for operator-delivered digital services. For operators, this represents an opportunity to increase revenue by emulating the nimble, flexible, personalised services of the OTTs, but without the dodgy “I’m selling your data to the highest bidder” factor.

Shifting consumer attitudes in favour of operators aren’t enough to bring operator CX out of the Ice Age, however. Operators need to think carefully about the additional services they can offer to increase subscriber retention and engagement, and make themselves a relevant part of subscribers’ everyday lives. To do that, they’ll need to enlist the help of industry players if they are to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding bunch. It is only by forming fruitful partnerships with the right technology vendors who embrace innovation that operators will begin to implement real change. For myself, a partnership with an insurtech provider such as SquareTrade would have lowered the cost of device insurance and made the repairs/replacement process seamless, and could have allowed EE to keep me on as a customer.

At the end of the day, subscribers of today aren’t asking for the moon, and we’re definitely not asking for operators to do everything perfectly, but when you see other brands such as ASOS (see my latest blog on the retailer here) get things so right, so seamlessly, one can’t help but wonder why good operator customer service is a gargantuan ask. Thankfully, operators know the challenge they face, and luckily for us, the solutions to overcoming these exist. Now, the onus is on them to transform and evolve. After all, it’s all well and good having a brand new 5G network, but if your customer service is still running on 1G, your subscribers will continue to be less than impressed.

Picture of Anais Merlin

Written by Anais Merlin

Anaïs has worked in B2B mobile and telecoms since 2015 and has specialized in mobile & telecoms for much of this time. As CCgroup’s Head of Mobile & Telecoms, Anaïs runs several accounts within the portfolio, including: BT/EE, Wind River, TEOCO, ng-voice, Neos Networks and Lynk. Anaïs leads on campaign strategy, account planning, and client management. Anaïs also supports content creation and media relations, having built strong contacts with core trade and business journalists over the years. In 2021, Anaïs was named on PR Week’s 30 Under 30 list, and awarded PR Week’s ‘Young Game Changer of the Year’ Award.


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