Vodafone & the stay of execution February 24, 2008Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing.
Tags: AAMI, Blackberry, customer service, Vodafone
Long time listeners-first time callers may recall my recent troubles with Vodafone, mobile carrier to the
masses starved for choice. I had come to regard their Australian operations with such apathy I barely had the energy to add a condescending tone to my voice when speaking about them, content to let the name ring out with a monotonous drawl and slide away into delicate traces of nothingness (much like their service). I was utterly flabbergasted when I had posted my lament to better days one evening, only to find a comment from an employee the next, wanting to help. The gesture was tempered in the ensuing days by the fact that, somehow, he worked for the UK division yet still managed to locate me while Vodafone Australia played solitaire in the back room of whatever faceless warehouse they stowed away in this week. How could Vodafone UK become aware of my problem and Australia remain blissfully ignorant?
The details of the ensuing days don’t really bear repeating. I eventually had my phone replaced, though I wound up spending almost three hours on hold to get a handset repaired that I had taken insurance out on months ago. All manner of incompetence was displayed, until the final straw came along when a lovely lady called Casey told me she would need to request the paper work from the store to take a look at my initial request for insurance on the handset. I calmly told Casey I understood the process they needed to follow, but I also explained I had been a loyal customer for five years (I have spent thousands with them) and if this was not resolved satisfactorily I would be taking my business elsewhere.
The call ended, but five minutes later she called back, saying the issues were resolved and I could organise a replacement with their insurance department. I was transferred, my call answered immediately and told I could collect a replacement handset from any Vodafone store.
I’m going to go double-time on this for the viewers playing at home; you should not have to threaten to take your business elsewhere in order to achieve good customer service! All I wanted was for Vodafone to acknowledge their mistake and replace the handset. It took weeks to resolve, hours of my time sent on hold, and an outcome arrived at solely due to me being unwilling to accept the situation as the company presented it. So, a few lessons for all the corporations out there, regardless of the space you’re in:
1. You need advocates for consumers inside your companies
If every person you employ is hell bent on justifying a bottom line, you will lose sight of your audience, cease to be relevant, and fade out of existence. Casey, while simply doing her job, at least understood my plight and went after a resolution internally after our conversation. Companies need people on the inside who are passionate about the consumer experience and not focussed on what it means from within the naive point of view of an operational cost. Vodafone’s loss here is a single handset, versus the hundreds of dollars I spend with them a month. You don’t need an M.B.A. to do the math there.
2 . Customer service is the new marketing
This is not a new idea, but I’m amazed at how few people actually get it. Good customer service is priceless. These people should not be paid poorly, stuck in a corner to deal with complaints every day until they have had enough and quit or leap off a bridge. They should be applauded and celebrated as the front line in the ongoing battle in an increasingly competitive space for eyeballs. These people should be empowered to make decisions based not on profitability, but on a mantra of “how do I make this person a fan of our company?”. Until I am given evidence otherwise, I will tell each person who asks me about car insurance to call AAMI. My circle of friends is one that AAMI stand to get a lot of business from.
3. You ARE being talked about. You’re either a participant in the conversation or you are a deer in headlights
My initial episode of being contacted by Vodafone UK showed how easy it was for the conversations you have to get out there; there being the wide open spaces of the inter-webs. I’m going to get in touch with the Vodafone UK people with a view to interviewing them on their approach to online media and how those interactions are changing the way they do business. While it wasn’t an optimal outcome for them, they showed it wasn’t hard to find the conversations going on and get involved, and I imagine they do that countless times a day. The fact is somebody somewhere is having a less than optimal experience with your product, brand or service right now; how much you care about making that better is in direct correlation to how much you care about being around in five years.
Consumers are changing their behaviour, demanding more and rightfully so. The companies that take the time to get this right have a much easier road ahead of them. By the token that money doesn’t make you happy but it does give you the opportunity to worry about other things, getting your customer service offering in order means your attention can be focussed on innovation in other areas of your business. And your competitors get left for dead.
Even Rome fell my friends.