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21 Questions – part two September 18, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in business strategy, marketing, web 2.0.

The first part of this interview was posted yesterday. It is with Samantha Bottling & Aileen Thompson who heads up the Group Consumer, Enterprise and Brand Media Relations for Vodafone UK.

The experience I had recently was one where I was ready to leave Vodafone due to how dissatisfied I was with the service. Why has it been OK in the past to let customers reach this level of frustration before conceding what they wanted in the first place? How do the initiatives you’re working on combat this sort of scenario?

The way in which customers use the web to share experiences is very different. We have recognized this and we are responding in the UK for example by monitoring external forums and setting up our own forum. The forum is a very visible way of showing how customer care has improved and how we can as an industry address the notion of frustration by giving our customers choice about how and when they talk to us – or in the case of the forum – other customers. As above, offering simple to use and easy to buy services is also key – more of which we are doing. Take for example the inclusion of internet in the price plan in the UK.

Obviously you guys are ahead of what your antipodean counterparts are doing; how long have you been working towards the place you’re at now and what advice would you give to the other Vodafone operations in different parts of the world??

We share our experiences across the Group so that they can take recommendations and make it work for their country and their audience. Starting a customer forum is not something that can be done quickly or lightly. It requires expertise in the shape of technologists who can support and set up a forum and experts who will run the forum day to day – 24/7. You also need the buy in of some key function in the organisation in particular the Board who have to be prepared for a very public way of providing customer service, technical support and customer relations teams so that it is integrated. It is also important to involve the PR team who can work with the forum team when a new product or service is launched as they can provide links to the product managers, as well as help with any reputational issues. We regard the forum as a full customer service channel and it is fully integrated with our other customer service channels – it would not be successful if we did not do this.

Above all the key element to our success has been the different experts working together. We’ve designed a simple experience that enables customers to do what they need to. The moderators on the forum are technical help specialists so they can personally provide real help rather than act as a post-box into the organisation. We have created processes within the organisation to handle issues raised that go beyond the moderators but also to ensure the moderators have up-to-date information.

We’ve also achieved all of this without actively ‘promoting’ the forum, allowing our customers to gradually find and use it so that we can grow our response in relative speed to the growth of the forum’s popularity.

Thanks to Aileen and Samantha for their time. As I said yesterday, parts are heavy on the marketing speak, but the key take-away for me is the part about taking the time and investing in the appropriate resources to make online an appropriate channel for your business.

This goes back to everything I’ve been saying regarding intent. It is revealed by action, and under-resourcing any effort will play in the market as a disregard for your audience, regardless of how passionate the people at the coal face are.


1. Julian Cole - September 23, 2008

Hey David this is an amazing interview and resource to help show companies in Australia how it should be done, I don’t know if you are still in contact with them but if you were I would be interested to know how they dealt with the legal department when they went into the blogosphere to answer questions?

Also could you ask Why my recent bill is so high? And when they are going to turn the interwebs back on for my iPhone? It has been 3 days with no Creative is Not a Department on my iPhone : (

Don’t worry about the second two questions : )

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