The real G1 experience and what the industry can learn
It took 18 hours and 4 phone calls to technical support for me to activate my G1 in the UK. However, once the device was finally working, I needed just a few minutes to conclude Google and T-Mobile have missed a huge opportunity to demonstrate a genuine commitment to improving the mobile user experience. This analysis sets aside the industry hype and concentrates on highlighting the important lessons learnt by experiencing the G1 launch from the real customer perspective.
I purchased my G1 from T-Mobile’s 110 Oxford Street store at about 16:30 on 30th October 2008. This isn’t their flagship store in London (that is located slightly further West on Oxford Street). I bought the device as a new personal customer signing up to T-Mobile for the first time. The whole idea was to experience the purchasing process in exactly the same way as a consumer from outside the mobile business.
I’ll take you through this step-by-step, so you can get an idea of what the mobile industry looks like when seen through the eyes of a real customer and conclude each section with some action points for the industry to take home.
Customer reality: I registered on the T-Mobile UK web-site a couple of weeks ago to get advance information about the launch of the G1. The first communication I received from them was on 24th October, giving me a link to the same information I’d already seen on their web-site and telling me to watch out for more news on pricing and availability.
I also noticed some ambiguous adverts in the free London newspapers and around the city, saying simply: ‘It’s here’ and featuring a strange icon inserted into a variety of different urban scenes. It was the kind of stuff a marketing agency might describe as ‘edgy’, but when I showed it to people outside the mobile industry none of them knew what it was talking about.
3 days later, on 27th October, T-Mobile sent me 3 copies of the same message, this time telling me; “The wait is nearly over…”
The email explained: “We know you’ve been waiting patiently to get your hands on the T-Mobile G1 and, as a thank you for signing up for G1 information, we have some great news especially for you. We’re making the G1 available exclusively for you to order from T-Mobile.co.uk before anyone else. And we’ll email you on 29 October 2008 with simple instructions on how to place your G1 order.”
It included a link to check out information about the 2 price plans available with the G1. However, when I clicked on this, it took me to the same site I’d seen a few days previously and, despite much searching, there was no information about the price plans, just the same old details about the G1.
The email concluded by suggesting I put a note in my diary for 9am on 30th October to remind myself to buy a G1. It also told me: “If you fancy being one of the first to see the G1 in the flesh, T-Mobile is hosting an exclusive early opening of our store at 287 Oxford Street, London, W1C 2DP (nearest Tube Oxford Circus). You’ll need to be there for 7am to find out what we have planned for the T-Mobile G1 launch.”
The most recent email I received from them arrived at 18:00 on 30th October, after I had already bought my G1. It gave me an ‘exclusive’ link to buy my G1, but warned they had limited stock and the link would expire once all the stock had been sold.
It also told me to allow up to 7 days for delivery, although they’d aim to get it to me in ‘the next few days’ and not to ‘despair’ if I didn’t manage to order one today. Apparently I could console myself by keeping an eye on the web-site and watching for when they had new stock arrive.
Industry lessons: Let’s start with some basic rules of marketing communication which apply to any business, regardless of how ‘revolutionary’ or ‘exciting’ your product is, like providing correct, relevant and consistent information to your customers.
T-Mobile failed in all 3 of these areas. The pre-registration process and subsequent emails led the customer to believe they would be receiving priority access to pre-order the G1 by providing their details in advance. In reality, customers who followed this procedure would not have been able to order their G1 until the evening on the day after it launched at retail. They would also be waiting at least several days to receive the product in the post.
The email communication contained several inaccuracies, including a link which didn’t provide the pricing information it promised and incorrect dates for future communication.
The language used was patronising and inconsistent. It was written entirely from T-Mobile’s perspective and did little to explain the benefits to the customer. The same is true of their attempt to generate ‘buzz’ for the store launch at their flagship retail location.
I don’t know of many customers who are going to turn up at 7am simply on the promise of an ‘exclusive early opening’. At a minimum you need to give people some sort of special offer or information about what is going to make it an interesting event. Also, make it easy for customers – there wasn’t even an attempt to provide a Google Map link or phone number for the flagship store to help customers get there (this is the Google phone after all!).
Finally, and perhaps most basic of all for a communications company, don’t send your customers 3 copies of exactly the same message. It is unprofessional and a sure way to get caught by automatic spam filters.
Customer reality: I decided to visit T-Mobile on Oxford Street about 15:30 in the afternoon. I was in North London at the time, so plugged ‘T-Mobile’ into the Google Maps application on my Nokia E71 and it gave me the location and telephone number for their branch at 110 Oxford Street. Unfortunately when I tried to call them to find out if they still had G1′s in stock, the number didn’t work: it just rang through and then started beeping DTMF tones at me. I tried it several times with the same result before deciding to walk down to Oxford Street and have a look at what was happening.
When I arrived at the T-Mobile’s store around 16:00, there was a small booth by the door with balloons and some signage on the windows proclaiming ‘It’s here…’. I asked a T-Mobile employee if I could see a live G1 and he said he would have to find his colleague. He returned a few minutes later with a lady in a white t-shirt and the G1, but couldn’t access it because the device had been locked and the person who knew the password wasn’t around.
I chatted to the lady for a while about the device and was able to handle it to check out the physical form factor. Eventually the person who knew the password turned up, also dressed in a white t-shirt. It turns out both of these people worked for Google rather than T-Mobile. In fact, the T-Mobile staff seemed to know nothing about the G1 and fielded all questions to the Google employees.
The Google staffer gave me a fairly good demonstration of the device, although again there were several inaccuracies in the information he provided.
Apparently several G1s had been sold from that store during the day, but while I was there (about 35 minutes in total), only one other person asked about the device. He seemed quite knowledgeable about mobile and technology in general, but apparently had no intention of buying – he just wanted to check out the ‘open source’ phone.
When I decided to purchase the device, I was handed back to the T-Mobile employee who took me through a credit check and tariff choice.
I don’t intend to use the G1 as my main handset, so I opted for the lowest tariff, which provides 100 minutes, 100 texts and unlimited internet access for £20 per month. With this tariff the device cost me GBP 199.99. I also had the option of a £40 per month tariff and ‘free’ G1. This would have provided me with 1000+ minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet. Both contracts are an 18 month minimum (there was no Pay-As-You-Go option).
The account setup procedure with the T-Mobile employee was relatively painless, although it took about 20 minutes. I then asked him if he could get the handset working for me before I left the store.
As a T-Mobile employee (rather than the Google staff I’d spoken to earlier) he struggled with this. He didn’t know how to open the battery cover at first and we ended up going through the setup procedure together.
I asked him whether there would be a delay while the account activated, but he said that was highly unlikely. Apparently they tell people to allow ‘up to 24 hours’, but it is usually instant and hardly ever takes more than an hour.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case with my G1. After a couple of attempts in store, the device was still showing a little ‘X’ above the blank network reception indicator, meaning the handset wasn’t hooking up to the network. I knew it wouldn’t work, but the T-Mobile employee got me to try going through the on-device sign-up process, which requires you to either create a Google account or enter the details of an existing one before you can access any of the features on the handset.
It showed a screen telling me it was attempting to communicate with Google’s servers for 30 seconds or so before going completely blank. I tried tapping the screen a couple of times and concluded the battery had died. Actually, the battery was fine, but I’d just discovered one of the G1′s usability faults: when the device has been idle for a short while during the sign-up process, the screen just blanks and the only way you can get it back is to click on one of the hardware buttons. Not particularly reassuring for the first time user.
After a couple of attempts it was clear the device simply wasn’t getting a network connection and I had received the same error message twice, telling me the handset couldn’t reach Google’s servers and to contact my operator if the problem persisted.
Pressed for time, I figured this was simply because the new number hadn’t registered on T-Mobile’s network yet and my account hadn’t been properly activated, so I left the store with the handset, thinking it would start working shortly afterwards.
Industry lessons: There’s no denying partnerships are complex things to manage, but the customer really doesn’t care whether this device is being provided by Google, T-Mobile or anyone else – they just want it to work and for there to be someone who can help when something goes wrong. While it is great Google is sending its employees to help out with the G1 launch, they were of no use when it came to the basic procedure of activating the device and getting the customer out of the door with a working handset.
The in-store sales process is such a critical time in forming the overall customer impression of a product. It needs to be free from technical problems, efficient and enthusiastic – this is the best opportunity a company has to convince a customer to do more with their device and to convert them into an ambassador for the product.
T-Mobile failed to do this. I left the store with a device that wasn’t working, having been dealt with by an employee who clearly hadn’t been given the training he needed to explain what was wrong or when I could expect the situation to improve.
The dual roles of T-Mobile and Google, both in the shop and on the device are likely to confuse the average customer. Who will they turn to for support? Whose brand will be negatively impacted if the customer has a bad experience? Why does the first screen and set of error messages talk about Google when the device is being sold as a T-Mobile G1?
Also, by way of an observation on the visual merchandising used by T-Mobile and Google, there is a lot they could learn about the retail environment. This was supposed to be a major launch and the retail accessories they used looked cheap and lacked any real visual impact.
The in-store touchscreen terminal did not work properly and there was only a single G1 demo station available, equipped with a non-functioning plastic model. The only way to see a G1 in action was to ask specifically and then you were referred to a Google employee, who will probably only be there for the first few days.
When launching any new product, I’d suggest the industry should prioritise the following basic principles to ensure a good customer experience:
- Several functioning devices available for customer demonstrations
- Trained and enthusiastic staff to answer questions
- An in-store sign-up process that ensures the vast majority of customers leave the store with a fully working device, having received a short tutorial from the sales representative. If nothing else, this will save the company time and money by reducing the amount of technical support calls received in the first few weeks.
- If the product is a major launch, consider investing in some better visual merchandising and special gifts or limited edition accessories to encourage early customers.
Trying to get the G1 to work and T-Mobile customer support
Customer reality: About an hour later, I reached the station to take the train home. By this time my G1 was showing full reception, so I attempted to go through the sign-up procedure while I waited for the train to leave. I got the same error I had received in-store – for some reason the device just didn’t want to communicate with the server.
I tried numerous times to sign-on over the course of the evening, but nothing seemed to work. It is impossible to get past the sign-on screen, so it meant I was unable to use any of the handsets functions, even in off-line mode. I turned it on and off several times, I tried it in different areas of reception around the town and eventually concluded that the absence of any ‘G’ or ’3G’ symbol in the status bar meant I simply wasn’t getting a data connection.
The following morning I called T-Mobile’s technical support line. I couldn’t use their free T-Mobile specific number because the handset didn’t work, so I had to pay to make the call from another line. I wonder what I would have done if this was my only phone and I’d switched my number over to T-Mobile? How would I have got in touch with their technical support?
After navigating their voice menu, I got through to a front line customer service agent. I described the problem and she said she would look in to it. After a few minutes on hold, she came back on the line and said she was going to transfer me to someone else. A couple of seconds later the line went dead – my call had been disconnected.
I called back, again navigated their voice menu and eventually got through to another front line agent. I had to explain the problem for a second time and she said she would need to look into it and would call me back.
She called back a couple of minutes later and said she was going to transfer me to the technical support team.
Eventually I got through to the tech support guy and, after providing my account details and explaining the problem yet again, we started to drill down into what was going wrong.
His first response was to suggest that I’d been put on the wrong plan, because the tariff I was using didn’t have a ‘Google data package’ included. I told him that I’d specifically chosen this in store from the two Google plans they had available and, when he wasn’t convinced, even read him the sales leaflet I’d picked up in the shop which detailed the availability of my plan.
He put me on hold for a while so he could check into it and when he came back, he told me their systems hadn’t been updated with the new tariff yet, so when I was put on this plan, it hadn’t activated the data service on my account. He wasn’t able to override this himself because the ‘Google data plan’ for the £20 a month tariff simply didn’t exist yet! In the end he had to ask his manager to intervene so that he could activate the data service on my account.
So, to clarify – T-Mobile had launched the G1 on 29th October and started marketing 2 tariffs to customers. A day later, on 30th October, at least one of those tariffs still didn’t exist on their back office systems. Essentially anyone who bought a G1 on the £20 tariff on the day of launch was sold something that didn’t acually exist!
After we got the data plan activated, he talked me through powering down the device, removing the battery and re-starting it to get the data service working. Unfortunately it still didn’t solve the problem – the device didn’t pick up the data connection and wouldn’t connect to complete the sign-on procedure.
He said he would reset his own G1 while I was on the phone with him and go through the same procedure to see whether it was a problem affecting the whole system. He got the same error message, despite the fact his G1 had worked the day before when he received it.
I was told he needed some more time to investigate and check into whether there were any problems with the Google servers. He said he would call me back in about 30 minutes to give me an update.
Industry lessons: Customer service is quite simply the most important function of a company. If a business is not looking after its customers, it is failing.
Customers contacting a call centre for help are already likely to have a negative perception of the organisation – after all, they are most likely calling because something has gone wrong. Every effort should be put into making their experience as painless as possible. The goal is to take a customer who is irritated by a broken product or a service failure and make them happy by fixing the problem.
I experienced the opposite: dropped calls, difficult to navigate voice menus, insufficiently trained staff and having to repeatedly explain the same problem to different people. The sad thing is, I don’t think T-Mobile is particularly bad in comparison with other companies. This is just par for the course when it comes to call centre interactions. I have had a similar experience with BT over the last week or so.
However, the greatest failing of all is the tariff error. If you asked a network operator to name the core functions of its business, I suspect ‘Tariffing and managing the billing process’ would be quite high on the list. However, T-Mobile was selling customers a tariff which simply didn’t exist. This is a shockingly bad error for the company. I wonder which particular genius within the company is responsible for launching arguably their biggest new product this year and forgetting to put the tariffs in place before selling them to customers?
Here’s my advice to the industry for ensuring these user experience misakes aren’t repeated:
- Provide a dedicated telephone support team for each new major device launch, providing customers with quick access to staff who have expert knowledge of the specific device
- Offer a produc-specific web forum where users can help each other out and staff can answer questions online. My first port of call when I experience an error with a product is to search online for an answer and I suspect I’m not alone in this. One of the reasons is because call centre interactions are so frustratingly slow and unhelpful.
- Make sure the most basic building blocks are in place before embarking on any kind of marketing or PR campaign. Selling a device connected to an incorrect or non-existent tariff would be like delivering a new petrol-engined car with a tank full of diesel.
18 hours and 4 phone calls later…it works
Customer reality: After I’d spoken with the tech support person, I waited for another ten minutes and then re-started the device. This time a little ’3G’ icon appeared alongside the network reception indicator and I was able to connect to Google’s servers.
A word of advice if you already have one of the original ‘@gmail.com’ accounts rather than the newer ‘@googlemail.com’: you need to enter your full Google email address in the username field. According to the technical support person it defaults to firstname.lastname@example.org and this may not work properly when logging on to the G1 for the first time.
With the sign-on completed, the G1 started to sync my Google email and contacts in the background.
I’m not yet ready to provide a comprehensive analysis of the UI, applications and form factor but so far I have generally been disappointed. It strikes me that HTC, Google and T-Mobile have missed an opportunity to establish a new mobile user experience benchmark with the G1.
There are quirks throughout the input mechanisms, interaction layer and applications themselves that make the whole thing feel like an exercise in delivering open source software rather than a polished customer experience.
From full charge, the battery lasted for about 3 or 4 hours of intermittment IM, web surfing and application downloading. It seems to drain very, very quickly. Also, it crashed once and forced a full re-start without any explanation.
In addition, I was hugely disappointed to find the Google Maps experience less impressive than on both my iPod Touch (2.1 software) and Nokia E71 (Series 60). It took longer to establish a less accurate position and the interface was more difficult to use than either the Nokia or the Apple device. This is supposed to be one of the top features of the G1 according to T-Mobile’s advertising and it simply isn’t as good as the versions freely available on other devices.
I will no doubt form a more detailed viewpoint later, but thus far the signs are not good.
By the time the technical support person called back, I was already up-and-running, but he did call back within about the half hour he’d promised.
Industry lessons: The G1 has inevitably been compared with the iPhone in the pre-launch phase, but this is a mistake – it doesn’t come close to establishing a new user experience benchmark in the way the Apple device did. Instead, I can’t help but feel it is a somewhat indulgent exercise in the principles of open source software and Google-led industry collaboration.
The biggest achievement of the G1 is to prove Android OS devices can get to market, HTC can manufacture something other than Windows Mobile handsets and T-Mobile is prepared to launch co-branded devices with web companies. None of these things matter to real customers and – in the areas which do mean something to consumers – like the retail environment, tariffs, out-of-box experience and customer service, the G1 is currently failing.
However, I have high hopes for future Android devices. It is clear the OS itself has a strong architecture and it does a number of things very well: application installations, push notifications and web-based synchronisation are particular strong points.
To succeed, Google and Android need a handset manufacturer and a network operator to establish a really strong partnership, resulting in a product launch focused on delivering a polished and targeted customer experience. HTC and T-Mobile’s attempt looks rushed, incomplete and lacking in focus.
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