I’ll admit I was surprised and disappointed when she took out a tatty ring bound folder – the kind one might have used to hold one’s school notes in the 1980s – and ran her finger down the plastic covering of a printed spreadsheet. “£53 a month for the iPhone 6 Plus,” she said simply, reading the numbers off the page. As she listed more options, each representing a two year commitment which would have seen me spending at least £1000 with her employer, she scribbled the figures onto the back of an old receipt.
This didn’t feel right somehow. Cellular networks cost many billions to build and are sold to customers on the basis of their cutting edge technology. Yet, here I was in 2015, enquiring about contract renewal options and the best customer experience my network operator could manage was a paper folder and some handwritten notes on a slightly crumpled receipt.
I found myself wondering what kind of customer experience I could expect in one of the neighbouring stores – jewellers and fashion boutiques – if I was spending a similar £1000 or so with them? Quite apart from my experience as a user, it also started me thinking about what this kind of inefficiency and shoddy presentation said about the company itself. Surely a company in the business of selling the benefits of digital connectivity could at least equip its staff with devices to better manage customer relationships? In all the time I was at the store, I was never once asked for my details to see how much I currently spent with them, even though it was clear I was an existing customer.
Coincidentally, I’d just come from another meeting with someone who has seen the tides of change ebb and flow within the mobile industry over many years. We’d talked about how network operators had repeatedly failed to capitalise on opportunities to take the dominant role in the digital world: the transition from 2G to 3G, the mass adoption of smartphones, the growth of cloud computing and the shift to a mobile first world. At each of these strategic turning points, I’d sat in countless briefings listening to operators expound on the value of their customer relationships, the ways they intended to leverage their knowledge of customer behaviour and use their buying power and scale. Today, in reality, there is nothing but price to stop me walking away from this particular operator and going to another which will provide the same slightly lacklustre customer service and the same slightly patchy network coverage.
Four generations of networks and tens of billions of investment later, the little scrap of paper I was handed by this particular operator seemed to sum up the attitude of mind which has confined them to the status of mildly profitable, dull utilities – for all their talk of owning customer relationships, they’ve just never really understand what good user experience means.