When the experience goes wrong: why can’t we get customer service right?


Ordinarily I would not publish a piece of analysis based on an anecdotal and personal experience – such observations often provide a distorted view of the wider picture – but after an encounter with Vodafone UK’s customer services today, I feel compelled to share what I discovered.

My objective was to purchase a 3G Mobile Data card for my laptop. I had researched the purchase in advance, I knew that I wanted the unlimited usage tariff priced at GBP 53 per month and I have been a Vodafone customer since I first bought a mobile telephone. This should have been an easy, not to mention valuable, sale for Vodafone – in one hit, they would be adding over GBP 600 in annual revenue to the account of an existing subscriber. To coin a phrase: ‘easy money’.

After an hour of calls to 3 different numbers, I am without a 3G Data Card and Vodafone is without my money. I spoke to 5 different representatives, ranging from Customer Services to Business Accounts to the Cancellations Department and no one was capable of selling me the product I wanted.

I also made some interesting discoveries:

– One Vodafone department has one address and one set of authentication information for me on one system, while another has an entirely different set of records of another system. This is despite several letters over the last 12 months to confirm a change of address.

– It is not possible for personal customers to buy a 3G Data Card and integrate it with their existing account over the phone. In fact, it is not possible to buy a card at all from Vodafone’s main telesales department. This can only be done in a Vodafone retail outlet. No one knew whether the retailer would be able to integrate the 3G data account with my existing bill.

– To buy a card over the phone, you need to call a different department and set-up an entirely new account to for the 3G data service.

– Vodafone does not have the ability to record customer feedback over the phone.

Vodafone has received some well deserved praise in recent months for its efforts on interface design, the customisation of handsets and segmentation projects such as ‘Vodafone Simply’. However, it would seem that this attention to customer needs is yet to filter through to some of the most important parts of the company: the sales teams and the customer service departments.

This is what I mean when we talk about ‘redefining the mobile user experience’ and a key part of what we’re trying to do with the MEX conference. Beautiful design, usable software and targeted marketing are just the tip of the iceberg. The customer experience extends deep below this line. The challenge of ensuring all your customer touchpoints are providing a consistently high quality experience is one of the most important facing the industry.

This holds true regardless of whether we’re talking about a TV advertisement promoting your latest service offering or a telesales representative helping a potential customer – every point at which you interact with the customer forms a part of the overall experience. The customer is unlikely to understand or care that you cannot fulfill a particular request because departmental structure forbids it – they just want you to make it easy to spend money.

If your company structure is preventing people from spending money with you, it is time to review how you interact with customers. It doesn’t matter how efficient the flow diagram may have looked in the boardroom, or how much cost you saved from last year’s operations budget by restrucuturing your departments – if you’re preventing your customers from spending money, something isn’t right.


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  1. 1
    Warren Allen

    I agree with every word written! Late last year I purchased a Data card together with a new phone – SE P910i – as part of a contract extension.
    Unfortunately, the Data card software and the P910i syncronisation software clash with driver problems. I have NEVER been able to get thier customer call centre to solve or even reconise the problem. I have to sync the P910i on a desktop computer and only use the Data card on my laptop (my primary machine).
    Lets not even start on how poor the Data card software is or trying to get help on why it doesnt work or selects GPRS instead of 3G or the download speed drops for no apparent reason or why it switches seemlessly from 3G to GPRS withoutdropping active links but drops all links if it trys to switch from GPRS to 3G or why…the list goes on.

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