I’ve been moving my mobile service provider – from BT to Tesco – because BT is stopping their pay-as-you-go service. While not changing by choice, I thought this would be straightforward (a BBC consumer programme recently said changing mobile provider was easy) – automated even. How naive I am!
I should explain that I’m the proud owner of a vintage Nokia phone – my first mobile bought around a decade ago. It’s one of those you use for phone calls and little else. The age of my mobile (and also, probably, my own age) along with my pay-as-you-go status means I’m not a big catch for the phone providers. I’m probably classified as a GOG (grumbling old git) in a customer record somewhere.
Without going into detail, 10 days on from changing provider, my old number has still not been transferred. After more than 25 conversations, by phone and on Twitter, with members of the Tesco and BT mobile care teams I’ve learnt some new phrases – ‘escalated’, ‘port-in’, and ‘split service’ being just three. That I have a split service problem means that anyone on Tesco’s mobile service can call my mobile successfully; everyone else is told ‘you have dialled an incorrect number’.
What lessons can I share from a week of conversations with polite and apologetic care staff?
1. That calling your staff ‘a customer care team’ doesn’t really mean a company cares about its customers. I’m sure the people I speak to are as fed up as I am, but ultimately we are both powerless – neither frontline staff nor low-category paying customers, especially GOGs, have any real influence.
Lesson for others: make sure your frontline staff are empowered to take meaningful action to care for your customers. Apparently a famous parcel delivery company authorise their drivers to spend up to $50 on the spot to sort out a problem.
2. Even before I speak to a human being, I have to key in my mobile phone number. So why do I have to give the same number to every new staff member I talk to, and re-explain the problem each time – surely there’s a central record attached to that number?
Lesson for others: If you’re in a service industry, particularly if it’s communications, make sure your internal communication is at least as good as your external communication. Otherwise all the effort you put into getting people to contact you is wasted or, worse, they bad-mouth through social media.
3. Even when I’m transferred internally I have to go through a basic security check (see grumble 2 above). And when I’m transferred, as often as not it’s to the wrong person – someone dealing with landlines, someone dealing with monthly contracts etc. This is because they don’t ask enough questions (or look at a central record of my earlier calls) before they get rid of me. Maybe they’re being timed for how long they take with each customer?
Lesson for others: Your frontline staff should take enough time to ask your customers for relevant information to minimise the number of other staff members needed to resolve the particular problem. In the long run, this saves staff time and further customer disgruntlement.
4. I’ve had many conversations with a number of different staff (and some admit I’ve spoken to them more than once!) However well-trained and well-meaning those staff, saying things like ‘we’ve actioned your case and we’re waiting for BT to get back to us’ or ’the majority of transfers go through smoothly, your problem [split service] is very rare’ doesn’t help. Both providers have played the blame game and, if ‘spilt service’ is so rare, how come it’s got a name?
Lesson for others: Allow your staff to be honest. In my conversations I’ve had to put into words what they can’t – ‘we have no idea how long this will take to sort out’.
My overall frustration is that the people I’m speaking to are as much the victims of an unworkable system as I am. I regularly reassure them that I don’t blame them personally for my plight. On top of that, despite being told ‘we’ll keep you updated about progress with resolving the problem’, no one speaks to me unless I call them first.
Thank you for listening – your business is important to us.