How Not To Make Friends And Influence People: A Personal Story Of Customer Experience At Its Worst . . . And What IT Can Learn

My customer experience with T-Mobile UK (or was it EE — Everything Everywhere, the joint venture between Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom in the UK?) last Friday was so shocking — and in some cases ridiculous — that I had to share it and highlight the potential customer experience parallels with IT service desks.

For balance: I’ve been a T-Mobile customer since February 2011 and its actual mobile service has been pretty good to date. I might whinge a little that availability seems to have dipped post–transition to EE (and I have no idea why) but that is probably just me imagining things. However, I didn’t imagine this . . .

So what happened?

I bought a second-hand phone and when I put my partner’s SIM in it (to test it), it registered on the EE network but I couldn’t send or receive calls or text; however, I could use mobile Internet. So I thought: is this a service provider, software, or hardware issue? After a quick but unsuccessful “Google” — always my first port of call for support these days — I realized that I needed some expert advice. As the SIM was “nearly working” I decided that I would call EE first.

It started well-ish, taking three minutes to get through the interactive options to a point where I could hear the now mandatory “we are really busy so you might be wasting your time on hold for a while” message. Thankfully I think it was only a minute or so. Then the “helpful” Patrick was available to help. And this is where the relationship started to break down . . .

Why is the system of record, not the customer, always in the right?

It seemed T-Mobile had the wrong address for my partner in the system, so when she gave an incorrect address for security purposes (as we were using her SIM) Patrick said he couldn’t help. She pushed that the system must be wrong and she gave our address again but, according to Patrick, it was “completely different to the one in the system.”

My partner went round the usual customer support “circles” and abruptly passed the phone back to me in a state of disgust and disbelief after Patrick had asked her something to the effect of: “Are you sure you are not confused? Are you sure that’s where you live? Are you sure you don’t live at another address?” Say what? Who are you talking to Mr. Customer Support Person?

To make matters worse, Patrick then proceeded to demonstrate that he hadn’t been listening and my fuse was lit. I have a polite manner on support calls because I appreciate the help and the plight of working on a service desk, but when the support operative is wasting my time, is not customer focused, and is not actually helping, I hit a point of what I would describe as “Hulk SMASH!”

As it turned out (my partner had checked her online account while I was still on the call), our address was wrong by one character — a previous T-Mobile employee had added the house number as 10 rather than 30, but the rest of the address was correct. I was ready to turn my dissatisfaction up to 11: Are you seriously telling me that Patrick couldn’t have simply explained that he had a different house number on the system and realized it was likely a mistake by a colleague? The mind boggles.

Why doesn’t your manager want to speak to me?

I didn’t want to spend any more time with the ineffective Patrick. When I asked to speak to Patrick’s manager, he explained that he needed to put me on hold for a few minutes until he found a supervisor “willing to speak with me.” Managers aren’t responsible for dealing with unhappy customers and can decline to do so? After 4 to 5 minutes on hold, Patrick returned. I “Hulk SMASHed” again — I wasn’t prepared to be put on hold again while Patrick continued to source a manager willing to speak with me.

Then the last thing I heard: “I’ll go ahead and forward you . . .” You know what happened next: I was cut off.

After three hours an EE manager eventually called me back, but it was more of the same. The manager asked about my experience with her employee Irwin. Did Patrick even exist? From there I was asked to repeat what had happened. Couldn’t she have found time over the last three hours to listen to the 20+ minute call recording? And when my partner asked to cancel her contract, she was told the queue was 30 minutes. Wow, how many other customers are cancelling? (The manager did say, but it would probably be wrong for me to repeat how many it was.) She is still on hold (but working) while I finish this blog . . .

If it’s any solace to those at EE, the entire wireless service provider industry, at least in the US, did not fare well in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index 2012. This means that even who lead their industry in customer experience are the best of a bad or mediocre bunch. It’s so easy to change your mobile provider, so why are they so bad at keeping us customers happy (or at least “not unhappy”)?

So what can we all learn from this story?

While there are so many questions that require answers, here’s a starting point for a few audiences:

For EE (or T-Mobile):

·         How is this customer service?

·         How is this support?

·         . . . I could go on.

For call centers per se:

·         Why do customer support people never realize that the customer is not only important but also busy?

·         Why is the system always right, not the customer?

·         Why can’t your people deviate from the script if it isn’t working?

·         Why do ineffective support people always hide behind rules and process (and the IT system)?

Finally, and probably most importantly, for enterprises who employ people like Patrick (or Irwin?):

·         Did Patrick not realize that he was losing a customer (probably two)?I really don’t think he did.

·         Did he care?Probably not.

·         Why do you employee such people?You tell me!

And how does this relate to the IT service desk?

I’ll try not to insult your intelligence here (and the blog is already too long); hopefully you can see what you need to do better. But here’s the short of it . . .

If you’re a service desk professional, realize that the end user is your customer. If you manage the service desk, you need to ask yourself how your staff treats these customers. If you don’t know, find out quickly, since my next blog shows the disparity between the business’s and IT’s perceptions of IT performance and it’s not good.

This customer focus (or lack thereof) goes for the entire practice of IT service management (ITSM). While the origins of service management are rooted in product marketing and management, the customer focus was lost as it was applied to IT. While recent updates to IT infrastructure library (ITIL) have added business relationship management and financial management, this isn’t enough: ITSM remains predominantly inside-out.

In what Forrester calls “the age of the customer,” technology-led disruption erodes traditional competitive barriers across all industries. And within your enterprise, it’s now easier than ever for empowered employees and app developers to take advantage of new devices and cloud-based software and infrastructure that you don’t support. To truly function as a service provider, ITSM needs to be more outside-in and consider the customer and the customer’s desired outcome.

To do this, ITSM professionals need to reinforce that the customer comes first — not IT. To serve your customers faster, cheaper, and at a higher quality, you’ll need to add automation to service management — and it’s not just because we have fewer people. At Forrester we promote service management and automation, or SMA for short, over traditional ITIL-based ITSM. It’s not “binning ITSM or ITIL,” it’s starting with the customer (not the IT or ITIL) and leveraging service management (including ITIL) and automation as a “means to an end” — it’s not the end, as some technology implementation projects think. If you’re a Forrester customer, check out our Service Management And Automation Playbook that is focused on just this.

Finally, behind my cloud of despair there is a ray of sunshine . . .

If it wasn’t for the work of my colleagues in the Forrester Customer Experience team, I really would wonder where large organizations are with customer service and customer experience. I know it’s a shameless plug, but I’ve read their book, Outside In, and it really does offer great advice to organizations that are adrift when looked at through the lens of customer experience — and ultimately customer retention, revenues, and shareholder value.

Many of the practices that customer experience professionals employ — such as customer ecosystem and journey mapping — can be used by us in IT to offer our internal customers a better and more productive technology experience that will ultimately benefit our paying external customers.

In finishing, apologies for the length of the blog (and thanks to Doug Washburn and Sophie Danby for making this blog far “tighter” and probably less angry than the original “Hulk SMASH” version) and my final thought is to pose the question of:

I’m an EE and Apple customer for the delivery of a “single service,” but why was this such a “Tale of Two Customer Experiences”?

. . . The Cambridge (UK) Apple Store staff (thanks Ryan, David, and Kelvin) finally fixed the issue for me yesterday (even without having a Genius Bar booking), and boy did I feel like a customer, and a valued customer at that. The bottom line for me is that Apple treated me as a person, not an account.


Sad but true

I feel your pain and often ask myself why it is that communications companies (pretty much across the board in my consumer experience) are the very WORST at communicating!

I can also understand your experience at the Apple store. It is now fashionable to bash Apple (as we always do when someone is successful) but they have gradually converted me from a die-hard PC guy to a complete Apple household. Every interaction I have had with them has been slick, efficient and often innovative in the way in which they serve the customer (the CUSTOMER Mr Me, not A/2/1/3212372373) - a lot of companies should take note.

It's also worth noting that

It's also worth noting that in the eyes of the EE customer service managers the "fail" in this Exchange is the amount of time Patrick/Irwin & the manager spent on your call.

Another experience

There is never an excuse for bad customer service and the situation could have been handled much, much better; however, I often think we put contact centre/help desk/service desk people in an impossible situation.

Several years ago I was the victim on a minor Id fraud in which one of my credit cards was “taken over”. I noticed fairly quickly and it was stopped before any real damaged was done. Interestingly the people scamming my credit card also cancelled my mobile phone for me (which was with Orange who are now the other part of EE). I only noticed this a few days later as the phone was still showing the operator banner but I wasn't getting any calls or texts.

This resulted in an interesting call to the contact centre along the lines of …
Me: “Hello, my phone has stopped working”
Tech: “Let me check. Ah yes you cancelled the contract”
Me: “No I didn't”
Tech: “Can you confirm your address?”
Me: “My address is …”
Tech: “No it isn't”
Me: “Yes it is”
Tech: “You changed it recently”
Me: “No I didn't”

To be fair to Orange they quickly realised what had happened and fixed everything very rapidly. However, my concern was how someone had managed get past their security checks in the first place. It was probably from one of the contact centre staff dealing with an irate customer and trying to be “helpful” to someone who had almost the right information (addresses are fairly easy to get).

Anti-phishing practices mean that you shouldn't give out clues or hints about personal information to unverified people (such as “the address is almost right”). The customer is right only when you know they are actually the customer otherwise you have to believe the system of record.

Obviously, in your situation there should have been a structured way to resolve the problem rather than just dropping the call. That is unforgivable.

Finally, I wonder if your positive experience in the Apple Store was as much because you were dealt with IN person as well as a person.

We don't give good service enough praise? ...

Thanks David ... all good points. In particular the IN person one. I thought about this and whether it was worth mentioning in my already way too long blog. In the end I decided that "I am no less of a customer when you can't physically see me" :)

In fact remote support personal need to try even harder on customer service.

What IT can learn.

This isn't about IT and what IT can learn, this is about the people who pay for good IT. The owners or shareholders (Beancounters) they see IT support as an easy way to save money.
I work in IT, I work for T-Systems International in Germany, the difference though is that I am in 3rd level support backoffice (I have a clue), I deal with the systems that keep the network alive. I see and hear the horror stories about "our" helpdesk though. Currently we provide network services for a very large energy customer. Our customer has decided that the first level helpdesk should be outsourced to save money; so we are being laid off by my management. They have decided to lay me off and hire some students and housewives in Bulgaria and Bangalore to do my job. Now with 3 months left on my contract (I'll be out of a job on the 1st of January) Can't wait! (sarcasm) I have been tasked with the job of training these numbskulls in Eastern Europe... what do you think I'm doing? I'm spending my hours in the office right sending out CV's to as many companies as possible and so far this week have had two interviews on company time, are you kidding me?

Finally, and probably most importantly, for enterprises who employ people like Patrick (or Irwin?):

· Did Patrick not realize that he was losing a customer (probably two)?I really don’t think he did. (He didn't know that because he doesn't give a toss)

· Did he care? (Not in the slightest)

· Why do you employee such people? (Because they're cheap! At the end of the day it's the reason you took a cheap SIM card, because you get what you pay for, it's all about


Apple sell overpriced bling

Apple sell overpriced bling at huge margins. Telcos struggle for margin in a commodity market. Neither is stupid about SLTs: they set the service level according to what the return is and what they can afford.

The telco will be carefully watching that queue of consumers cancelling their contracts. there is a certain level they have decided is tolerable, normal churn. if it gets too high they'll dribble money into a portfolio of areas, one of which is the service centre.

Stop complaining about telco support. If you want it good, pay them as lavishly as you pay for your iCandy.

A great point as ever ...

... you can feel the "but" coming ... but talk of margins is the supplier view. From my customer perspective I pay more to T-Mobile/EE over a standard 2-year contract time frame than I do Apple (assuming I had bought a new iPhone rather than being a cheapskate on eBay). I pay more, I expect more ... TBH I (probably incorrectly) expect to be treated as a customer (not an account) whenever I give a supplier my money. We tend to miss this thing called "expectations" and their management (and most likely their limitation) in IT.

It's not all about you :) and

It's not all about you :)

and it is not about the gross amount you pay but the nett margins. Apple need to make a little plastic thing that costs them a hundred bucks from China, T-Mobile need to run a nationwide infrastructure.

You can assume t-Mobile are (a) stupid or (b) psychopathically evil but i prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that they are (c) rationally economic. (a) won't get them where they are in the market though (b) might. They choose not to give you better service because they don't need to. They can compete better and still survive and lose only an acceptably low number of customers with the existing service.

if it was economic and competitive to run a telco with super-loving service, somebody would do it.

They are supplying you with an essential service and doing so in a highly regulated, fiercely competitive, massively capital-intensive market. Be grateful they can actually stay in business.


I don't like to disagree with you as you are often the one in the right in my limited experience - however, I personally think that changing customer expectation on service are extremely important. I really like your last paragraph though ... but would question whether continuing to cut costs is a legitimate business strategy ... so let's see where they end up and how this strategy matures? Cost-cutting RyanAir are winning the EU airline wars I'm told.

I really do think that we will see more and more companies starting to worry more about customer experience (yes, I know there is a difference between a 3-star and 5-star hotel) but, when looking at a particular price point, service is a differentiator. From an economics perspective, is it really cheaper to acquire a new customer than keep an existing one? I really hope not.

We will never agree on this but feel free to have the last word so it's not all about me ;)

You may or may not like this

In terms of the mythical telco that values its customers, my personal rather than professional opinion is that it might be Virgin Mobile in the UK ... I will personally be looking at this at a later date.