I’m on a customer service kick again having just wasted the best part of a day battling with O2’s customer support.

In the Czech Republic Telefonica O2 recently acquired the once state-owned Czech Telecom and their mobile counterpart Eurotel and with them what was probably the worst customer service in the developed world.  Somehow the arrogance of public ownership had combined with a Communist appreciation of what customer service is all about, absolutely no consumer insights and zero training to create a customer service resource that had infinite flexibility to be able NOT to deliver whatever you needed.  Yes, I am sure they actually went out of their way to make life impossible!

Luckily the boys at Telefonica have risen to the challenge and in a reasonably short period have begun to respond to  current needs, anticipate future ones and even create processes for resolving them.

My problem was that as a self-confessed media junkie (integration was invented just for me) I travel the world with my lap-top set up to deliver English language TV, movies, news etc. wherever I may be.  I’m not usually at my Prague base for long periods of time but this month I appear to have outstayed my welcome (at least with Telefonica/O2) by downloading more than they think I should have (Maybe something to do with watching the entire first series of Lost!?).  The result being that I received a hefty slap on the wrist in the form of a download speed restriction that reduced my bandwidth from 4mb to 88kbps – very friendly!

Now, I could launch into one of my pet subjects here with a piece entitled “When is unlimited download not unlimited?” and turn this whole thing around into a case for revealing the “fair user policy” that some ISPs adopt for the miss-sell that it represents – to my mind if you buy unlimited download you should get unlimited download and anything short of that should be considered breach of contract.  However, I’m determined to keep to the point here, which is … why having gone to all the trouble of training and devising programmes for the resolution of customer issues anybody – and Telefonica are not alone here – should hand it over to web site developers to completely bugger up.

Why, when everyone seems to be talking about and nodding to the suggestion that you should never be more than a couple of clicks away from satisfaction on any web site, do so many organisations that I believe genuinely understand customers and want to solve their problems, have web sites with customer support that you need GPS and a native guide to find your way around? (My old English teacher would love that sentence/paragraph!)

All I wanted to do was buy a quid’s worth of extra bandwidth to see me through the week and it took four phone calls and more time on the O2 web site that I would care to recall (or add-up the cost of).  The reasons for this were firstly that this service is not available via the telephone customer service, only on line.  Secondly, web site navigation was unending, but my biggest issue is that, for some reason that I can’t fathom, Telefonica O2 insist on giving things cute names that you are supposed to instinctively relate.

Pardon me for being simple, but if I want to buy extra bandwidth I’m looking for a menu item that says something like “buy extra bandwidth”.  Unfortunately T/O2 don’t see it that way.  They think that its far more appropriate to list “Data Klik” among a never ending menu of similarly cute names at the end of a navigation challenge that goes like this.

Home>Private>Customer Care>On-line Services and applications>Log-in (this is great because you are supposed to have at your fingertips a sixteen character login and password that you won’t have used since the day you set up your modem)>My services>Data Klik (if you knew it was call this)>order>send.  Sorted!

Maybe I’m slow, but it took me conversations with four different customer service representatives to fathom that route.  Yes, I couldn’t buy the service on the phone but I had to use the phone service to find out how to use the on-line service – does that make sense? – No, of course not!  Only the last guy gave me the impression that he had ever seen the web site himself or knew that what I was looking for was “data klik”.  One thought I could buy it from a colleague over the phone, but having transferred me the colleague was as confused as I was, another cut me off and didn’t call back (I assume they have number recognition at the telephone company?) the third gave me completely the wrong instructions – Oh, and I got through to a recorded message that told me that there were no operators available, but if I left a message they would call me back, which I did.  That was two days ago now and I’m still waiting!

So, I guess at least some of the morals of this story are:

  • Never trust a web developer to create a customer service web site
  • Keep marketing speak out of it – call a spade a spade and everyone will understand.
  • If your mechanism doesn’t deliver your customer service, you have no customer service.

Actually, this experience actually had a negative influence on my opinion of Telefonica/O2 and it is a really good example of where the inefficiencies lie in organisations like this.  They could significant and directly reduce their need for investment by fixing this problem, but it will be a drop in the ocean compared to the savings they would make if they just stopped pissing customers off by putting them through this mill. 

As the market leader by a long way they may be less driven than their competitors on issues like this and rather less concerned than they should be about achieving efficiencies and increasing ROI, but as one of their competitors has pledged to take their leadership position within two years I hardly think they can afford to hang around. 

Of course this is my old subject Integrated Marketing again and how it applies to the delivery of the brand promise – in this case the promise is “customer service”!

Michael Weaver
February 27, 2008

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