Edition #1: Follow Up Q&A: When Your Heroes Disappoint

Earlier in 2022, Maplewave telco consultant, Will Gibson, wrote about a disappointing experience he had at his local Vodafone UK flagship. The blog has been making the rounds and has received a lot of attention. We spoke with Will to dig deeper into the story.

Read: When Your Heroes Disappoint – A Cautionary Tale for a Telco Giant

There’s been a lot of reaction to your blog about your disappointing Vodafone experience. What are your thoughts on how this has been received?

I’ve had a lot of messages for sure! These have been both from within and outside Vodafone. The majority of the messages I’ve received have been supportive and people have expressed frustration that this type of experience is all too common across all telcos. It seems there is a price to pay for a modern, customer-first digital experience, and most telcos have not yet worked out how to do it.  

For folks that haven’t read your blog yet, can you provide a 30 second rundown of what happened?

It describes my very real horror story of a simple transaction that took too long in-store, followed by missed communications, broken promises, and me outright purchasing my devices elsewhere. I’m now free of my telco and I’m paying them way less for my services than I once was - all due to an avoidable set of circumstances that resulted in a shocking customer experience.

You described a lot of problems in your blog. What was the worst part of that experience?  

The single worst part was the franchise store manager actually shrugging her shoulders in front of me and saying, “there’s nothing I can do - it’s THEIR fault”. What world class brand wound want that experience from a franchisee that’s supposedly representing them? Absolutely zero attempt to own the customer experience – the franchisee simply took the path of least resistance.

How common are problems like these in the telco industry? And why does this happen?

This is very common in all industries. If you’ve travelled extensively, think about a time you had a sub-par experience at a McDonalds or Burger King. In telco, it’s even worse, as retailing is not the core business per se, so the telcos are not very good operators. Thus, they farm out too much of their brand to anyone who will buy in, train them badly, and don’t intertwine the remuneration to the customer experience. It’s just poor retailing.  

Put on your consultant hat. How easy are these problems to fix, and where would you start?

The problems are easy to fix, and the customer experience advantages will pay dividends in the long run – so long as someone is given ownership over the issues, and the board gives them the budget to do so. Too many telcos run their channels in silos, with no platform approach to their systems. This means they end up with 5 or 6 vendors for totally disparate solutions when they only need one. Having a single owner across sales execution is vital - and connecting your channels is even more so. I wish more telco CEOs would realise this and give me a call!

Franchising seemed to play a big role in what happened to you. How can telcos use franchising effectively?

Yes, franchising played a big part. I’ve written a blog on this subject called, To Franchise or to Own? A Telco Conundrum.

The main problem here is Vodafone UK has gone too far and too fast with its franchise program. It’s not designed well for long-term collaboration between the telco and the partners. I’ve seen other operators who are 10, even 15 years deep into this journey, with franchise partners who have either left or are totally disillusioned with the program. Vodafone UK is in for a problem in a few years, take it from me.

In fact, one of Vodafone’s partner markets in New Zealand has just performed a massive u-turn on their failed franchise strategy. They’ve bought back all the stores, staff, and site leases from their JV partner. The reason? They want to own the customer experience again. Time will tell if UK or New Zealand have it right!

I’m sure a lot of people are interested to know – has anything more happened with this story since you wrote it? Has Vodafone tried to reach out or resolve anything?

Well, without revealing too much, I’ve had a small refund to compensate me for some of the issues raised. Nothing more. I wrote a ten-page letter directly to the CEO giving them a chance to fix it and outlined the steps required. However, the second I got a text message from their “Executive Complaint Resolution Team”, I knew it had not been fully read nor appreciated.  

The first responses were a set of text messages so arrogant I can’t even begin to explain, along the lines of, “We have not been able to contact you, so someone will call you back tomorrow between 10 and 11am.” Well, that time wasn’t convenient for me as I was on another call, so it took 5-6 attempts for someone to actually contact me.  

When they finally got in touch, they knew nothing about the details of my complaint, and were simply trying to throw cash at a problem to make it go away; not actually trying to fix the processes behind the issue. It was yet another poor experience and hasn’t enhanced my feelings for the brand one bit.  

You’re a self-described Vodafone fanboy, maybe now former fanboy. Do you think you’ll ever get that back? What would it take?

Vodafone was an incredible employer. Even across countries, it was a great family. Now though, nothing could be further from the truth! I’d certainly like a discussion about what went wrong and how we could help to fix it – but I don’t think that will be forthcoming any time soon.

What’s one thing you’d like people to take away from this story?

That customer experience matters! Telcos have been sleep-walking into the low-cost, low-service world of the utility provider for years (remember the phrase “dumb pipe”?), and now that is coming true. I firmly believe that a telco can be profitable and be an amazing brand at the same time – but it takes the right focus and attention to make that come true. When stories like mine happen, dig into them to find the root of the problem. Only then can you become a true telco hero.

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