Just picked up a Vodafone branded London cab with an in-cab phone charger unit. Driver said I was the first person to ask to use it in a month!
Today I read that Vodafone has made the decision to axe the role of CMO from its board.
Is this just the result of a long standing lack of get-up-and-go in the Vodafone brand and it’s marketing or the sign of something a whole lot more important?
Anyone who knows even a little about Vodafone understands that it is a product led organisation which like many businesses struggles with understanding and delivering for customers. There has been a string of changes at the higher levels both in the UK and globally with David Wheldon leaving as Brand Director and Andy Moore leaving as Head of Insight.
The Vodafone brand is seemingly directionless in terms of both advantage and leadership especially in those markets where it holds an incumbent player status such as the UK. Of course those times, even in the UK, are changing as T-Mobile and Orange merge and consumers are taught that all the main players are broadly the same and the market is largely commoditised.
The CMO role hasn’t just been axed but replaced by a Chief Commercial Officer role and a Group Commercial function that will apparently, “help it focus on its customer and commercial strength, leadership in data, brand advocacy, cost efficiency and shareholder returns by reducing layers and simplifying managerial governance.” Clearly the last few Vodafone CMOs and their organisations haven’t done a very good job of communicating and delivering, if the only mention in the description of this new function of brand or marketing is “brand advocacy” (whatever that means).
So what is going on?
On one hand if it is Vodafone giving up on their marketing organisation whilst pretty demoralising for their marketing team, then so be it – they were pretty crap at it and their organisation has clearly rejected efforts to change. Stick to what you know and be true to thyself.
However if on the other hand it is Vodafone deciding that the core skills of world-class marketing are no longer relevant or valuable to them then I fear they’ve just accelerated the race to the bottom. A bottom that will all be about commoditised price-based products, no rewards for loyalty, constant switching, crap service and ultimately a smaller profit pool for the whole industry. That’s what happens marketing is replaced by the purely commercial.
Understanding customers, creating profitable propositions that leverage their technological and data advantages, delivering this as a compelling message to those customers, and commanding their loyalty profitability are what a CMO and marketing organisation should be able to do within any corporate culture if they are good at what they do.
As a customer I hope Vodafone stay true to tried and true marketing principles even if depressingly they have decided that the best way to implement them is not through a dedicated marketing function.
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I’m going to recount the experience and then draw some conclusions on Why Big Companies Struggle to get the Customer Experience right.
Firstly talked to VirginMobile to port the number and get PAC code. This was a good experience and Virgin delivered, with a nice operator and a letter confirming PAC code a few days later. Again Virgin delivered a good experience. (If they offered Blackberries we would have stayed with them).
I decided to apply for the Vodafone contract online. Seemed to me a sensible choice – after all I’d researched online and the apply now button was blinking away at me. The Vodafone website worked just ok: stopped once and had to reload losing the data I’d filled in, somewhat confusing on PAC code and lost this during the process but overall got through it. At least I receieved some confirmation emails saying things were progressing which was good.
Got a call a few hours later asking for confirmation of some details and again was told everything was going ahead and to expect the phone soon. Two weeks later (on the day contract was due to finish with Virgin) we had recieved nothing – no phone, no sim, no letters, no emails, nothing.
So a few days ago I rang the call centre. And this is where the whole thing took a massive turn for the worse. Initially a woman answered (after a two stage, 5 options choice menu) told me “we are nothing to do with online applications and can’t access their details” and therefore she would have to transfer me. She transferred me to a number that was closed. I then rang again and talked to a guy who was much more helpful, he confirmed that “they” were nothing to do with “online” and started to check the number transfer and set up. Basically nothing had happened in two weeks. He now, politely, started to get me to buy the same contract with him that I had applied for online. This felt really wierd as a customer – surely I had already taken out a contract with Vodafone online? Why was I now having to do it again. He asked me to email the PAC code to him for process.
2. Most big companies suffer from the “they” disease. This disease infects companies which are lukcy enough to get big enough that people don’t know each other within the company. When I ring Vodafone it doesn’t matter to me which bit I am talking to from the myriad collection of smaller units. I (foolishly) want to call one integrated company. So why do most people – not just call centre folks – refer to other teams and units as “they”. Shouldn’t it be “us”. I don’t care that the call centre folks can’t access the online apps – I don’t want to know that “they are nothing to do with us”. I just want someone to stand up and take responsibility (see 3). A good customer experience is only as strong as its weakest link. The process needs to be understood by everyone from start to finish. “We” and “Us” are powerful words to make me think I am dealing with one brand, one company and a bunch of people who care about the service I am getting.
3. Most companies don’t allow individuals in call centres to be honest, take personal accountability and sort the issues out. Call scripts and training often exacerbate bad situations. Handovers should be much more transparent and honest with the customer. Ultimately my major source of frustration was the fact that “online” were nothing to do with anything else. And the handovers failed. This should be handled in a much more grown up way with the customer. What about acknowledging that the situation isn’t great? That my call might get lost and that if it does I can get back to the person I am talking to at that moment to try another solution? Giving out people’s names and allowing call handlers to take personal responsibility is a rarity but ultimately I went with the guy who said “I will take responsibility – email me directly and we will sort it out”. [If anyone from Vodafone wants this guys name please email me and I’d be glad to get him some credit – he saved the situation for you].
6. Its easier to deliver a good experience when your brand stands for something. I’m consistently surprised at how Virgin, across multiple categories and products, delivers a good and distinctive customer experience. The Virgin Mobile guys had the “Virgin chat” and “attitude” – one that I like – and it made it better and easier even though I was leaving them. What does Vodafone stand for? I am sure they have “brand manuals” and “brand personality” guides, and have probably spent a decent amount of money paying customer experience experts and brand consultants to translate these words on paper into action. But the bottom line is that I don’t really know what Vodafone stands for, I guess you don’t and therefore the guy in the call centre, especially if outsourced, won’t know either. Or even if they do it is just so bland and boring that it provides no guidance what-so-ever.
7. Most companies measure the wrong things across their customer experiences. Firstly most tracking happens at the unit or department level – it is rarely integrated. Most tracking focused on the process as defined by the company, rather than the consumer. For example, what is web downtime as the key measure, rather than how many points of failure there is in a web application? It’s better in my mind to be told, “our website is down come back in an hour” than start a web application only for it to fail 10 times and take me an hour). Most tracking asks “were you satisfied?” when actually this is a very crude measure – a better measure is to ask the trio of questions: were you satisfied overall, how satisfied were you against your ideal experience, and how satisifed were you against your expected experience? This gets at the fact that if I am talking to an Indian call centre agent I have VERY different levels of ideal experience and expected experience. These ideas and joined up mesaurement are central to the work of Professor Claes Fornell (University of Michigan) and his consultancy CFI Group. Measurement needs to be joined up, from a customer perspective, and intelligent enough to give real insight that can drive action.