An open letter to O2’s Chief Executive

I’m not in the habit of using this blog to discuss personal matters, but a recent customer service experience with O2 seemed to raise so many questions about the way the business worked that it was worth opening it up. I’ve been an O2 customer for almost a decade, and there are several household phones on the account. I had bought a new phone from you, instore, in mid-February, and after 15 days it had developed a strange fault: people couldn’t hear me talking on it, unless the phone was connected to a bluetooth speaker. So on Day 16, having tested the fault and looked for possible solutions in Settings, I took it back into the store. (No, it’s not the store in the picture).

No box

I won’t say here which store, but it’s not the most obscure low-traffic branch in the O2 network. I hope the other stores are better run.

I explained the fault, expecting that someone might, initially, suggest some reasons for the fault and try a couple of things to fix it. Instead it was straight into what is clearly an O2 process routine: you want to exchange the phone, but you haven’t got the box. No, I don’t have the box, so I can’t do that. I asked to speak to the manager. With no pretence at any kind of customer care, he dived right into the same thing again. No box, no exchange.

I pointed out that this was a product that wasn’t fit for purpose, and that the Customer Rights Act might be relevant. Apparently your company’s legal obligations under consumer rights law are less important than your internal processes.

Business truths

I observed that I was a long standing customer who bought multiple services from you. Apparently the store manager couldn’t go “bending the rules” for good customers. Well, heavens. One of the first things I learned in business was that long-standing customers who bought multiple products were much more profitable than other customers, and there are some very successful companies out there who have done very well out of using that as a business model. But maybe daring iconoclasm in the face of basic business truths is the way to go for O2.

The box thing? No one had told me, when I bought the phone, that I’d need to keep it if I wanted to make an exchange. But apparently it’s written on the back of the receipt, or so I was told, so of course. Silly old me. The back of the receipt? Who knew? (Not going to labour this point, but British consumer law isn’t long on “buyer beware”.)

Anyway: it turned out that only thing the store manager could suggest was talking to customer services, so I did that on Chat when I got home. I like Chat; it’s convenient. It also gives you a record of what was said. And since this conversation didn’t go well either, I took some screenshots along the way. But you’ll be able to go and have a look at the whole thing, I imagine.

The Customer Rights Act, again

We got into the same loop. I explained the problem. No suggestion about what to do about it. Eventually, we got to… you guessed already. We got to the Customer Rights Act. I have to say that your service representative wasn’t really up to speed on that, though he had a stab at a number of different interpretations of the law that basically would have meant that O2 had no obligations here.

However, these interpretations all had one thing in common: they were all wrong in fact and wrong in law. Silence might have been a better option, or maybe passing me on to someone who wasn’t getting further out of their depth with every passing moment. As I said, I took some screenshots, so I might as well just save everyone some time here and paste a couple in. I’ve blacked out the representative’s name. It’s not his fault that you can’t be bothered to train him properly.

O2-ConsumerRightsAct-not.002Image: More training required

Repairs and returns

Anyway, after a while, a manager turned up at the Chat. He at least suggested, eventually, that I needed to talk to Repairs and Returns. They’d be open in the morning. It was two and a half hours since I’d left the house to go to the store. As a CEO I once worked with used to say to me, that’s two-and-a-half hours of my life that I’m not going to get back.

Repair and Returns? Well, once I’d got past that irritating voicebot you have, that simply sends you round in a loop if you don’t have a blindingly obvious question, they were astonishingly helpful. They read the file and said that O2 would replace the phone, and that the quickest way would be to take it back to the store. That was where I started, I said. It didn’t go well. I still don’t have the box.

That’s alright, they said. We’ll put a message on your account. Ask them to ring us if there is a problem. Something resembling customer service. I was pleasantly surprised.

Back at the store

Of course, I explained at the store the following morning that I had spoken to Repairs and Returns and that they had put a note on my account that you would exchange the phone without a box, and that they should call Repairs and Returns if they had a problem. (The store didn’t actually open on time, by the way, which also told me something about its operating culture). The going in position of the O2 representative was that if her manager had said last night that he could not exchange the phone without a box she couldn’t do it now this morning. She didn’t ask my name or my phone number to check. Like I had made up the conversation with Repairs and returns and was just sneaking back in to the store to pull a fast one.

After a bit more of this, she disappeared into the back and spoke to her Regional Manager, who told her to do it but make it clear it was a one-off.

Turf wars

Even while she was explaining this to me she as also telling me that Repairs and Returns didn’t have the authority to instruct a store to overturn their procedures. Sharing your internal turf wars with customers is certainly innovative service practice, but at least it explained a thing or two about my customer experience. Anyway, time passed, and once she had found someone in the store who had a Returns password (yes: really) she did the exchange eventually, keeping the box of the replacement phone to send back the old one (if only her manager had thought of that the night before, eh?).

All in all: my worst customer service experience in about ten years. Maybe longer.

Some tips

IMG_20180312_090614323Image: Doing it a lot better

In my day job I work for a business consultancy, so let me offer some free advice here.

  • Even if you don’t think much of the UK’s Consumer Rights Act it’s not a good idea to put obstacles in the way of complying with it. It just makes you look shifty. Richer Sounds does this well; the above leaflet is on their store counters. Maybe you could get one of your people to call round and have a chat with one of their people.
  • I talk to people who tell me endlessly about the importance of omnichannel customer service. But it’s a personal first to experience poor service in two channels, and irritating service in a third, in the space of 16 hours.
  • As a customer I just don’t want to know about your internal processes or issues. I just want you to fix my problem.

Post-script. It turned out that the replacement phone had exactly the same problem as the first one. This time your social team fixed it. Pretty much instantly. They’d seen something I’d tweeted about my customer experience. Good to know where the power lies in O2. But it’s a bit of a perverse customer incentive, though.

The image at the top of this post is from Wikimedia Commons. The other two are by Andrew Curry and are published here under a Creative Commons licence.

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