How Do Telecoms Get Loyalty So Wrong?

It's that time of year when the mobile networks are busy selling the British public the dream of better data deals, lower prices and even data that rolls on to another month. One question remains. Beyond the slick tv ads, why are the mobile networks so bad? More to the point, why are they so bad at loyalty?

It's a timely question because the mobile providers have spent at least the past couple of years offering January deals -- and so it is a time of the year when contracts will have been taken out in the past and so, by definition, it's also a time when they come up for renewal. 

This is where we hit our first obstacle. I have tried and tried, and believe it is impossible, to find out from BT when a contract expires. I had to go through three chat assistants to eventually find out. It's a boring story, but despite confirming my details as a subscriber I was connected to the new customer team and then sent on to someone else who couldn't help before a third person said I was out of contract and good to go on a new deal.

The only problem was that to do so, I would need to speak to someone else. Several hours later, that someone else has not called.

I was, of course, advised to change my plan online. Great! The only problem is that the technology doesn't work. If you want to add a new SIM on the deal you are currently on, that is easy. Changing your plan is impossible. Believe me, I attempted to do this many times and was told that it could not be done.

Curiously, hitting the "upgrade or downgrade" button only takes you to an upgrade option which -- you guessed it -- doesn't work. So you carry out an online chat with three people and are just given the customer services number to call.

Which brings us on to O2. Did you know they offer discounts for additional SIMs -- say, if you want to have a home and work number or maybe add a partner or kids to your account. No? Well, I'm not surprised -- they don't seem to mention it very much. I couldn't find a record of it anywhere, so I tried an online chat assistant. Unfortunately, after half an hour, the site was still trying to find out if an assistant would take my enquiry.

The solution is to look under every stone to find out an actual telephone number for O2. The problem? There's a 15-minute wait to speak with someone with the added stab in the back that you can always try online. The way round it? Speak into the system, when prompted, you are thinking about leaving. That 15 minutes becomes just 5 seconds. 

And when you speak to someone, guess what happens? That terrible deal you've slipped in to can be changed to give more than double the data for less money. Funny that! Speak to a person about leaving and suddenly you're having a conversation that's moving in the direction need to go in.

All of this taps into a report issued at the end of last year that says British customers spend billions of pounds more per year because they are not given new customer discounts. Furthermore, they are not told when existing deals are about to end and when they will slip into a bad deal.

So here is the rub. The only way you get more out of your telecoms provider is to ignore chatbots and links to FAQs and simply phone them up and tell them you're about to leave. To get any level of service you have to constantly write down dates yourself, because there's no record on the "My" version of their site, and call in to threaten you're leaving before you can have a reasonable conversation. 

Does that sound like any basis for a customer relationship? Does that sound anything like a viable means of rewarding loyalty? I'd be surprised if there is a single marketer out there who believes it is.

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