The future’s bright, but it certainly isn’t Orange.

Some posts almost write themselves.

There’s no doubt that it’s good practise to monitor your customers’ experiences with your company. Surveys, focus groups and online feedback forms are all good ways to do this. However, this communication must be absolutely right or it can actually cause more harm than good.

I had to call Orange about a problem with my phone. It wasn’t a great experience. The first representative didn’t listen to what I said and had to pass me on to a second who, not able to deal with my query, called the first an imbecile and passed me to a third person. The third representative was helpful and we agreed a plan to identify the cause of the problem and hopefully resolve it, she agreed to call me back in a week so they could monitor the issue.

Shortly after the call I received a series of text message asking if I’d be willing to provide some feedback on the call.

Question 1

Paradoxically, the messages only worsened my view of Orange. The five questions, (not “only three” as promised) didn’t reflect my experience. I’d hazard a guess that most people get to speak to one or more customer service representatives, therefore the first question fails to deal with this scenario. I answered based on the first person I spoke to – as the survey was based on the initial call I’d made. This person had no empathy and didn’t listen so put me through to department, my answer therefore was zero, but the final person I spoke to was actually interested in helping me resolve the problem, so had the question been phrased differently, I would have given a more balanced answer.

Questions 2 & 3

The second question was undoubtedly a no, but I do hope that representative no.3 will ultimately fix the problem. So the third question poses a dilemma. If we’re still talking about representative no.1, I’ve no hope that she will fix it because she passed the call to someone else, so the answer has to be a no.

Question 4Frustratingly, I’m now faced with question 4 – how likely am I recommend the company. In my current state of mind: Not at all. I’m faced with an answer scale 0-10, so is this scale based on competitors? Would I actively recommend the company or only passively if asked? Still no, zero in fact.

Question 5

The final question again fails to address the actual scenario so I tried to summarise the experience in 160 characters.

For a final response, a simple thank you, would have sufficed. Even better, a response tailored to my negative scoring would have really helped. Surely that must be in the realms of possibility for a cutting edge (no sarcasm, I promise) technology company like Orange? Instead I’m faced with a sales offer! Why would I want to sign up for additional services from a company that has caused and failed to resolve a problem?

This kind of one size fits all really goes against the grain for good customer service. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that customers prefer being treated as individuals, moreover, common sense dictates that asking potentially irritated customers irrelevant question can actually aggravate the situation.

Orange has been doing this for some time. Following an almost identical experience to the one above in June 2011, Maz Iqbal, a customer service consultant writes “If you want to learn about your customers and cultivate emotional bonds then it pays to have an empathic human being conducting a survey”.

Orange’s parent company Everything Everywhere is seeking to increase its UK market share, with the forthcoming auction of so called 4g technology. It needs to get these sort of basic mechanisms right if it is to succeed. As Iqbal puts it “why should this matter to Orange? …because I will be moving my entire family off Orange.”

There’s no great secret to good customer service, simply treat customers as you would wish to be treated. Whether it’s face to face, over the phone or through written communication, give them your full attention. This is why Orange has failed to engage me over the phone and by text. Would I recommend the company to a friend or colleague? No. In fact, the customer service survey has actually provoked me to write about this experience.

More significantly then losing a few customers (these companies will rely on a certain amount of “churn”) the data from these surveys will form the basis for management information. Erroneous or ambiguous questions will yield subtly or grossly incorrect data which could drive investment into the wrong place. I’d expect that Orange or Everything Everywhere will seek to back up the findings from this quantitative research with qualitative information from focus groups. Nevertheless, data from tens of thousands of customer generated by these surveys will appear an influential source for decision making.

A firm’s customers are its biggest asset, and knowing what makes them tick is hugely valuable. Facebook’s entire business model is based on mining their users’ data. This has propelled a 8 year old company to anything up to a $100bn valuation. Not bad.

Companies shouldn’t necessarily try to emulate this approach, but they should ensure that any data gathering is painless, or even enhance the customer experience. Failure to do so will be of detriment to both the customer and the business. Doing it well will both engage customers and enable better business decisions.

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About Sam Elfer

Blogging about writing
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