Vodafone and Orange strive to improve at the front-end

Natalie Bannerman
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Vodafone and Orange are taking initiatives to champion customer-centric thinking – and, in Vodafone’s case, the move comes out of a very real need to turn around what can only be described as a pretty poor customer service reputation

Vodafone has started to drive home this new customer-first message in the UK. In November 2015 the UK regulator, Ofcom, fined the company for “mis-selling, inaccurate billing and poor complaints procedures”. Its reputation resulted in record-breaking lows of -35% for its net promoter score (NPS) and its transactional net promoter score (TNPS) ratings.

Neil Blagden was brought into Vodafone UK as director of commercial and customer operations to take on this challenge. “Vodafone has had some troubles over the last three-to-four years,” he said. 

One key change is the migration of Vodafone’s seven UK consumer billing systems down to a single system. “Most problems happened in our pay-monthly base, and the majority centred on billing issues.” Now Blagden is “pleased to report that we’ve halved the number of calls coming into the contact centre and webchat and we’re now down to levels we’ve never seen Vodafone reach”. 

He added: “Our TNPS as of April 2017 has reached a score of +26%, roughly a 60-point shift in an 18-month period.” Complaint numbers are “down dramatically”, but “I can’t give you the number because it’s under embargo from Ofcom”. 

At Orange group, France Heringer-Jallot is executive vice president of quality customer experience and sales. She commented: “We operate in a market where we have very intense competition and we want to differentiate ourselves for our customers with the service we provide. We want to create value and not just focus on this steep pricing war among operators.”

Customers leave for three main reasons, she added: “Price, connectivity and customer relationships.” Pricing is constantly subject to change, so Orange focusses on connectivity, by investing in network infrastructure, and customer experience through the way it interacts with its customers. 

“The network is only visible when it doesn’t work,” said Heringer-Jallot. Orange has been investing €17 billion between 2015 and 2018 to address this problem, to create maximum usage and maximum value, by ultimately thinking about users and how it affects their everyday lives.

A reoccurring theme from both operators is a desire to be “digital first on all fronts, while still maintaining a human aspect”. It’s paramount to increase the ways in which customers are able to contact these companies and quickly find the help they need.

“I’m a firm believer that customers should have all the channels available to them. There are so many different segments of customers and the behaviours of those segments,” said Blagden.

Heringer-Jallot echoed his comment: “We have roughly 300 million customers, of whom 80% interact digitally and we know it is their first priority. Orange’s ambition is to have 50% of all customer interaction done digitally by 2020 and we are roughly at 43% so far.” 

Vodafone UK is using the artificial intelligence chatbot TOBi, launched in March and based on IBM’s Watson virtual assistant product. Already 30% of Vodafone UK customers have access to it – to answer webchat queries as well as account-specific questions on subjects such as roaming. It can offer advice on SIM-only price plans.

“TOBi can take away some very simple, high-volume transactional type activity away from a call centre-based agent,” said Blagden. “What we will have left over will be more case-managed specialist-type activity. We envision that advisors will become even more important in the future – not replaced by it.” 

Orange has rolled out its My Orange app in most of the countries it operates. “It enables customers to do virtually anything from their phones,” said Heringer-Jallot. The company retains the human touch at the point of sale, recognising that some users still want advice and the physical presence of a person. 

What’s most interesting was Heringer-Jallot’s comments on internal culture and the steps being taken to ensure these changes are consistent from top to bottom: “These changes go all the way up the company, even to senior executive committee level, not just front-line employees. The top executives go out and spend a day in the field, helping customers in store, selling dealing with queries,” she said.