Service Smackdown 2: Mobile Mayhem!

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Or how you can keep going on a path of mediocrity while your customers fall by the wayside…

In the second of a series of Celebrity Death Match-style attempts to set one service provider against another, we present O2 vs T-Mobile with retail outlet Carphone Warehouse holding the ring.

After two years on a not-particularly-attractive mobile contract with O2 I was looking forward to upgrading to something a bit more economical. I’ve been a loyal Carphone Warehouse customer for a few years as I have mostly found them to provide excellent service in their shops so with Mac-mad 16-year old son in tow I went off on the Diamond Jubilee weekend with the hope of getting something smarter-than-BlackBerry for less than before.

Let’s let Carphone Warehouse warm up the crowds before the mayhem begins. I had a great experience on a busy Saturday in their Wandsworth store and within the space of about 5 minutes located a deal with T-mobile for an iPhone that undercut O2 by about £5 per month. Next step – leave O2 and transfer the number to my new provider.

Round 1 – Sunday morning: calling O2 to close the account proves to be a difficult thing to do on a Bank Holiday weekend. The website doesn’t allow me to do anything other than chat with an advisor. The advisor refers me to the retention team but doesn’t seem to realise that they aren’t around at the weekend. This is something I discover when I try calling instead of web-chatting. Round 1 to T-Mobile, who have leant against the ropes and watched as O2 land all the blows on themselves.

Round 2 – the following day: frustrations increase as my efforts to get through to the retention team prove futile – clearly they’re a patriotic lot at O2 and running the show on a skeleton crew of republicans. Round 2 to T-Mobile, though I’ve no idea whether customers moving the other way are having the same problem. Right now that’s not my problem.

Round 3 – day 3 and I finally get through to someone at O2. A couple of years ago O2 attempted to pull at my heartstrings to get me to change my mind (see Don’t Leave Me This Way) when I made a similar transition but this time it’s a more neutral experience: I’m politely asked why I want to move and the advisor admits that deal can’t be matched. Armed with the all important PUC code I finally get around to calling T-Mobile and I’m given a clear description of what will happen next. Later that week the number transfers with no disruption.

I’d say this round was a draw but overall the bout belongs to T-Mobile. Of course it’s totally unfair as you might expect customer experience on entry to be better than that on leaving and I might revise my opinion as my T-Mobile contract continues but so far there’s not much to distinguish T-Mobile from O2.

And that brings me to my final thought: leaving a relationship well means you’re more likely to go back. My frustration at not being able to get through to O2 means I hold a negative perception that will make me less likely to return. Where relationships with customers become more fragmented as customers become more fickle superior customer service is the thing that makes the difference.