A lesson from O2's CRM as front line retail lets down customer services

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan September 23, 2014
O2's corporate customer services people were able to solve my problem, but the brand damage had already been done at customer facing retail level.

Going back a few years now, I used to say that the problem with CRM was that for all too many organizations it meant buying some Siebel software, installing it and hey presto - CRM!

o2 mobile
The fallacy of this of course is that all the CRM software in the world isn’t going to help you one iota if your underlying philosophy is that the customer is a flaming nuisance! It’ll just help you automate that bad attitude.

I was prompted to update this thought earlier today when finding myself on the receiving end of some frankly schizophrenic customer service from mobile phone operator O2.

On this occasion, the sentiment becomes one of having the best CRM policies in place at corporate level isn’t going to help your brand if the customer-facing staff in the shops aren’t either aware of it or following it!

The reason I was in the O2 outlet in the first place relates to my new iPhone 6 Plus, which I had picked up from the same shop last Friday. I’m loving everything about the new phone before old snarky-boots Dennis Howlett jumps in, but I’ve struck unlucky with my handset as it has a defective headphone jack. This means that when the volume is turned up so high that I’m getting the ‘your eardrums are about to melt’ warnings on the screen, the sound coming through is barely audible.

A quick check of some Apple customer boards online confirmed that there have been quite a few reports of such defective handsets in circulation, so I’d just drawn the short straw. Hey ho, I thought, it’s clearly a recognised issue. I’ll take it back to the store where they’ll almost certainly need to re-order a new one but I can live without loud noise for a few days while they replace it.

Defective thinking

Silly, silly me. As if it were ever going to be that easy. The girl behind the counter listens to what the problem was then vanished into the back room to talk to someone. When she comes back, she announces that I’ll have to fill out a form and then they’ll send off the damaged headset and assess what the next step should be.

Er, damaged? It’s not damaged, I point out, it’s defective.

Same thing, she says.

No it’s not, I say, damaged would mean something had happened to it while in my care to render it broken; defective means it was this way when you handed it over to me in the first place.

Same thing, she says.

Sensing this isn’t going to evolve to any level of rationality any time soon, I ask her if, on the assumption they won’t have a replacement handset in stock, can she order me one in and I’ll do a swap of devices when it comes into the store.

No, she says.

Why not, I ask.

Because you’re a customer, she replies.

Now at this point, I nearly burst out laughing. The reason you can’t help me is because I’m a customer? It’s a fascinatingly original twist on customer engagment admittedly, but really?

Turns out that if I was not an O2 customer and wanted my first phone, then I could put down a deposit and she’d be happy to order me a new phone. But because I’m an existing customer of many years with a damaged phone -aaaargh!  it’s not damaged, it’s defect…oh what’s the point?!? - she can’t do that as she needs to fill out a form and send it off for assessment of damage yada yada yada.

It was clear by this stage that nothing was going to happen that would have a satisfactory outcome. I’d run straight into a wall of either stubborness or ignorance or fatally, both!

Call my bluff

The only other thing I could do, she says, by now clearly keen to be rid of me, would be to phone customer services - but they’d just say the same anyway, she adds.

OK, I say, deciding it’s call your bluff time, let’s call customer services.

You need to do it, she says, I’m not a customer.

OK, says I, as the customer is right in front of you, why not pick up your phone on the counter, call customer services and then give me the handset to complete the call? That way, you can pay the bill as well.

This threw her completely, but she reluctantly - and I mean reluctantly - picked up the phone, dialled a number, gave me the handset and walked away.

Of course, she’d put me through to the wrong number as I discovered after hanging on the line for 5 minutes. The person I was put through to passed me on to the correct department - and suddenly everything changes.

A few quick security questions to confirm identity, an outline of the problem from my perspective and then those magic words that should be imprinted in indelible type in every CRM strategy:

I’m very sorry about this.

I could feel myself physically relaxing a bit. She took a few details down, asked a bit more about the problem, then said she was about to pass me to the replacement handset department who’d close the deal.

Her colleague picked up where she left off. Refreshingly, he didn’t insist on jumping through the same security hoops again, but cut straight to the matter at hand. He was aware there had been reports of some defective handsets - not damaged, you’ll not, defective! - and he’d be happy to arrange a doorstep swap-over.

Don't I have to fill out a form and send my handset off to be assessed for damage, I ask.

Of course not, comes the reply. It will take up to 5 days to get your new handset to you, I hope that’s OK. But we’re certainly not about to leave you without a phone while we sort this out.

He takes a few minutes to check the address on file and various other bits of information and then that’s it, we’re sorted! (Subject of course to a new phone actually turning up in a few days, but I’m taking that one on trust for now!)

I thank the customer services chap for being so helpful, but add that while he and his colleague at corporate have been excellent, the frontline staff in the shop have not.

In fact, everything I was told in the shop was effectively negated instantly by the customer services team.

The problem here, I point out, is that my view of O2 as a brand is more likely to be shaped by the people in the shop, than being lucky enough to hit on capable people on the end of the phone.

The silence at the end of the line tells its own story. This is not, I suspect, the first time this point has been made.

My take

O2’s clearly got some highly efficient and capable customer services people in place. But where they let themselves down as an organization is in not ensuring that the same standards are applied on the front line in the retail environmnent.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened to me with O2, where the shop staff haven’t known about or have not enforced the corporate policies or practices. And of course it’s not just O2. There are examples of this sort of thing everywhere.

Had I not been pig-headed enough to insist on being connected to customer services from the shop, I might not have achieved a satisfactory resolution to my problem and my perception of O2 would have been one of lack of willingness to help or to ‘go the extra mile’ to help me as a customer.

Good CRM practice needs to ooze from every pore of an organization. And if you can’t guarantee that it’s being implemented on your most visible physical front line, you’ve got a big problem.