Monthly Archives: August 2011
What makes giffgaff special – worth learning from?
Some customers love giffgaff so much that they are willing to have giffgaff tattooed on them. If this does happen then it puts giffgaff in the same league as Harley Davidson and Apple – brands that have fans not just customers. giffgaff won the Marketing Society’s 2011 best new brand award . And in the customer management community some hail giffgaff as representing the future of customer service. So what makes giffgaff special – different from the pack?
First let me tell you a little bit about giffgaff. Vodafone, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, 3 – are the main brands that dominate the UK mobile telecoms industry. giffgaff is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that launched towards the end of 2009 and piggybacks on the O2 network. And in that sense giffgaff is rather like Virgin Mobile (the first commercially successful MVNO in the UK) and say Tesco Mobile.
So what makes giffgaff special? It is not one thing, one ingredient, it is the entire recipe – the whole business model and organisational design. In a way it is like the way that Dell (at the start) rethought the PC industry or Ryanair / Easyjet / Southwest Airlines rethought the airline travel industry. Let’s start with customers. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that giffgaff does not have customers – at least not in the traditional sense of customers simply as consumers. giffgaff has members. Customers are seen as members who are involved in, contribute to and carry out an array of organisational tasks: provide ideas, get involved in new product development, recruiting new members, serving other members (‘customer services’)…… Many pundits talk about putting customers at the heart of the organisation yet few organisations do that – giffgaff is an exception. There is a lot of talk about transparency, authenticity, mutuality, collaboration and co-creation yet few organisation do that – giffgaff is an exception. Finally, giffgaff is keenly focussed on its core customer segment (those looking for a great SIM only deal) and the associated value proposition (cheap calls, texts, internet). If you want to find out more about giffgaff then I suggest you listen to Tom Rainsford, Head of Brand and Proposition, giffgaff. For the rest of the post I simply wish to share with you my experience of dealing with giffgaff and why I am an advocate.
My giffgaff customer experience
To sign up with giffgaff you have to head over to their website as giffgaff is an internet only operation: there are no retail stores to visit nor call centres to ring. The first thing that I noticed was that it was easy for me to sign-up and request a SIM: the task was prominently signposted on the webpage and the task was easy as I only had to supply my name, email and address – five fields in total.
Second, I noticed that giffgaff is great value for people like me – people who already have a phone and are happy to keep using that phone. On Orange, as a pay as you go customer, I had been paying 20p+ a minute and 10p for text messages. With giffgaff I would be paying only 8p a minutes for phone calls and 4p a text.
Third, despite the fact that I knew absolutely nothing on phone unlocking, all the information that I needed to get my phone unlocked was on the website. Better still upon entering the make and phone model the giffgaff website provided a list of companies that are able to unlock my phone. And each of these companies was rated so I could just turn to the best rated one.
Within two days I received the SIM card and it was easy to register my SIM card: I simply logged into my giffgaff account, entered a six digit code and then purchased a £10 goody bag that bought me 250 free minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet. Within 30 minutes my SIM was activated and I was making calls and surfing the internet. The process could not have been easier.
In the process of purchasing the goody bag I noticed that the giffgaff website had an automated top-up facility. I simply had to activate and specify how much I wanted my top up to be and when the balance on my account hit a low of £3 giffgaff would automatically top-up my account thus making sure that I was never in a position where I had run out of credit and thus could not use my phone. This grabbed my attention because that was one of the tasks that I hated doing on Orange: topping up my phone and the phones belonging to my two sons. I still cannot believe how such a small feature delivers such a huge benefit to me: always being able to use my phone and giffgaff doing the work behind the scene.
Whilst I was using the phone I got more suprises in the form of useful information: the giffgaff network regularly displays how many minutes I have left if I have bought a gift pack (a bundled package that expires at the end of 30 days). If I have bought ordinary minutes then giffgaff lets me know how much credit I have left at the end of calls. Finally, when I make calls to other giffgaff phones then the giffgaff network automatically informs me that the call was free. This is the kind of information that I had yearned for and never got from my previous provider. And it got me thinking: if giffgaff can do this then why did my old provider not do this?
About two weeks later I got another pleasant surprise: an email from giffgaff letting me know that they were sending me an additional SIM card that I could give to a friend. And on the same day it arrived. When I opened up the envelope I noticed that I was not simply being asked to get a new customer for giffgaff. giffgaff had thought through the value exchange: once the SIM was activated then the person using that new SIM would be credited with £5 and so would I. So I was being rewarded for my effort. How could I refuse? My wife switched over from Orange to giffgaff. And she is delighted with the money that she is saving and how easy it is for her to manage her mobile account/relationship with giffgaff.
At the end of the month I was able to view an analysis of my phone usage via the giffgaff statement. This took me by surprise because on Orange I simply got a list of phone calls I made chronologically. On the giffgaff site I got that and I got a bar chart type analysis which I found useful – it helped me to figure out what I had been doing with my phone. I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtfulness of it: giffgaff is providing me with information and tools that help me to be informed and make better decisions.
Interestingly enough giffgaff beat me to that as well. Shortly after this experience I got an email from giffgaff telling me that they had done an analysis on my usage and had a recommendation for me. So I logged on the website and accessed that recommendation. The recommendation itself was no surprise but the fact that giffgaff was doing this was and is a delight. It was something that I had wanted from my previous provider and yet was never able to get. As a consultant I had advised a major mobile telco to implement this practice, as this telco wanted to improve the customer experience, yet management refused because it would have an adverse impact on revenues and profits because most customers were on tariffs that were too high and costly for them.
Now this might not sound like a big thing and yet it is to me: the language that giffgaff use is a human one and that really connects with me. The other day I got a SMS message which delighted me both because it was unexpected and because of its simplicity. Here it is “Thanks for helping to grow giffgaff, you’ve earned ….so far. For more information and to check your recommended plan see My giffgaff at giffgaff.com, cheers!” I have recommended more than once the companies and marketers use a human language that speaks to connects with customers – that is something that giffgaff is doing rather well.
Finally, I recently took my phone to France and got another pleasant surprise. On landing the mobile connected to a French network and up came useful information from giffgaff. I cannot remember the exact words yet the message was clear: we don’t want you to have any unpleasant surprises so lets make clear how much your mobile calls are going to cost. I was told that I would be charged 38p per minute if I was making the calls and 15p per minute if I was receiving calls. This is the kind of honest, proactive, information that I have always sought and never got from previous suppliers (mobile networks).
Why am I a giffgaff advocate?
I am adding giffgaff to the list of companies I recommend. Why? Simply because they have made my life easier by taking hassle out of it (e.g. automating topping up), provide me with useful information (how much credit I have left, how many minutes I have left, how much calls are going to cost…), talk to me in a human way (the simple friendly informal language), provide more value for money (cheaper calls, texts, internet..), reward me for the contribution that I make to giffgaff and the call quality / network coverage is as good as that provided by my previous supplier (Orange). Finally, I prefer being called/treated as a ‘member’ rather than a ‘target’, ‘consumer’ or even ‘customer’. How about you?
I recently viewed the following slide deck (PSFK Future of Retailing Report 2011) and was struck by how the introduction focusses upon the human, the social – shopping as a social experience as much as an economic one, and yet the rest of the report focusses almost exclusively on the wonders of technology and the difference it will make to the shopping experience. I believe that the report implies that by putting an array of technologies into the retail stores less staff will be needed and possibly these staff need to have less product knowledge because they will be able to access that information through handheld devices connected to the right systems. Let’s just take a look at these assumptions.
Do you find that life is more complicated or less complicated? Do you find that you are more time or less time? Would you prefer to spend your time doing research, talking with your social network, evaluating options, find the right products and then making the purchase? Do you do that voluntarily or out of necessity because either you do not trust retailers or find their staff to lack the product knowledge? Do you do that for all product categories and before every single purchase? Do you look forward to serving yourself through the website, the IVR and FAQ’s never encountering another human being at the company your are doing business with? Can you really imagine turning up to the retail store, scanning in the bar codes, reading the reviews, reading how the product was manufactured, getting your friends opinions…..? How long will that take? Do you have the time? Can you do that standing up in the store with lots of other shoppers jostling around?
What would it be like if you trust the retailers? Retailers that stock products that you can trust – the quality is sound, they are fit for purpose; the products are appropriately priced; there are plenty of welcoming, helpful and knowledgeable staff who can and do help you with making the right choice including selecting the right products. What if these staff are also enthusiastic about the products that they are selling? Do you think some of that enthusiasm will rub off on you?
Allow me to share a personal story with you because I believe that it illustrates another perspective on why and how we shop in the retail stores.
I was handed an iphone 4 and told that I needed to get a protective cover for it – sound advice given that it is an expensive advice. Yet, I had never owned an iphone and so did not know what kind of protective cover to get. So I started by observing and noticed that different people had different covers and so I wondered which one would be right for me. I even asked a couple of people for recommendations yet the recommendations landed as lukewarm to me so I lacked confidence on those recommendations. Then I turned to the internet and there were all kinds of covers and all kinds of reviews. At the end of this process I simply felt that I had wasted my time – too much choice, too many opinions and fundamentally I could not touch/feel/use the cover to see what it added to the weight, bulk and use of the iphone. So what did I do?
As the retail centre was only five minutes walk I went shopping. Where did I go? Carphone Warehouse. Why? Probably because I have a mental map that says ‘independent advice’, ‘friendly in the past’ and ‘stocks lots of accessories’. I walked over to the accessories section and started looking. That did not help me because the signposting was poor – I simply could not find the iphone4 covers. So I turned to the three people on the counter and asked them for help. One young man stepped forward with enthusiasm. He showed me the iphone covers and there was considerable choice. So he asked me what I was looking for and I explained. He then made his recommendation with conviction and enthusiasm yet he did not stop there. Without asking he opened up the packaging, took out the cover and snapped it into place and invited me to feel it and use the phone. I did and the cover did the job perfectly and it was reasonably priced as well. So I thanked him for his help and bought the cover – all of this took less than five minutes; I had wasted some 3o+ minutes shopping online.
Insights into the shopping experience
There are some categories of products that we simply have to see, touch, hear, feel and experience in order to know if a particular product is right for us. And this is where offline retailers have an advantage over etailers.
Sometimes it is really hard to choose because we have no prior experience and there are so many products to choose from. This is where knowledgeable, enthusiastic, helpful staff can make all the difference: right there and then they can learn what you want and let you experience their recommendations.
There are occasions when you simply cannot wait a day or more to get your hands on stuff that you need. Again this is where offline retailers have a great advantage because we can turn up and walk out with the stuff that we want when we exit the store – clearly not so for all products e.g. fridges, washing machines etc.
Convenience matters. The fact that I could easily pop into the shopping centre made it that much more likely that I would do so when I needed to buy something quickly – on that day.
I enjoyed the human interaction with the young man that sorted out my problem for me / helped me find the right cover. He is no longer just another face he is a human being to me: I know that he has an iphone, that it is white, that he had considered buying the cover he recommended to me but did not do so because it did not go with the colour of his iphone…… Put differently I was enriched by the social encounter (in the real world) which simply would not have occurred in the online world. And this social encounter matters to many people – the challenge is to get it right by retailers investing in the right people and the right number of people.
The basics of good retailing have not changed: location, merchandising, knowledgeable staff, great service, value for money…. Some retailers are suffering because on the whole many retailers have forgotten these fundamentals especially the human and social aspects of the shopping experience. Despite the lure of technology what really matters in the offline retail world is the human to human encounter: the people that we meet in the stores, how helpful they are and how they make us feel about ourselves, our fellow human beings and the world that we live in. The proper role of technology is to add to this hi-touch not to detract from it or to replace it. I can imagine that there is a consultant or IT vendor out there selling the fact that with the right technology in place the retailers can dispense with their human staff: the customers will simply turn up and serve themselves or maybe robots will do the work of the human beings. To be in love with this dream is to be fundamentally mistaken about human beings and shopping.
I believe that you and I are in communication because at some level we have a deep interest in improving the customer experience: doing right by the customer and expecting that reciprocity will kick in and the customer will do right by us and as such we all win and in the process create a better world. Am I right? Perhaps, that is just where I am at and what I am about.
1999 was the year that I got deeply involved in the whole Customer movement when I joined Siebel to build its consulting practice. And in mid-2000 I was working with The Peppers & Rogers Group evangelising and consulting on 1to1 marketing. Even in those days we were selling the following: the need to put the customer first in corporate decision making; engaging in genuine dialogue with customers; cultivating a learning relationship with customers; putting relevance and personalisation into marketing communications; gluing up the touchpoints to provide an integrated customer experience; rising the importance of the call centre – focusing on effectiveness first and efficiency second; creating a single view of the customer by gluing data together from disparate touchpoints and systems; and a smart use of technology where technology enables the execution of the customer strategy and improves the customer experience.
In 2011 I am reading an array of article from customer gurus, customer evangelists, marketing academics, service centred academics and software vendors. And they are talking about selling the same messages that me and my colleagues were selling over 10 years ago. Yet, how much of the business world has really grasped and acted on this advice? Yes, I know that there are a few exceptional companies that live the ‘customer-centric’ ethos and are prospering. What about the rest? Why is it that the rest are pretty much doing business pretty much they way they were doing it some 10+ years ago. I got a glimpse of an answer this week and I’d like to share it with you.
As my wife is French she regularly travels to France with the three children and so I have taken out European Breakdown Cover with the RAC. Well the annual policy was due to lapse on the 7th August and I had got a renewal reminder letter in the post. My wife was due to leave on Tuesday 2nd August – earlier this week. So I rang up the RAC call centre to renew the policy and here is what happened:
I rang the RAC and chose the wrong option: travel sales. Why? Because the renewal reminder had “Travel Sales” right at the top in a huge font. When I got through to customer services agent (CSA) he was not able to help me because I needed to select the ‘Breakdown” IVR option.
Hitting the IVR for the second time I got through to the CSA in the Breakdown team. I told him that wanted to renew the policy for another year and provided him with the policy number. He quoted me a price and I accepted it. Then I handed over my credit card details and the transaction was completed. So far so good. Then I came across a problem.
The CSA asked me if I had a pen and paper handy. I asked why I needed it. He told me that he had a new policy number for me. I replied that I did not want a new policy or a new policy number – I simply wanted to renew the existing policy and keep the existing policy no. The tone of the CSA changed abruptly as if I had hurled a personal insult at him or was being a ‘difficult’ customer. He asked me what the problem was with a new policy number. I replied that instead of my wife having one policy number she would have to remember two policy numbers and remember when each policy started and finished. Life would just be simpler keeping the old policy number. The CSA told me that was not possible – the ‘system’ did not allow it.
What I took away from this
I can get the difficult involved in putting together a single view of the customer. There are lots of interaction channels and the proliferation continues. The organisation is fragmented into silo with each doing its own thing and that is not easy to change easily. Then there is a whole spaghetti of IT systems some under the control of IT and some not. So putting together a single customer view continues to be a major undertaking and not every company wants to make that investment, that effort.
But how difficult is it to redesign the IVR so that the options speak in the language of the customer? Why send a renewal reminder which says ‘Travel Sales” when I should be renewing with the Breakdown team? Why did the renewal reminder spell out which number I had to contact and which IVR option that I needed to select?
Yet what really got me is the fact that the RAC (a brand name organisation with millions of customers) has not thought through the renewal process from the customer. It really does not take a genius to figure out that the creating a new policy and a new policy number creates complications and extra effort for the customer. And it may lead to extra work for the RAC – when customer comes on the line and quotes the wrong policy number. The thing that has really taken me by surprise is the inability of the system to simple extend the existing policy to another year – thus making it unnecessary to issue a new policy. Why has this issue not been fixed? Surely I am not the first customer who wants to keep his existing policy and is it really that hard to make that change?
To conclude it does appear to me that there is huge gap between the reality on the ground and all the evangelising by us, the Customer community. Are we living in a land of make believe? Are we like the traditional economists who live in a world of superhuman rational actors and perfect information when the reality is that humans are driven/influenced/shaped by subconscious stimuli and in built biases and who find it extremely difficult to make purely rational decisions and who do not have access to perfect information. What do you think?
PS: I am going to join my family in France and am taking a break from blogging for the next 2 – 3 weeks. If you are going on holiday then I wish you the very best. furthermore, I thank each and everyone of you for reading what I write, sharing it with your network and by commenting. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you upon my return. And if you are a customer evangelist it may be worth remembering that if the Customer stuff was easy then it probably would not be that much fun and there would not be any competitive advantage in it!