How to convert an advocate into a detractor – a personal experience

Sky is doing the right things: it has a product that many want – pay tv; it advertises and makes attractive offers especially when it comes to bundles (tv, broadband, telephone);  it has invested in CRM systems;  it has a big Customer Insight team and so forth.  That was my thinking in November 2009.

In November 2009 I made the decision to bring an end my relationship with my ISP (Zen Internet) and my fixed line telco (BT) and buy a bundle (pay tv, broadband, telephone) from Sky.  My reasons for making the change were to simplify my life (one supplier), get my children access to educational channels and value for money.

In early December 2009 I made my way to the Sky website, I configured my package, provided by MAC code for broadband switchover, entered in my personal and bank details and became a Sky customer.  Shortly after my website interaction I got an email letting me know what I had signed up for and the next steps: who will be contacting me and when.  At this stage I felt good – I felt I had made the right decisions and I was in safe hands.

A couple of days after I got an email letting about the activation of Sky tv: the next steps, the dates, a customer service number to call if I wanted to change dates for the engineer to come out and set up the sky tv.

I also got an email letting me know the next steps on the set-up of the broadband and the telephone line.  The email stated that everything was in hand, the broadband would be activated by 15th December.  And that Sky would contact me five days before the activation date.

At this point I felt reassured: here is a company that knows what it is doing, it is doing the right things – it is moving ahead quickly and keeping me in the picture.

Three or so days later the Sky engineer turned up on the agreed date.  In fact he rang me about 30 minutes before he arrived to let me know he was on the way.  Excellent – giving me advance notice and checking I am in so as not to waste his time.

The Sky engineer was a friendly chap who was clearly comfortable with people.  He told me what he was about to do and how long it would take.  Then he set about his work – installing the dish, setting up the Sky box and checking that everything worked.  In less than an hour I was watching Sky tv – great.  Then the engineer told me and showed me some handy tips.  Just before he left he gave me a card with his name and phone number and asked me to call him if I had any questions.  He mentioned that he did not live far and would be happy to call in on me if I was having any problems with the Sky tv.

At this point Sky had delivered a perfect customer experience.  I was delighted.  At that point I would have given Sky a 10 out 10: in NPS terms a Promoter.  Thereafter things went rapidly downhill.

Given that I use the Internet a lot and tv not much, I was keenly following the progress of the broadband switchover from Zen Internet to Sky.  When Sky did not contact me on the due date – five days before switchover/activation – I became concerned.  Two days later, I still had not heard anything so I called Sky.  This is where the ‘fun’ started.

The Customer Services agent told me that I had phoned the wrong number.  What?  I had phoned the Sky tv customer services number, I had to call the broadband customer services number.  When I stated that I had placed one order with Sky and expected to talk to one person to deal with my order I was told that this was not possible.  It became clear that behind the facade of one bundle, were multiple business units and I would have to deal with each of them to get what I had ordered.  I was not pleased as I felt that I had been conned.

I proceeded to ring the broadband customer services number and got through to an agent.  She proceeded to tell me that it had not been possible to switchover the broadband as the MAC I had supplied was wrong – the BT system did not accept it.  I asked why Sky had not contacted to let me know that was the case.  She replied that Sky had sent me a letter stating that.  I asked why Sky had not emailed me: I had interacted with Sky using the Internet and email and Sky had done the same.  She did not have an answer.  Her position was that I / Zen Internet had the mistake and that was that.  I told her that I would go back to Zen Internet and check the MAC code and get back to Sky.

At the end of this encounter I felt badly treated.  Specifically, I felt that the Sky agent had not listened, had not made any attempt to help, had been defensive and surly.

I phoned the Zen Internet folks.  I told the agent of my problem and I spelled out the MAC to him.  He checked it and told me that the MAC was correct.  I thanked him, he told me that he was pleased to help, and I called Sky’s broadband team.

When I got through to the Sky broadband team I found myself talking with a friendly chap.  I asked him to call out the MAC.  He could not tell me – he told me that he did not have it on the system.  At this point, I was really frustrated.  I pointed out that I had provided the MAC during sign-up through the Sky website and I shared with him my conversation with the previous Sky broadband agent – the unhelpful lady.  I asked him to take the MAC and move forward with the broadband switchover.  When I got off the phone I was thinking that either the MAC did not get from the web team to the broadband team and that the first Sky broadband agent (the female) had lied to me when she told me the MAC did not work.

A few days later I called the Sky broadband customer services line again to check how they were getting on.  And I felt that I was Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day: No, your broadband has not been activated as you have given us the wrong MAC; but guys I checked with the Zen guys and they assure me it is correct; nope, the MAC is incorrect and so forth.

At this point I got that my objective of simplifying my life by switching to Sky had backfired: I was spending more time with Sky than I had done with Zen Internet and the broadband had not yet been switched.  So I called the main Sky customer services to make my complaint:  I placed one order for three products, you guys have delivered only one product and are not delivering the others, so I wish to cancel my order please.  The response was simply this: you have signed a 12 month contract, we are not going to cancel it, if you want to dispute that then write to these folks.  At this point I felt anger – for the first time.  Why?  I was thinking I have been conned and I am trapped – at least for 12 months!

So I went back to the Zen Internet folks and pleaded for their help.  I did not expect it as I was asking them to help me leave them for Sky.  To my utter surprise the customer services agent from Zen sympathised – ‘I understand why you want to switch they have the tv channels you want.  And with the bundle we cannot match their prices.  A shame because we look after our customers.’  He asked me to stay on the line whilst he accessed the BT system and checked the MAC.  He confirmed that the code I  had been given was  the code on the BT system.  He went on to mention that the problem I was facing was a common one with Sky – he suspected that the Sky folks were understaffed and as a result simply did not get around to doing the work to provision/set up the broadband.   Finally he volunteered to stay on the line whilst I called the Sky broadband folks.

Once again I am with the Sky folks, I have to tell the whole story a third time to a new agent.  And ask this person to check/verify the MAC on the BT system – there and then so that if there is an issue he can speak with the helpful Zen Internet agent.  At my insistence the Sky agent checked on the BT system and confirmed that the MAC was correct.  He went on to say that now the switchover can commence.  I thanked him, hung up and thanked the Zen Internet agent.  And hung up.

Finally!  Then it dawned on me that I had another issue: Sky were due to take over the fixed telephone line from BT and they could make a mess of this.  More importantly, I simply did not want Sky to control my access to the fixed telephone line and the broadband services that were sitting on top of that.  So I cancelled the fixed line switch and continued with BT even though I ended up paying £5 a month extra for my broadband service from Sky.

So how exactly did Sky turn me from an Advocate (10/10) to a Detractor (2/10)?  They promoted and then sold me a bundle (tv, broadband, fixed telephone line) and led me to believe that the whole process would be painless and taken care of by Sky.  When it came to delivering on the promise Sky failed.  The most important failure: failing to even acknowledge that Sky had messed up, saying sorry and fixing the issue.

If I look at the failure in detail I see the following:

  1. Failing to tell me that whilst I placed one order I was actually entering into three contracts with three separate Sky businesses and thus would have to deal with three businesses.
  2. Not using my preferred channel (email) to communicate with me even though I had interacted with Sky through the Internet and supplied Sky with my email address.
  3. On the broadband side of the order Sky simply did not do what they promised to do by the date they promised to do it.  The MAC should have been checked when I entered it into the website – so that if there was a problem then it could have been flagged there and then.
  4. No one person within Sky owned the whole order (tv, broadband, telephone line) that I had placed. Thereby forcing me to the be the person who owned the order and took on the role of making sure that the products I ordered were being provisioned.
  5. Unhelpful customer services agents who clearly put the failure to activate the broadband on my shoulders and on the shoulders of Zen Internet and who gave me the impression that they were too busy to help me, they had other more important things to do and gave me the impression that I was a nuisance.
  6. Not acting on my request to cancel the order as Sky had failed to do what it had promised. Instead telling me that I had signed up for a 12 month contract and to get out of it I had to pay the full amount: not showing any moral standing, no human empathy.
  7. When the Sky broadband was activated I found that some of my computers could not access the Internet because the signal from the Sky router was too weak.  When I reached out to Sky broadband customer services I got the same helpful service: no, you cannot use your old Vigor router Mr Iqbal, you have to use this one, how about moving your computers so that they are closer to the router…….

So how does this story end?  First although Sky have sent me letters and called me to cross sell, I have refused their advances.  Second, I am looking forward to December when I can be free of Sky.

Now lets look at this from a Sky perspective:

  • Sky will earn some £420 for the 12 month contract;
  • Sky has paid for the advertising, for the engineer to come out and install Sky tv, the dish, the Sky set-top box and the Netgear router;
  • So how much profit will Sky make on this contract?

The irony is that the customer acquistions team will be congratulating itself on what a great job it has done: look how many new customers signed up!

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.