Real customer service is now a vital differentiator

customer service
Image credit: alphaspirit /

When John Legere dons his purple tee shirt and heads for a press conference you pretty much have to watch or listen. You need to know whether his hair is longer, or whether he dyed it purple too, or what brand his sneakers are this time.

When he talks about customer service your heart sinks slightly, because customer service is either a) boring or b) a frustrating nightmare that we all have to endure.

The interesting thing is that T-Mobile US has identified it as a differentiator – an “UnCarrier” play, as its marketing team puts it.

Voicing the frustrations of, well, everyone, Legere pointed to the soulless, robot-like systems that are in place and vowed to scrap them at T-Mobile. He also, obviously, took the opportunity to take a swipe at his main competitors.

His plan is that when a customer calls the company, he/she is transferred to a geographically local team of experts who can handle any query they may have. This will replace the process of being transferred to the ‘solution team’.

It is a tall order. The training alone must be considerable. But this kind of model has worked in the past.

Car maker Volvo revolutionized their production process some years ago by basically abolishing it. Instead they created teams in individual spaces, whereupon each team built a car from the ground up. The re-training must have been huge, but it really paid off for Volvo. Each team took pride (and were judged on) each car they built together. It must also have revolutionized the working lives of the employees. The “How was your day?” conversation went from, “Fine, you know, spent the day welding windscreens in place” to “Pretty damn good, we built three cars.” Pride builds loyalty.

T-Mobile’s move is a smart one, made smarter because Legere and his media savvy colleagues see the backlash against too much customer-facing automation and have announced you are now going to talk to a human being – and one who lives in the same zip code as you.

It all sounds great. The challenge of course will be actually making it work as advertised. Hopefully the customer service reps have been properly trained for the increasingly wide range of issues involved.

In any case, it does prove that customer service is still a real differentiator. For a long time we have said that great service was one of the table stakes in telecoms. Now it seems that the purple hipster guy is doing something concrete about it. It will be interesting to see how it pans out when the next set of numbers come in.

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