Opinion

BT's tripled customer base won't last long unless it nails customer service

BT is back in the UK mobile market and - at a cost of £12.5bn - its intentions are clear, writes Jason Hemingway, CMO at Thunderhead.

BT: merger with EE needs seamless customer service
BT: merger with EE needs seamless customer service

Over a decade after BT let go of its original mobile business – now O2 – its re-entry into the market will change the UK communications landscape for good.

The decision heralds the merger of the UK’s largest fixed-line business and leading mobile telecoms business.

The deal will combine BT's 10m retail customers and EE's 24.5m direct mobile subscribers, and BT will become an all service operator, packaging mobile, landline, TV, and broadband together to create quad-play bundles; previously only attempted in the UK by Virgin Media.

BT has chosen a pivotal moment to push itself to the fore of the UK communications market. Customer satisfaction levels are low, with Ombudsman data showing complaints about communications providers increasing 35% in just three years. Combining two well-known brands and their customer bases is bound to have its perils as well as its benefits.

So what customer challenges will BT face in the merger with EE and how can these be overcome?    

Bad news travels faster than good

Neither business is immune to customer complaints. In Ofcom’s latest Quality of Customer Service report, BT was rated below average in the broadband and the landline sectors, while EE’s customers were the least satisfied of all the major mobile providers. Disgruntled customers will share each bad experience with an average of 18 people, according to research commissioned by Thunderhead.

BT can learn valuable lessons from the unfortunate launch of BT Sport, where one in every 2,000 BT TV subscribers resorted to Ofcom, often following frustrating experiences with BT’s complaints handling process.

BT can also take its lead from EE, which merged Orange and T-Mobile relatively successfully by including customers in the process – resulting in customer growth and decreased attrition rates. By using both brands’ experiences, BT has an opportunity to engage millions of customers and build deeper value-driven relationships.

This acquisition provides BT with a transition period, in which it can put in place actionable strategies and the appropriate technology to harness the wealth of insights generated across every touch point by the sheer volume of customers.

Fragmentation equals customer frustration

The acquisition should ideally result in continuous, centralised conversations with customers across all services. But in reality the merger will involve a complex integration of data, systems, and business processes, and might easily leave the customer confused. Having to repeat the same issue to multiple people, multiple times, is one of the top complaints levied against communications providers.

To keep customers happy, BT must strive to join up the conversation across the entire customer journey, creating seamless experiences across all channels and fulfilling the individual needs of every customer.

If a customer is discussing a particular issue via email, all departments – including the 580 physical EE stores – should be able to easily access the information if necessary, allowing them to continue having the most relevant conversation with that customer.

Over 90% of customers have an improved opinion of businesses that remember previous interactions with them, while recognising customers as people – not numbers – leaves a positive impression.   

In a switching society, the customer calls the shots

The telecoms industry is a buyer’s market. Regulatory bodies such as Ofcom are making it easier for customers to change broadband providers if they are dissatisfied with their service, and are looking at ways to make switching between mobile operators simpler too.

Our research shows that almost half (46%) of British consumers have had a bad experience with a telecoms provider and one in ten say they have left the operator as a result. These bad experiences could be costing UK mobile operators as much as £1.6bn in lost revenue by driving millions to abandon their provider for a competitor.

BT must focus on providing real value to its customers, and its new bundled service offering could be part of the answer.

If BT manages to combine various services and focus on ensuring every customer interaction is personalised, relevant, and timely across the entire customer journey, the customer will feel more value in the relationship beyond price and have no reason to switch.