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Meeting Frank Sixt and Doug Hamilton of Three

Image208In answer to my earlier blog post, this afternoon I was at the Hutchison HQ – ‘Hutchison House’, in Battersea.

Normally I get a nosebleed if I go anywhere near south of the Thames, but I’m ok if, as you see in the picture to the right, I can still see the water 😉

Why was I there? Well, I was invited by the X-Series team including Darren and Simon, to come along for a chat. Me and Adrian of dqdx (more about Adrian here). I asked Darren if I had to revise the ins and outs of the Three price plan structure before attending. I wondered if there would be a written test. Heh. He assured me there would be no tests. Just a chat. With biscuits.

If you recall, I’ve been particularly vocal about Three in the past (View all posts about X-Series), generally — in fact — usually overwhelmingly positive.

However, at the same time, with my companies no longer working full time in the mobile industry, nor deriving substantial revenue from the sector, I’m quite content to tell it like it is. Or at least, how I see it. You can read me going hot and cold on X-Series here.

So, I thought it would be rather interesting to meet with the team. No agenda per se. Just a chat.

Further, I thought it would be good to meet Frank Sixt, HWL’s Group Finance Director, and Doug Hamilton, Global Creative Director. Shit hot. Both of them.

Frank is the one you’ll often see blogging at the X-Series blog, normally under the Suits 2.0 category.

I made a choice not to blog any specifics, as it wasn’t an interview. So here’s a summary.

I found it rather refreshing to speak to a network operator. Directly. No arse. No PR. No spin. It was rather weird discussing mobile services with a network operator so frankly, but the enthusiasm and passion was what really stood out.

To contrast the experience, I told them the story of me contacting Vodafone’s Press Office last year simply to ask what phone Arun Sarin used. I thought it would be quite interesting to find out. Colleagues from the industry told me I was mad. I’d be turned down immediately. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and thought I’d try anyway. I knocked up an email and ……. They declined it. Obviously. Commercially sensitive info, that. Heh. There was a chuckle from the Three team at that point 😉 There’s clearly somewhat of a massive gulf in culture between “Old Europe” (Vodafone et al) and the new prince on the scene, Three. Watching the team talk and discuss X-Series, you quickly appreciate that this is a company run by passionate people, concerned about providing excellent service. Make a comment or a suggestion and you can see them process it in real-time. Consider it. React to it. And give you a quick ‘yay or nay’ on the spot. Nice. Smart. A billion miles away from that chap from Orange that I saw speak at Nokia World. (The one who prompted me to almost yell ‘HOGWASH!’ from the back of the room).

I was asked what drew me to X-Series initially, I replied ‘unlimited data’. That was my initial sweet-spot. Second was the commitment the network gave by surrounding their offering with the likes of Skype, Melodeo, MSN, Yahoo and so on. I told them they’d got X-Series spot on in terms of delivering a brilliant set of services at the right price point. They’ve a lot more coming. All very exciting.

Bring up the subject of the less than stellar past reputation of Three and the chaps nod firmly with good grace. I wondered if people would side-step the issue or if the room would turn to ice 😉 Not at all. With network performance nigh on the total opposite of some of the horror stories from years gone by, the challenge now is communicating this to the marketplace.

I congratulated them on the X-Series blog. I explained I was suspect at first. Well, not just me. I think quite a lot of people were. I made the point that everyone and their dog is used to one dimensional tosh from the network operators in this country. The X-Series blog initially looked to suspect eyes like an exercise in wishful thinking.

‘Is that ACTUALLY the CFO replying,’ I wondered openly, ‘Or is it the PR chap? Did Frank even take a look at the blog? Is ‘xseries.typepad.com’ even in his browser address history?

Yes. Totally. If you have a look through the X-Series blog, you’ll see where Adrian emailed the X-Series blog to ask about my issue with 3Mail. They responded to it quickly and directly. At that point I was pretty impressed!

Can you imagine getting a responsive reaction like this from someone at faceless o2? Er, no.

Connect that with the face I was then, a month or so later, sat in the same room as the chap discussing the issues, and well, Suits 2.0 works. If you’ve got a question or an issue with X-Series, email them and they’ll respond, either privately by email or publicly on the blog.

Just like if you walk into your local store and ask if the guy is getting any wholesale packs of those Lindt mini chocolate eggs, 9 times out of 10, the shopkeeper will probably tell you, ‘well no, but, listen, if you’d like a few packs, I can get them from the cash and carry.’ You know, that’s someone responding to customer need or opportunity. Factor that up rather a lot and that’s what you’ve got with Frank and the X-Series team. Obviously it’s a bit more challenging to deliver all things to all people, but there is certainly the desire to do as much as possible. Top cover from a senior director such as Mr Sixt (named on Forbes Who’s Who no-less!) is just what you need with a service like X-Series.

So if you have a wickedly good idea that you reckon a network operator should adopt, don’t hesitate to look up the X-Series blog and whack them a note.

What else did we discuss. Hmmm.

Ah yes, I reckoned the MSN-as-poster-boy strategy was excellent. I talked about having people email me and talk to me about ‘that phone that does MSN’. Excellent branding. That and Yahoo too. Brilliant to walk past the Three stores and see the branding. I’m sure that’s drawing quite a lot of interest.

I also made the point that it’d be nice to get a fuller service from Three in terms of their shops. Walk into any Vodafone store and they can bring up your account on screen and start selling to you right away. Not so in the Three stores — they’re simply for new accounts only. If you want service, you have to call. I don’t mind calling. But if I’m standing in the store brandishing cash, wanting to buy an N93, they’re not easily able to do so. That’s not a quick fix though.

I also described my use of the podcasting application, Melodeo. I explained that I’ve substituted the N73 as my in-car-podcast-service and that it really does work well streaming live.

On reflection, I should have actually asked everyone here reading the blog for questions here and then put the questions to the team when I met them today. That could also have been quite incisive. I’ll see there’s an opportunity to do so later on, perhaps in more of an interview style.

My summary: X-Series = Brilliant, more people need to know about it, more people need to be converted to it.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

8 replies on “Meeting Frank Sixt and Doug Hamilton of Three”

You might not agree with me Ewan but wouldn’t you say there was more than just a touch of the Steve Jobs approach to the Three Mobile people. What I mean by that is just how enthusiastic they were about their own product and making the x-series a really cool experience.

I spent three years working in the city as a chartered accountant and have met more than my fair share of group finance directors. Believe me, most of them have had the life sucked out of them a long time before. Most are a million miles away from their customers and, whatever their mission statement says, most only care about the bottom line. But when the Three mobile people were talking yesterday there was a real sense of enthusiasm about the x-series and how cool and different they would like it to be. Like Steve Jobs, this seemed to be based on their experience as mobile users and that is what I found incredibly infectious. I mean there was real passion there and I swear there were times when Frank Sixt was talking when he looked and sounded like a fully paid up mobile/IT geek. And i can’t think of a better compliment to pay a network operator than that.

Thanks for that report, Ewan. I was fascinated to read it as I’ve been into X-Series since pretty much day one and I’m a big fan. I’ve had my trials and tribulations trying to get my hands on a Slingbox, but Darren stepped in and sorted it out with the kind of customer service I haven’t seen since, well, I don’t think I’ve seen it before.

It’s great to see what other X-Series fans are thinking and writing and I’ll keep following with interest.

Just in case you happen to bump into any X-supremos in your travels (and I hope they’ll read this), I’d like to suggest a few questions you might have asked:-

I’m leaning heavily towards X-series because I believe mobile internet now has ‘legs’.

Is it possible to use a sip connection rather than Skype?
How about google-talk and chat instead of MS Messenger or Yahoo! ?
(And what’s the functionality like? I’m fed up with repeatedly running the same gprs java apps and having to drop them to answer a call…)

Why is X-series only available on the (near top of the range) N73 — overkill for my requirements?

I use

HeavyLight: If you want Google Talk chat and VoIP check out Fring (fring.com !). I’ve tested it on my N73, works great. It also has Skype but I haven’t tested that functionality.

Just found this froma link on the 3 website while changing my wife’s price plan. I was out of the country when 3 was having all the ‘problems’ but since I’ve been back (June 05) I tried a month with 02 pay as you go and got a 3 only because I was waiting too long in the 02 shop so went next door and got a great deal. Since I have been a very enthusiastic voice for 3 and have got 6 or 7 friends signed up. Got the N73 a few weeks before the X-series came out but managed to get it as an add-on and dispite a few initial problems with teh software have had a great experience.
I haven’t been this enthusiastic about anything for a while but seeing people’s faces when I use either the web browser or Opera mini (for ease on reading the paper) I often end up making converts of people who are coming to the end of contracts they don’t like with other companies. A company that really does seem to want to help you and solve any problems you have. Any problems I’ve had in the past have been solved immediately (almost).
Off now to try out Fring so that I can use google talk. Only complaint is that since having the phone repaired my mobilcast doesn’t give out any sound but didn’t use it that much anyway.

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