Yesterday morning I met with Marc Allera, Director of Sales for 3UK at the One Aldwych hotel in central London.
I started off with a question submitted by Paul:
How are the retail stores working out for you?
Marc: Very well indeed. We recently hit our key milestone of over 200 stand alone stores with another 50-60 to open this year. We’re actually opening at a quite a pace — 17 stores opened this week with another 25 due to open next month. It’s an aggressive policy — combined with our 130 concession stores in Superdrug.
We’re also testing concession stores with HMV. For instance, you can now find a 3UK shop in the Reading HMV — each concession staffed by 3UK teams.
Interesting! I like the concept of concession stores. I thought it was a little too soon to ask Marc how the HMV shop was performing. I wonder if they’ll notice higher than average ARPU from HMV-originated customers? Or maybe the opposite?
The next question I put to Marc was one close to my heart. It really is annoying not being able to discuss my account or make changes with the team in a 3UK store. They currently have to ask you to phone customer services. Pop into a Vodafone shop, by contrast, and the person behind the counter can do anything with your account that you need.
Why the disconnect between 3UK stores and Customer Services?
Marc: Well the main barrier for us to deliver better service in-store is our system. While our call centre agents can handle every enquiry you might have, our system doesn’t allow our in-store team to do similar. We’re mid-way through a major project to address this change — and we expect to complete by around March next year.
Well that’s good news. Very good news indeed. Whenever I’ve popped into a 3UK store, the team there have found it rather challenging to do anything with me — to upgrade me, to get me to buy more, or whatever — because it involves me phoning customer services and then having to wait 24 hours for any gizmos to arrive. A frustrating situation for an obsessed mobile geek like me. But a light at the end of a tunnel come March 2008.
Next, Rob emailed me following up on my post a few weeks back about the fact 3UK will match the Flext price plans offered by T-Mobile.
Do you plan on marketing your Flext tariffs more? I don’t like only having 200 text messages on my plan, for example.
Marc: When T-Mobile first introduced Flext, we made a very similar offering available too. I can’t comment specifically about this because we’ve a major tariff refresh coming this October.
Ah excellent. If recent performance from 3UK is anything to go by, the new tariffs are going to be shockingly good.
Quite a few people asked if I could talk to Marc about the customer segments they’re aiming for (e.g. Professionals vs Budgets):
What key customer segments are you aiming for?
Marc: We’re aiming for as many high quality customers as possible.
Ewan: What does high quality mean?
Marc: Well, happy, loyal customers who pay on time and who stay with us a long time. We’re a challenger brand — you saw this with the £15/month price plan.
(Note: o2 reacted by launching a £15/month ‘simplicity’ tariff… only, without a handset — 3UK’s offering came with a decent Nokia, if memory serves)
Marc: We’re aiming to be a beacon of light in the market place. Our £15/month tariff got a lot of people into our stores — who then chose to upgrade to more expensive price plans, whilst we’ve got the likes of X-Series which really adds credibility to our offering.
Another chance to address a 3UK bugbear —
Ewan; Why is the Nokia N95 not shown anywhere near the X-Series site (www.three.co.uk/xseries)?
Marc: We’ll need to take a look at that.
Cool, cool, it just winds up the N95 X-Series fanatics not seeing it there.
A question from Kat:
What’s your favourite X-Series application?
Marc: Most definitely MSN Messenger. It’s great for staying in touch with my mates when I’m on the go.
Then it was time to ask Marc one of my favourite interview questions.
Ewan: What was your first handset?
[ Marc pauses in deep thought ]
Marc: Geez, it was a Nokia. I can’t remember the version. But I remember paying something like £2/minute on Vodafone when I was a student.
And your favourite handset ever? From a nostalgic perspective?
Marc: It has to be the Motorola StarTac, I loved it.
What about your first 3UK handset?
Marc: Ah, simple — I had an NEC 606, then an NEC 808 then an NEC 835.
And what do you use today?
Marc: The Nokia N73 [ He’s got the nice, snazzy black N73 ] and I’ve got an Nokia N95 back at the office — I’m thinking of converting to that as my primary handset.
I thought it would be useful to get some background on Marc himself — so I asked him straight.
What’s your background?
Marc: My last role was as General Manager for Sega Europe — I was also Sales Director there for four years (during the time when Sega had recently launched the Dreamcast). Prior to this I worked in the home entertainment division as Head of Trading for John Menzies.
So, safe to say that Marc knows consumer retail back to front then.
What are you most excited by when it comes to the mobile industry?
Marc: The pace of change. For example, when you look at what we’re offering today — and what we offered a year ago, the speed of change is staggering. In 3-5 years, I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to offer customers. It’s very exciting.
What do you use your mobile for most?
Marc: Calling first and foremost, then texting, taking pictures and football results. I just love the Premiership Scores application we offer — this year’s version is even better.
(Marc, by the way, is a Liverpool FC supporter)
What’s the best mobile application you’ve seen recently?
Marc: It has to be the Premiership Scores application – just brilliant for information on the move for a supporter like me.
I then thought I’d ask Marc to give me one line on each of the major operators. I thought it’d be rather interesting to see how he described his competition.
So, Marc, one line on Vodafone:
Marc: Big, red, strong
Marc: Inconsistent in channel, good work and progress on mobile data
Marc: Culling loads of dealers — going through pain in the independent channel
Marc: The best mobile retailer that we’re up against
Time was pressing so I asked Marc a few quick questions not specifically related to mobile:
What’s the last thing you saw?
Marc: The Departed – a brilliant film
The last album you bought?
A Headcandy compilation.
Marc likes is banging music! Nice. I’ve got quite a lot of Headcandy albums.
The last thing you downladed on your phone?
Marc: A Rafa Benitez ringtone
[ Rafa’s the manager of Liverpool FC ]
Good man! Nice to meet a mobile industry executive who actually downloads stuff to his mobile.