Everything Everywhere: An open letter to Olaf Swantee — from a senior executive

I was contacted recently by a senior executive at Everything Everywhere in the wake of the announcement of Tom Alexander stepping down. The executive detailed mounting frustration from across the business at the lack of progress under Tom’s leadership — and some dismay that the new chap taking over from Tom, Olaf Swantee, doesn’t quite know how bad things are.

The executive also pointed out that there’s quite a lot of hope that Olaf will change things, that he’ll ‘get’ what needs to be done, that he won’t keep the company chugging along in first gear.

“Why don’t you put it down in an open letter then?” I said.

The executive gave this some thought and, on condition of anonymity, sent me this text. I’ve personally verified his position and identity at Everything Everywhere.

Here we go:

Dear Olaf,

Today you start officially as CEO of Everything Everywhere.

This letter should help you understand what many of the Everything Everywhere employees think and offers some advice to help Everything Everywhere regain its’ rightful position as the UK’s leading mobile operator.

Lets start with where we are today.

Everyone knows it but no-one says it: we’ve lost our way. We spend too much time with our heads in the sand. We’re hugely internally focused, top heavy and far too bureaucratic. It takes too long to complete even simple projects and we’ve lost of sight of why our customers choose us. Despite what the corporate PR machine says, it’s clear to most that we’ve not truly integrated the Orange and T-Mobile teams or made enough improvements to our greatest asset: The network.

When the name Everything Everywhere was announced, I think it’s fair to say that we all thought that it was a bit of a mouthful but were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. The general sense was (and still is) that the name signifies something ambitious and exciting that could really make a difference to our customers lives. We felt that we could achieve something special in a commoditised and cluttered market.

But there’s one major problem – it’s just a name. We don’t have a clear, compelling strategy that explains what Everything Everywhere stands for, what our vision is, how our customers will benefit or what we need to do. At the moment ‘Everything Everywhere’ is grey, vague and ambiguous and means little to employees and nothing to our customers.

We know that we need to change from being a box-shifting telco and that Vodafone, Telefonica and Three are targeting our customers. We know that our margins are being undercut by everyone from Tesco to Lebara and we know that we have dynamic new competitors, particularly from the US and Silicon Valley. And we know that to prosper we need to offer our customers great, distinctive, personal, reliable services at the right price.

And that’s the most disappointing thing about the first year of Everything Everywhere. Twelve months ago we were warned that during change processes major organisations tended to focus in on themselves rather than the competition. And guess what happened? We focused on ourselves. We missed the opportunity to make a difference. We’ve not created a grand vision or supported it with groundbreaking offers and there’s little evidence on the ground that we recognise that the world is changing.

And as we’re a company called Everything Everywhere we need to be able to deliver on the promise implied in our name.

So here’s some advice:

1. Improve the customer experience of the network

Olaf, the network sucks. If you need proof of this try and make a call in a busy city centre or on a train. Try and get a reliable data connection or better still ask our customers about their experiences. The feedback isn’t going to be good.

Our primary job as a mobile operator has to be to help our customers communicate – to make a call, send a text or use their data connection. If we can’t do that then what are we for? This isn’t a complicated ambition – we need to improve the basic day-to-day performance of the network so that it works wherever and whenever our customers need it. If this needs more investment, more people or more projects then so be it.

Our network is the very foundation of our business and if it ain’t working, lets fix it.

2. Explain what Everything Everywhere is and it’s strategy

Any new business has a big job to do to explain what it does, what it stands for and why it exists and Everything Everywhere is no different. It’s just that most new businesses don’t have 28 million customers.

What we need is a strategy that articulates what Everything Everywhere believes in, how we’re different and that sets an ambitious direction for the business. The strategy must be exciting, creative and distinctive and fire the imagination of staff, customers and external stakeholders. The strategy should go into some detail. Not too much, just enough to help us understand what needs to be done — and to buy in to it.

If you need some advice on how to do this, just watch any of the recent Apple keynotes. They’re a great mix of product launch and future ambition, sprinkled with some Apple magic.

3. Is it one brand, two brands or three brands?

At the moment we have two and a bit consumer brands – T-Mobile, Orange and a fledgling consumer brand Everything Everywhere being launched in a limited number of retail stores (Read: Everything Everywhere to launch 30 new stores this year).

There’s plenty of people who think that trying to establish Everything Everywhere as a consumer brand will be tough but clarity on the brand strategy would allow the business to focus on what we’ll be doing in the future.

4. Innovate to compete against Apple, Google and Sky

In the 2010 at the launch of Everything Everywhere Tom Alexander identified Apple, Google and Sky as evidence of a new form of competitor. His message was clear – we’re no longer ‘just’ competing against Vodafone, Telefonica or Three but also against dynamic new companies who are faster, more creative, more confident, more willing to experiment and backed by enormous resources. Tom told us to “rampage and innovate”. Super words, unfortunately the result of this was nothing different, just more of the same.

So this time lets make a difference and actually innovate! Lets use our brand, our network and our technology to create compelling experiences that make a difference to our customers lives. We have enormous resources at our disposal – we have strong brands, great knowledge about who our customers are, what they do and where they are, we have large direct customer support and retail networks, we have a billing relationship and we subsidise huge amounts of the technology that our customers love.

We must be able to create something special from these starting points.

Yes it will be hard as we have tight budgets and our competitors are vibrant but lets ruthlessly focus our resources on a few high value, distinctive offerings that are really great for our customers and take the fight to Apple, Google and Sky.

5. Sort out the bureaucracy

Please, please do something about the bureaucracy. There’s no doubt that Everything Everywhere is a big business and needs the proper checks and balances, but the business is being hamstrung every day by the inability to get things done.

For example, even the smallest project, change or improvement has to go through ridiculously convoluted processes before anything gets done. This affects our ability to get projects to market quickly.

We certainly need to ensure that we focus on the important and most valuable projects but does this have to be at the cost of acting quickly and decisively?

We need to retain flexibility to back different ideas and we need to have the confidence to become more creative and back more horses.

We need to get a little bit more ‘Silicon Valley’ in our approach.

6. The leadership team

The top of our business is too big. There’s far too many senior managers, many of whom have overlapping responsibilities. You know that, you’ve already said it (Read: Telegraph interview). So hopefully you’ll streamline responsibilities, be clear on who does what and then let them get on with it.

Ideally we’d also bring in some fresh blood. Many of the top team are mobile operator or telco people who’ve been internally promoted. Although this is admirable we should stimulate our business with some of the worlds best talent bringing new perspectives, fresh ideas and different experience.,

7. Be visible and accessible

We’re coming out of several years where the only time anyone saw the CEO was on his way to his office or staring out of one of the companies’ many magazines.

Olaf, please be visible and accessible to your employees and allow people to have their say without feeling like they were stepping out of line. If you and your top team have the confidence to engage with employees personally you’ll be rewarded with insight, support and appreciation and they’ll follow your lead.

8. Have confidence

Everything Everywhere has many great assets. We have fantastic staff, brands that many of our customers love, customer support and retail networks that Google or Apple could only dream of and we’re highly profitable. That’s a great starting position for us to innovate and excel.

A touch of humility doesn’t go amiss. We can learn from our competitors and customers but lets back ourselves to succeed. Lets be confident, portray our ambition and excitement at the possibilities open to us and have faith that we’ll succeed.

Finally Olaf we’ll look forward to joining you on the road to Everything Everywhere’s success.

Regards
A Senior Manager

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14 Responses to Everything Everywhere: An open letter to Olaf Swantee — from a senior executive

  1. Gabriel Brown September 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    This could probably apply to more or less any company, as seen by the rank and file or middle management. 

    Agreed that EE needs to spend some proper money on the network.
     

  2. Gabriel Brown September 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

    This could probably apply to more or less any company, as seen by the rank and file or middle management. 

    Agreed that EE needs to spend some proper money on the network.
     

  3. Ben Smith September 1, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    Yes and no… the point about the vision / purpose is the key one IMO. I’ve worked for a few big multinationals and that uncertainty isn’t always a given.

  4. Anonymous September 1, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    **Warning. What follows may be classed as a rant, some stupidly pie in the sky thinking or both. You have been warned.**

    How about making that grand title actually mean something to the customer? Make it mean what it says.Unify your plans across all the markets. Make the plan you buy in Nice the same as the one you buy in Hamburg and the same as the one you buy in Lancaster. In other words it shouldn’t matter where you are or where you are calling, your minutes and texts and data are the same. Get past the lines on the map, for sure mobile signals in themselves don’t pay any attention to them so why should you. I want to stand in Barcelona using the SIM I brought in Helsinki and call my wife on the same network who is at home in Finland and use my minutes. I want to be able to text my parents in the UK and have it come out of my balance, both as if I was in Finland or in the UK. I want to be able to see “EvEv” (or similar!!) on my phone every time I get out the plane. I want it to be the same network no matter where I am.

    Cut out 90% of your offerings. Make it very simple to buy a post paid contract. Do it in easily understood multiplies, for example €10 gets you 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and 1GB of data (total of download and upload), €15, 1500 of each and 1.5GB etc. Data only could be charged along the same lines. Drop all this “top up x to get a, b or c” nonsense for prepaid customers. Instead set a ultra competitive per minute/per text/per MB rate and then offer people who update €20 or more half of that amount on top in free extra credit to be spent within the network only. Allow users to purchase a prepaid sim and then offer a weekly and monthly uncapped data deal at maximum network speeds. If Saunalahti in Finland can do it then I’m sure it would be a walk in the park for you. (I pay either €6.90 for seven days from receipt of text or €29.80 for 31 days from receipt of text, maximum data received and sent in 31 days for me is 29GB, I like my games from Steam, and maximum attained speed was 3.01Mbps down and 1.32Mbps up).

    Stop offering free phones! It is not clever and everyone knows they are not free! Separate the phone buying from the SIM buying. If someone wants a monthly SIM then great, if their credit is good, then sell them one. If someone wants the latest phone and is willing to pay for it in monthly instalments and their credit is good then sell them one. Regardless of if they are buying a monthly contract as well or not. Sell your phones with no SIM lock. Never ever offer deals where one gets a phone for X amount per month if Y amount is spent on a monthly contract of vice versa. Make every monthly SIM just that, monthly. Stop tying people to stupidly long contracts. If you are offering the most competitive rates on the best maintained network with the best coverage then people will keep using their SIM month after month after month! If someone decides they want to pay for a phone over eight months then fine do it! Or, sixteen or two or twenty two! Allow a user to pay off the remaining amount owed on their phone with a single one time charge of no more than €10. Don’t mess up the phone’s UI or already installed application suite with your own, they are not appreciated! One half of your company already knows how to integrate thinks like coupons and movie rentals in an entirely painless and seamless way via text, so stop drinking the “app kool aid” and stick to being a network!

    Stop treating your customers like mindless zombies!

    Or, and I can’t believe I am about to quote this here, “If you build it he will come” and most likely a lot of his mates too!

  5. Ewan September 1, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Brilliant rant Gareth. I reckon this is precisely the kind of thinking that the author of the text above was alluding to.

    There’s a lot of science and a lot of value in duping folk – in the context of, ‘top up X, get Y minutes/text’. Quite a bit of work goes into dicking around with price plans to try and make lots of money for the operator. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this — it’s what the shareholders mandate. Making things easier and a lot more transparent potentially risks cutting off a large portion of revenue generated from customers buying the wrong stuff, not using up the minutes they’ve paid for and so on.

    So you need to be confident you can make the cash back in other ways. This is where it all falls apart for the operator.

    24 month contracts? Desperately required. Anything that will give a predictable revenue stream in a market that is all-over-the-place is loved by the operator.

    There’s a fundamental here. An increasing fundamental. It’s all commodity.

    All of it.

    A text, a minute, a megabyte. Yes there’s speed and quality differentials but they’re hard to discern.

    They need all this Vodafone VIP and o2 Priority guff, along with top-up freebie shit to try and keep folk from realising, recognising and treating their operators like common-or-garden commodity providers.

    If you introduce clear and transparent pricing models — cutting out 90% of the shit (which, by the way, I fully approve of) — then what have you got left? British Gas — a commodity provider. The product is LITERALLY the same stuff coming out the pipe. Nobody cares about it beyond wanting it to be as cheap as possible, and as reliable as possible.

    So if you’re being commoditised what do you do? Well it’s pretty straight forward. “Rampage and innovate” as Tom Alexander is quoted as saying. But, you actually need to do it.

    I think, alas, it’s going to be quite some time before anyone at a mobile operator steps up to deliver more than just a few price plan tweaks and a marketing blitz.

  6. Ben Smith September 2, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    I don’t agree with all of the detail (most of it though) but the underlying point about operator innovation is well made. In fact I wonder what operator innovation could actually look like?
    Personally I’d like to see more (not less) segmentation of tariffs (although simplification of charging within tariffs would be welcome) but then also some moves to make the networks themselves smarter… I want apps in the network. I also like Ewan’s idea that they’d supply all of my connected devices – laptops, tablets and all – on pay per month schemes (I’m aware laptops haven’t been a huge success for operators but I believe that’s due to the low-end netbook offerings and lack of price-plan integration across devices).

  7. Ewan September 2, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    It would be pretty easy for the operator to establish themselves as my communications supplier. 

    Right now they are my airtime supplier. That’s all they care about. The ‘terminals’ business — having to supply handsets — is still more or less treated as a relic of 20 years ago, when it was necessary to supply and subsidise devices, otherwise no one would be able to use your airtime services. Now we’re at a different stage in the marketplace. 

    “Communications” for me doesn’t mean text messaging, data or airtime: It means MacBook Air, iPad, PlayBook, Nokia. One of the key underlying points with all these devices is the ability to communicate. So supply it all to me. 

    Now, when it comes to servers, I’ve moved all of my requirements ‘into the cloud’ — this means I don’t have to dick about with hard disks and network cables. I don’t want to have to maintain anything. 

    So why can’t my operator take care of this too? If my handset breaks, I don’t want to stand in a flipping queue and get a temporary shit replacement for 2 weeks, only to find that the issue hasn’t been fixed. No. I want it managed. Somebody else can screw about with it. I just want a new one to arrive next-day. Likewise, when there’s a new iPhone 5 on the scene, I want my iPhone 4 replaced. I don’t want to deal with ownership, maintenance or the associated (and highly unpredictable) costs. This is what I want an operator to deal with. Smart folk, smart systems, managing inventories properly. Yada yada. I just want to *use* the stuff. 

    If the operator doesn’t recognise this, somebody else — like Dell — will. 

  8. Ben Smith September 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    +1 🙂

    In fact I rather hope someone ‘big’ does do something to disrupt the current status quo… Otherwise it is just a race to the bottom.

  9. Anonymous September 3, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    Ewan and Ben, first thank you for reading all the way through. And yes Ewan, after I read it again it did read like a long winded way of saying “just be a pipe and get out of my way!”. But then I also kind of like your way of thinking as well. I got this laptop, a relatively high end HP off of my old network, but when it over heated I had to deal with the HP themselves blah blah and very much blah! My current network has no “full size” laptops in their offerings and apparently they have no plans to offer any any time soon either! I do wish that someone (I’m looking at you Nokia) could build a full size laptop with high end specs and include a SIM slot and pentaband network support! I’d go to an operator for one of those!

    And yes, we all want the operators to innovate pure and simple. Or for someone to come in and really mess the game up and change it around. Dell, Apple or Nokia. It doesn’t matter who. Although on paper you have to say that Apple are the obvious choice here with that massive cash surplus of theirs. Although Nokia do have the ability to build their own network from scratch entirely in house. And Dell certainly have the supply chain and manufacturing backbone as well.

  10. Ewan September 5, 2011 at 8:49 am #

    I don’t even think other players will need to build a new network necessarily, not in the short term.

    I reckon quick innovation can come in the form of price and service innovation from an existing operator who actually throws off the shackles!

  11. Charlie Robertson October 28, 2011 at 9:18 am #

    Interesting because as a past senior manager under Hutch and then eventually France Telecom I would say that it became apparent under French ownership that we would quickly end up as a bureaucracy. Merging T-Mobile and Orange was political and certainly not commercial. The French cannot run companies in a truly commercial environment unless it is really an oligoloply – to which they readily admit. Probably the same is true at T-Mobile – witness their overseas investments. You can blame Tom if you like but Olaf will be worse and he will still have the handcuffs of a strange French bureaucratic alliance with the Germans who are thrilled to get rid of the doomed liability of T-Mobile.

  12. Paul Doyle June 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Forgive me if this seems like a bit of a rant. I am very impressed with how things are going to look in the future but I believe Orange need to get there basics right, and I strongly believe that this is not being done and as a long term customer it disappoints me.

    I am not going to go into great detail, however I have logged a complaint via your website, I missed my return call and just got a message asking me to call 150, no information on what area I needed to get through to. I sent another email advising that dialling 150 without knowing we’re to go is of no help to me. I asked if I could have a written response to my complaint instead but the same thing happened. I eventually wrote a letter of complaint over 2 weeks ago and I am yet to receive a response.

    I have spoken to members staff who have all told me that I can’t log a complaint in the ways I have. I have to call first if the issue cannot be resolved by a manager then I have to write to complain which contradicts the Orange complaints code of practice.

    My issue has now been ongoing for three months and is stil not resolved and has caused me a lot of problems.

    Olaf, while it is great to look to the future and I understand that this is how business’s grow, however if you don’t look after your customers by getting the basics right your plans will soon go belly up.

    I know this is probably going to fall on deaf ears but I am at a loss at what to do as the whole Orange complaints process has failed.

  13. Anthony Brennan May 30, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

    Dear Mr Swantee

    Today I thought I would have another go of getting my
    Samsung phone to send an email

    To do this I require the SMPT setting which consist of three
    pieces of information

    Server name

    Security settings

    Port number

    Bear in mind that I had previously attempted to get this
    information from one of your three shops in the Leicester city centre and
    wasted half a day doing so I set out again to have another go

    First I tried to extract the data from your website

    I note that all the instructions for SMTP settings have been
    greyed out and the information is not available

    I then attended your shop in Gallowtree Gate Leicester

    Given that I have one of your most popular phones Galaxy S4
    and I require a basic use ie send email I found it shocking that the manager
    was unable to simply provide this information

    I was then asked to call 150 after a long wait I managed to
    speak to your help desk who asked to call back on another phone I asked the
    staff in the shop for their phone number and the first member didn’t know it
    the manager did know it but the call centre couldn’t get through

    I was then told that the requisite information would be
    emailed to me (which it was not)

    Then I was informed that the call centre operative would call
    me back 10 minuites later which he did

    I then asked him just to give me the three pieces of
    information over the phone

    He could only supply me with two pieces and had to then call
    another call centre for the third

    The line then hung up

    I have now wasted a further three hours with no benefit

    I can assure you after using Orange and then EE for over 20
    years I will be moving my account at the first opportunity

    Yours

    Anthony Brennan LL.B (hons) ACCA

  14. Ben Smith May 30, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    This post is from 2011 so it’s very unlikely that anyone from EE will find it now. However, SMTP settings are typically provided by your email provider, not the mobile network (unless you are using an email service actually provided by EE). They should be able to supply this information.

    Note that EE (correctly) blocks unsecured SMTP traffic so you need to ensure you get the details for SMTP over SSL which uses port 587.

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