BlykWatch: Swap to £15 credit winds up some users

Those of you who are regular readers of the site will know that I covered a series on the site known as BlykWatch, which was where I posted regularly about UK ad funded MVNO Blyk. In September Ewan and I took the decision to retire the series as we felt nothing much was happening with the company. There was nothing to ‘watch’.

Blyk frustrated me; in return for receiving adverts matched to my preferences, and and every other user received 217 texts and 43 minutes per month. No data. No data AT ALL. The regular readers of Blykwatch will know I complained a lot about the lack of some kind of inclusive data along with competitive data rates ‘out of bundle’.

Well, to my delight this evening I received a SMS from Blyk;

You asked, Blyk listened. Blyk will be changing to a free monthly refill of £15 for you to use however you like.

*Fantastic* a company that listened to what the users want! Of course, having ‘a balance’ means you can use it on voice, sms, mms and data. The quid pro quo is immediately a lot more credible in my eyes.

However it comes at a price. At the same time prices on Blyk will now increase with call charges rising to 24p a minute from 15p. That’s STEEP. However text messages fall from 10p to 8p.

Now while this is fantastic for me — I can use my balance just on calls, or data — since I use Blyk as my secondary sim, for those using Blyk as a primary operator of choice, they’re now getting a bit of a raw deal.

The old system gave every user £28.15 credit (which made up the 217 texts/43 minutes). So if you’re used to using 217 texts and 43 minutes each month, that will NOW cost you £27.68.

But now, you’re only getting £15 ‘credit’ as thanks for receiving ads. If you wanted to maintain that same level of minutes/texts, you’d need to spunk out £12.68 extra per month.

That is a 46% percent decrease in credit and in return you get flexibility. I think the 46% is rather expensive for the value that flexibility brings. I understand that for a flexible plan you would expect to lose some credit ie 10 – 20% but certainly NOT 46%.

To me this suggests Blyk simply do not understand their user base. If you use the credit all on minutes you are better off than before the changes, however if you are a SMS user you lose out big style. Blyk is a MVNO only available for those who are aged between 16 and 24, users in this bracket (which I am part of) Text, MSN and Facebook each other. They are prolific texters, not callers.

As soon as I got the message concerning these changes I did a search on twitter to see if anyone had said anything (Ewan if you are reading this twitter IS useful).

Here’s what I sent out to my followers:

“You asked, Blyk listened”: 43 min 217 txt -> £15 +data,mms possibility.43min 217 txt=27.68.Cost of flex: 46% for mms, data. More flexible?

I received many responses — I don’t want to list them all so here’s a good summary one:

Am annoyed Blyk has decided to give £15 credit per month instead of free calls and minutes. It’s basically a guise for giving less.

I also jumped onto the forums, and I realised that Blyk had not sent this message in one go but had done a phased roll out, as a result the forums were very active on this topic. The main bulk were contained in two topics one was ‘bring back the old Blyk’ with 150 replies and a petition as well with 104 posts.

Not only that there are also two online petitions on sites on the internet:

The first has 92 names, the second has 99 names.

Checking the posts on the forum the first post on the change was on the 15th January at 4pm, so in less than 5 days this has been the response. I have been a user of Blyk for more than a year and a half and have never seen so much response on the forums. I think it clearly shows the opinion of the Blyk members.

I dropped an email to both Jonathan MacDonald and Alistair Crane (both part of the team who set up Blyk) to hear get their views on the changes.

“Businesses change their offerings. All of them. Blyk know more about what people want than all other mobile networks, in my opinion. I hope that that opinions about an offering change don’t cloud, remove or replace the fact that, for the first time ever, a media channel was built upon conversation rather than broadcast. We can and should have an opinion and it is more common for negativity to out-shine the positive. It is the way of the world sadly.”  Jonathan MacDonald

Fair point, but how much conversation was going on when they changed the game plan?

Let’s hear from Alistair:

“In January Blyk launched a comprehensive content portal and will be marketing the service heavily to members based on their profile information. By giving users monetary value to spend on whatever they want Blyk will drive content consumption, offer members an additional free service and most importantly, create increased inventory and another avenue for advertisers to access the profiled member base through traditional WAP formats (banners, text links etc.) as well as more creative pre-rolls, interstitials and ad funded content experiences (games, wall papers, ringtones).

Members will place a MASSIVE amount of value around flexibility and will love the fact that they can now access facebook, maps, email etc. using their free allowance. 

User created MMS will still probably stay low but is a good option to add to the mix.” Alistair Crane

I also got some words from fellow Blyk User and MIR Contributor Samanatha

“When I first heard about this, I’ll admit I was excited and happy. And then the reality of Blyk’s inability to comprehend the needs and desires of their customers finally sank in again. I don’t like moaning, and in fact I’m pleased they’ve finally realised that listening to their members is the right way to go about their business; but when there’s such a loss being made by each individual member, questions have to be raised.”

Blyk my final words to you are these, your idea is fantastic and it will work well however you tell me you listen BUT do you really?

Do you *really* understand your member base?

– – – – –

A word from the Editor: Hi there, Ewan here. When you go live and tell your customers that it’s all about the conversation, that you’re listening, that you care, it’s good news. If you mean it. But then I suspect it’s a lot larger to wield the happy stick when you’re running a mobile operator. But… if you’ve asked your users for feedback — and they give you feedback, it gets rather challenging when, for whatever logistical reasons, you can’t necessarily deliver.

Over the months we’ve delivered some rather inspiring commentary on Blyk — chiefly from Ricky, the author of today’s post, and more recently from Samantha. Both are exactly in Blyk’s target range. Both are considered, smart, intelligent individuals, misled by the Blyk concept.

We stopped the BlykWatch coverage a while ago because it began to turn into a broken record. Despite the readers from all across the world — I reckon that a good 20-30,000 tuned in regularly for BlykWatch — when we were continually publishing news about forum posts not being replied to and lax or bored customer service, I thought that was it. Time’s up. It’s an operator. Their job is to deliver as many eyeball conversions as possible for their advertisers. It is not to ‘listen’ to their users and it is most certainly not to react to what users want unless there’s a direct profit. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with this as a business practice. The disconnect is the users — such as Ricky and Samantha and a lot more besides — getting far too passionate about the service. At one point I think I said to Ricky to go and get a T-Mobile account and stop worrying about Blyk. That’s difficult when you feel passionately engaged by the company and when the company simply does not reflect that back. I’m sure Jonathan MacDonald — in his Every Single One Of Us guise — will have something to say about that. It ain’t good. But it makes cash. The Blyk customer is the advertiser. The user is the gateway to cash for Blyk.

Now, here’s is a viewpoint that I doubt will be received well by Ricky, Samantha and the array of Blyk fans they’ve spoken to about the news: It’s free so you have no rights and your opinion doesn’t count. Despite what the marketing tells you.

The only opinion Blyk want to know is whether you liked the Coca Cola or the Pepsi MMS ad better. If it’s a service level you want — you’re much better off demanding service from a traditional offer and wielding your own cash in return, rather than your data/opinions.

Swapping around the credit structure perhaps indicates at a challenge with the Blyk model. According to a BBC stat, there are about 7 million 16-24 year olds in the UK.

200,000 of which have got a Blyk sim card. Or, let’s be generous — let’s call it 300,000. I don’t know the current stats. No one from Blyk has contacted me with an update for years. So let’s work on the basis of 300k ‘penetration’.

Let’s now get real.

Ricky — one of the world’s most passionate Blyk users doesn’t actually use them as his primary account. He uses T-Mobile. So let’s strip a load out.

Let’s assume 300k sim cards activated. Let’s assume 20% converted to become regular Blyk users? I dunno if this is accurate. Let’s keep with it.

20% is 60,000 regular Blyk users.

How many of them are PRIMARY Blyk users — i.e it’s their ONLY mobile operator? That’s a difficult stat. Let’s say…. another 20%? Let’s be kind?

So 12,000 regular, primary users.

Assume 1% of them can be arsed to care about their ‘billing structure’.

Text them and tell them the credit structure is changing and about 100 of them hit the forums complaining. That sounds about right. Now, once again, these stats could be hugely incorrect and I’m happy for us to be corrected by Blyk.

But if they’re anywhere accurate, they’d explain why the company isn’t necessarily screaming about it’s successes and why it may well become necessary for them to shift around the credit structure to reduce their costs by 40-odd percent.

The value with Blyk is surely in the concept. The concept that — all things being equal — the brands are LOVING the ROI. They’re actually getting returns on their investment. Measurable and high percentages. Just, not with millions of teenagers. So I think the concept of Blyk is a success. Whether the MVNO will prove to be so? Well I don’t know. Let’s keep watching and wish them all godspeed.

(And swap to T-Mobile, Samantha.)

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