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Orange offers an unhappy customer a loan to buy o2 iPhone

How do we solve the problem that is Orange? For a long time, this was a company that offered its customers ‘unlimited mobile data’, but only during off-peak hours. If you wanted to look up a train timetable, or send a photo to the internet during the day, you had to pay 3-4 pounds per megabyte for the privilege. Only in the summer of 2008 was this rectified. For those who remember the glory days of the ‘future is coming, the future is Orange’, it’s terrifically disappointing to witness the fall of the brand.

Cursed with ever-decreasing brand cachet, the great and the good have been departing ever since. This is perfectly fine in terms of top line revenue because, of course, Orange has still got a good whack of customers. Indeed, it’s got millions of normobs signed-up to contract. Everything was fine until the UK mobile networks started to diversify. Vodafone launched a Dell Mini Inspiron and it’s own line-up of decent handset offerings. o2 snared the iPhone and later, the iPhone 3G. T-Mobile announced their HTC G1 Android handset. 3 launched the INQ1 to augment their traditionally smart technofreak line-up of mobile services. Only Orange was left standing against the wall at the school dance, consciously staring at the floor wearing last year’s finest whilst every other operator strutted in their finery.

Up until this point, you might think that I’m being a little dramatic. Sure, people still use Orange. The normobs — the normal mobile users — still like the service. They’re still happy with texts, calls and a smidgen of mobile data. Indeed Orange was one of the first to capitalise on the normob third for ‘unlimited’ texting with an array of smart 30-odd pound monthly unlimited text price plans. Forgetm if you will, the stupid animal-named price plans (“Are you a racoon?”). All was still ‘ok’, right?

Yes. To a point everything is fine.

Until we all started to notice ads like this on their website back in September:

What the hell were they doing? If the iPhone is hurting your business, you certainly don’t go to market advertising the fact. Not unless you’re losing your AAA £50-100 per month ARPU customers.

Which, one might reasonably infer, is becoming a serious problem for Orange. The ad reads:

‘So, you’ve seen the iPhone… But, have you seen the competition?’

To which I case my eye over the Bold, The Omnia, The Tocco and the HTC Diamond — and, if you’re hunting for an iPhone experience, there ain’t nothing that any of those handsets can do — at all — to compete.

The desperation was, it seemed to me, SEEPING out of Orange at this point. But it wouldn’t get any worse. It couldn’t get any worse.

Could it?

Yes. Enter Josh Russell. He’s a friend of Mobile Industry Review. We regularly bump into him at various events and he’s popped up from Brighton and appeared in many a MIR Show video. I particularly liked his stimulating interpretation of the future of the mobile industry that we filmed back in November. Josh is a web geek, he’s been around the block and had some excellent successes. Check out his bio here.

On Thursday, I sent Josh a Tweet message (check Josh’s Twitter here). I’d just seen that he was planning to swap to the iPhone. He’s had enough of staring in the window whilst others have quite a bit of fun — and being into technology and particularly mobile technology — he decided it was time to make a switch.

I asked him if he’d do a blog post on why he was jumping to the iPhone platform. He readily agreed. Brilliant.

Then he posted another Tweet about his experience trying to leave Orange:

orange just offered me a loan to buy a pay as you go iphone and then stay with them. wtf?

I got right on to Josh asking if he’d write a post on that!

Orange… offering you a LOAN to buy a PAYG iPhone? And to STAY with them?


Here, then, is that post from Josh with all the details:

– – – – –

Add this to your WTF list, maybe it’s a very telling sign o’ the times.

Having had a very quick turn around on a new iPhone order with O2 (I did it online on their store and it arrived roughly 16 hours later!) I called Orange to get my PAC number so I could cancel my contract with them, and move the number i’ve had forever, away from them and to O2.

My first call consisted of me being on hold for almost an hour. Although it was at 5.50pm on a Friday, so I figured they’re probably running less staff at that time, and I’d give them a chance.

My next call, which was immediately after my hour-long top of the pops session, consisted of me pressing * and 0 repeatedly until I spoke to a human. She took my details and passed me on within a couple of minutes to a chirpy guy in the Customer Retention team. He was a bit too happy, that’s probably why he was given that job. Anyone who can be dealing with people who want to *leave* your service, at almost 7pm on a Friday, well… it’s not a job I’d want.

Somehow he knows I’m leaving to go to O2, is that because that’s what everyone’s doing, or (more likely?) that the mobile operators have access to something central that has a global record of what accounts I hold? A scary thought. Then again, that’s what credit report agencies such as Experian do. Yeah, that is a scary thought.

So he knows I’m leaving to O2, somehow he also knows it’s because I want an iPhone. I jokingly quip that if he/Orange could give me an iPhone, I’d stay with them. After-all, I’ve had that account for roughly 7 years IIRC, and that’s got to be worth something. (It’s then that I wonder that a Customer Retention team would be much more effective if it’s job was to make me happy *all the time*, not just when I’m trying to leave FFS). He then starts to attack the iPhone, and by proxy, my decision making. This is dangerous ground. He has no knowledge (or does he?) of what I know or what my motivations are. At this point I suggest to him the things that I think the iPhone lacks.

I’m trying to play his game, I just want the PAC number, if I play nice then maybe he’ll be easy on me and just let me have it. He rubbishes the camera, I tell him I carry a DSLR everywhere. But then I suggest that, yes, you can’t forward text messages, and that’s annoying.

Actually I never do that anyway, and can type quick enough that it doesn’t matter. He seems to be playing along, I’m just hoping his typing I can hear is him retrieving the PAC. Then he mentions that you can’t send picture messages. Oh come on, I have email, and wifi, and 3G, so yeah, you can. But I don’t say that, I just agree. I’m still leaving you dude, gimme the PAC.

This is getting boring by now, he’s suggesting that they can give me a phone with more features. You don’t need me to tell you that this line of argument isn’t going to work. I tell him that I’ve already got an original iPhone, cracked and running on Orange. I don’t want whatever Samsung they have an excess stock of. I’ve chosen the iPhone for the ecosystem it’s part of, I use Mobile Me, a MacBook, loads of apps I love and couldn’t do without. This is the genius of Apple, this is why and how they changed the game. You my friend, working in a call centre on a Friday night, for a faceless organisation that’s fighting, nay struggling, for relevance and market share, you my friend, can not help me. PAC number, now.

Orange’s inability to predict the future (like most large, old-school incumbent companies) of it’s own industry, and it’s inability to put me, a valuable flagged customer, first.. This is what’s loosing it’s business, and my cash.

He knows I’m flagged as a valuable customer, this become obvious when he drops a bombshell. He says casually, sounding like he’s giving up now, that it’s a shame I’ve already made my decision, because they could have given me a loan to by myself a PAYG iPhone from Apple/O2 and then crack it and use it with Orange.

Erm, huh?

So they would effectively give me money to stay with them. They would endorse me using a phone that they can’t support. They would encourage me to break my warranty on my shiny new iPhone. All kinds of wrong.

This is where I just get annoyed, I haven’t really taken in what he’s just said, I just want the code. Which eventually he agrees to send me. In the post. We’re in 2009, and they’re sending me a letter. I ask if he can give it to me on the phone, now, while I’m here, talking to him, a guy who can see the code on his screen. He can’t. He explains that if I had called several times previously, or if I was an annoyed customer, then he could. But I didn’t fit that profile. Yet.

I hang up. If O2 can get me an iPhone from an automated system overnight, then surely Orange can get a letter to me in at least the same amount of time, right?

Regardless of whether or not they could give me a loan to buy the iPhone, there are several reasons why that wouldn’t work out. O2 have the data plan, the free wifi access, the warranty, the OS updates (much easier on a non-cracked iPhone), etc etc.. did I miss something? Oh yeah, I WOULD OWE ORANGE MONEY ON A LOAN.

This screams of panic, of desperation. They are screwed, and maybe it’s finally hitting home. The game is changing, maybe quicker than we thought. Operators need to give us more reasons to choose one over the other. Currently there is no customer loyalty whatsoever. Competing on price alone, is not how business is done in the 3rd millennium.

I’ll leave the advice on that for a future article, but I’m sure you, the MIR faithful, can fill them in 🙂

– – – – –

Josh, thank you for taking the time to write. Absolutely fascinating. Has anyone else had a similar experience with Orange? You can still find the ‘Orange iPhone Alternatives’ page live and operating right now here.

Coming soon: After using a first generation iPhone last year — then swapping away — Josh discusses why he’s going to be staying with the new iPhone 3G.

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