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Andrew Scott on The Curious Case of Johan Nordstrom

In 1901 a Swedish immigrant to America called Johan Nordstrom, founded the Nordstrom department store. In 1975, by now a national chain, a Nordstrom customer walked into one of their stores to return a set of tyres he’d bought. The salesperson gladly took back the set of car tyres and gave the customer a refund. Nothing weird about that, right? Except Nordstrom has never sold tyres.

Many of you may have heard this story before; its one of many legendary tales of great customer service from Nordstrom and best of all it’s true.

According to a chap called Efraim Turban, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”

Like us all I have copious tales of woe and despair dealing with the corporate giants of today. I’d say the worst offenders used to be the banks,  but in today’s world of mobile everything, the network operators have definitely taken that crown. While complaining about OFCOM and whining about infrastructure costs, mobile operators continue to fleece consumers while delivering a deeply inconsistent customer service experience which can drive grown men of good demeanour to the edge of sanity. I’m a grown man.

I’ve had a mobile phone for over 15 years. I’ve been with o2 for a decade. In November 2008 I upgraded my Blackberry. As part of that deal I haggled a free USB Broadband Modem for my laptop, with the usual £15 monthly cost INCLUDED as part of my £45 tariff.

Now, I have enough material to write 20,000 words on the events of the past 9 months; but suffice to say 20+ calls, 10hrs+ on the phone, copious emails and tweets later, I’m still left without a USB Modem and o2 refusing to honour the agreed deal. An o2 Manager – having listened to the recorded call from November-has even confirmed the deal was agreed; but still nothing happened and I went around in circles again. In short, it leaves loyal customers like myself feeling that O2 don’t give a f***.

I cannot find the words to describe how fundamentally angry I am with o2. I have wasted an extraordinary amount of time. I spend £5,000 a year on my personal Blackberry and that’s before counting the 6 contracts of my staff.

In fact I was so angry I found myself typing “I hate o2” into Google. As a general search it gave 56,000,000 results; being a nice chap I thought I’d do an explicit search instead. Sadly Orange and 3 escape this test, for obvious reasons. Lucky them.

I hate. I love. For every hater, X love you
O2 416 767* 1.8
Telefonica 4,960 404 0.08
Vodafone 726 403 .5
T-Mobile 1,130 2,810 2.4

It’s all rather haphazard of course; for starters, 9 out of 10 of the 767 people saying “I love o2” were not talking about o2 the operator, but o2 Yoga, o2 Fitness and a plethora of other things which were definitely not telco.

I know many people who only use o2 because they wanted an iPhone; but they despise o2. That’s so wrong! How can a brand get it SO badly wrong?

o2 have done a great job of turning around their initial brand perception, using music venues & spending millions on “being cool”. This is all then wasted when the service doesn’t deliver straightforward satisfaction to a customer.

Brands must learn I simply want a most basic level of respect and politeness. Calls returned when promised, honour the deal you agreed to, a  little bit of trust might even be nice. I don’t care whether I’m a “VIP UK Select Gold” customer (as the nauseatingly precious voice tells me every time I call). It’s all smoke and mirrors.

If o2 focused back on delivering a basic level of good service to all customers, churn would lower, brand value would rise and shareholder coffers would fill.

As anyone in business knows, there are many tombs written on the subject of customer service; blogs, podcasts, qualifications, training camps,  methodologies and of course the inevitable slew of government supported “standards” with customer friendly titles such as “TICSS” and “ISO 10002:2004” Did you know, that last one addresses “the quality management on handling of customer complaints”?

Fascinating. 🙂

Actually, IMHO (lets keep the acronym theme going) this is all a load of crap. I’m with Johan. Good customer service is really rather simple. Until very recently Nordstrom staff when joining were given only one thing: a card with just 75 words written on it, the core of which said “Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service.

Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.”

As modern health & safety madness and litigation has got worse, that same card is now accompanied with an employee handbook, but this simple guidance and wise employee empowerment remains.

Frustratingly, many of the people I work with in the industry are from o2; and they are good people doing good things; but they’re not dealing with the day to day service. I only have a modest 1,000+ twitter followers and I probably meet 1000 mobile industry people a year; I’m no head of a Global FTSE 100 bluechip, but if they won’t listen to an angry mobile entrepreneur what hope does John Doe have?

It is truly incomprehensible how mobile operators can deliver such a widespread poor level of customer service. Corporate culture and brand values start at the top, and if any o2 shareholder is reading this, that is where you should look to solve this endemic problem.

I wonder if o2 is ISO 10002:2004 approved..? Actually I don’t care. I’m a customer. I don’t care. It makes no difference to me. Just serve me well. I’m your customer and I’m the reason company exists! Johan Nordström knew that.

At the end of my last post I said I’d write next time on the subject “It’s about the data, stupid.” Well, in terms of delivering valuable functionality to users that remains true, but in terms of your brand and business it’s all about the customer, always.

– – – – –

Andrew Scott is a digital entrepreneur in London, CEO Rummble, Non-exec UnLtdWorld.com, Founding board m.Love & lover of all things mobile!

Follow Andrew on Twitter: andrewjscott.

17 replies on “Andrew Scott on The Curious Case of Johan Nordstrom”

Hi. Can't help but agree on your points. I've been on contract with O2, Vodafone, T-mobile, 3 and Orange; PAYG with all of the above & Tesco Mobile, Tesco Mobile Ireland, EasyMobile, Ikea Family Mobile, Talkmobile, Virgin and probably some I forget! The service from all of them is abysmal & is only ever saved (occassionally) by incredible individuals, playing, or bending, their flawed systems. Obvious counter-intuitive features are increasing contract lengths, whilst the business model needs to throw a stream of new models and products that we can't buy or use for months, or even years. Also, after decades working on sales & cs, why is it only me who understands the 'deadening instrument' effect of phones; I can talk to someone with the same cultural background, education and profile, yet the medium of the phone can still mangle meaning! What chance with offshored call centres!

Hi Andy, I feel your pain!

I had been with T-Mobile for years until I started to get into mobile web at which time their prohibitive charges and poor speeds made me look elsewhere…

I've been with 02 for 2 years now and they've still not managed to figure how to let the Palm Treo 750 I bought on their contract send MMS…

I got so frustrated I bought a Nokia e71 on 3. Only to find it only works in my house if I sit in the bathroom…

Whilst I do find that they've all got a certain “grrrrrr” factor to their service, I completely agree that 02's customer service is about as much fun to experience as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And that's the big issue. I can forgive a company that makes mistakes if they fix them. O2 aren't winning much love at the moment.

@chrispatten “& is only ever saved (occassionally) by incredible individuals, playing, or bending, their flawed systems. ” Chris, I've had the same experience; I've been about to leave more than once and someone has invested energy and some common sense, sorted a problem and I've stayed. Sadly this time, that has not happened.

@misaerichwoods What's most dissapointing is that even after this, @O2 nor anyone else at O2 has seen it as appropriate to respond in any way. I guess they really dont care about losing business, even if it's in 4 digits. I should perhaps take the hint which I should have taken some considerable time ago.

Hi Andrew
One of our Customer Service team has been trying to get hold of you, but whenever he's been trying he's not been able to get through – we'll keep trying today!

Thank you for the follow up O2; Chris from a Customer Service Resolution team spoke to me yesterday.

I appreciate the relatively quick response, but was in honesty disappointed with the outcome. Initially I was offered 6 months free, with the contract starting from today.

My contract started end of November, when the contract was agreed.
Chris then came back with an offer of the contract starting on the correct date (November, which is when I entered into the contract with O2) and 6 months free rental of the modem (£90).

Chris said O2 could not check my call anymore, because O2 had deleted the record of the call.

Given the 9 MONTHS of negligence on O2's part, the time and hassle it has given me and the bad press it has attracted to O2, if I were O2 I would take a more pro-active approach and rather argue over the remaining £90.00 of the contract, perhaps actually honour the ORIGINAL CONTRACT which was made.

If I dont honour my contract with O2, you take me to court. When O2 doesnt honour the contract, you try and renegotiate it.

The £90 credit was welcome; but I am stunned that after this level of bad coverage you dont simply honour the original deal. Chris confirmed that a manager had stated on the account notes “Its correct the customer was offerred the broadband wifi free”.

Chris said “This is ambigous as he may have mean the USB mode, not the contract”. EXCEPT, that the USB modem is FREE on all your 18 month contracts anyway!

Instead of finally feeling happy that O2 has made an effort to resolve a serious problem with a loyal customer, I'm left feeling O2 would still rather penny pinch over £90 when I spent thousands each year the work accounts I oversee, but most importantly not honour the original contract and tariff agreed.

That is what this has all been about; not the £15 a month, but delivering what I was promised. Sadly, the promise has not been honoured and now never will be, as I've tired and accepted Chris' offer of 6 months free £15 rental. Perhaps the extra £90 revenue O2 will make as a consequence, can be spent on something useful, like O2's data structure? 🙂

So O2, you've partially won this battle, but as far as keeping my loyal custom, you may have lost the war.

Thank you for the follow up O2; Chris from a Customer Service Resolution team spoke to me yesterday.

I appreciate the relatively quick response, but was in honesty disappointed with the outcome. Initially I was offered 6 months free, with the contract starting from today.

My contract started end of November, when the contract was agreed.
Chris then came back with an offer of the contract starting on the correct date (November, which is when I entered into the contract with O2) and 6 months free rental of the modem (£90).

Chris said O2 could not check my call anymore, because O2 had deleted the record of the call.

Given the 9 MONTHS of negligence on O2's part, the time and hassle it has given me and the bad press it has attracted to O2, if I were O2 I would take a more pro-active approach and rather argue over the remaining £90.00 of the contract, perhaps actually honour the ORIGINAL CONTRACT which was made.

If I don’t honour my contract with O2, you take me to court. When O2 doesn’t honour the contract, you try and renegotiate it.

The £90 credit was welcome; but I am stunned that after this level of bad coverage you don’t simply honour the original deal. Chris confirmed that a manager had stated on the account notes “Its correct the customer was offered the broadband wifi free”.

Chris said “This is ambiguous as he may have mean the USB mode, not the contract”. EXCEPT, that the USB modem is FREE on all your 18 month contracts anyway!

Instead of finally feeling happy that O2 has made an effort to resolve a serious problem with a loyal customer, I'm left feeling O2 would still rather penny pinch over £90 when I spent thousands each year the work accounts I oversee, but most importantly not honour the original contract and tariff agreed.

That is what this has all been about; not the £15 a month, but delivering what I was promised. Sadly, the promise has not been honoured and now never will be, as I've tired and accepted Chris' offer of 6 months free £15 rental. Perhaps the extra £90 revenue O2 will make as a consequence, can be spent on something useful, like O2's data structure? 🙂

So O2, you've partially won this battle, but as far as keeping my loyal custom, you may have lost the war.

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