Are Britain’s mobile operators too busy tweeting to actually sell anything? [Or: Are their Social CRM systems really this rubbish?]

One of the bullet points on my todo list this morning was: Get a new iPhone 4S.

I’ve procrastinated enough. Now I need to actually do something about it. It’s time I owned an iPhone 4S instead of playing with test devices.

I have accounts on all the UK networks: Everything Everywhere, Three, Vodafone and o2. All of them are either eligible for upgrade or I can add a second line. I’ve got the budget to blow on a new device. I am ready to contract.

So I thought I’d use this opportunity to do a test of the UK mobile operator social selling apparatus.

I tweeted the following message and prepared for the deluge of responses:

Operators, I’m about to buy an iPhone 4S today. The custom could be yours. Just tweet me!

I was expecting to get a qualifying tweet within 5 minutes from one of the operators — you know, something to check that I’m not joking and to determine that I do wish to be engaged with a view to fulfilling a transaction.

I was then expecting for the conversation to a direct message and for the operator to explain that “Sarah” (i.e. some named individual) would like to give me a call to discuss.

Do remember that if I had initiated a phone call with any of the above operator sales lines, I’d have been able to do the deal within about 5 minutes or less. Remember I’m also an existing customer of each network so there’s no crazy extensive credit check — indeed, most of the operators (Vodafone for example) would be able to put any upfront costs on to next month’s bill, making the transaction very simple. I also knew precisely what I wanted to buy.

I’m also aware that as a mobile choppy, known to most operator PR teams, the chances are I’d get a skewed result. I wondered if some eagle-eyed observers would have spotted by tweet and have called their social teams to make sure my tweet got actioned.

I followed up my first Tweet with this one:

Meanwhile I’m writing a post about my intent to buy an iPhone today with o2 — at their store, as I’m assuming no operators will reach out

(You can find that post here)

So here are the results in no particular order:

T-Mobile: I heard absolutely nothing from them
Orange: Absolutely nothing
Vodafone: Nothing! [Come on Vodafone! What happened?? I have *FOUR* lines eligible for upgrade with you!]
Three: There was some interaction with their social team
o2: They did reach out!

Deary me.

I really did expect an overwhelming deluge.

I thought operators were really hot on social CRM! I really did. Of course, I expect if I’d actually engaged an account like @vodafoneukdeals (their Twitter profile for their online shop) I might have got somewhere.

I assumed that all the operators would have some kind of special monitoring in place, ready to pluck out messages like mine and stick them through the sales funnel.

Theoretically all I needed was for one of the social media teams to get someone from the sales team to phone me. The @ThreeUK social media team did volunteer to arrange a call. That’s probably the best response I had. They used the phrase “can we arrange a call?” which I interpreted as, “Can we have a chap from India call you.”

I replied back saying it was ok — and that I’d call 333 myself. I probably will. I just am not in the mood for the highly functional Indian call centres at the moment. I didn’t really want to give my life story to them either. If, however, ThreeUK had said “Sarah” or “Paul” or “Jeff” was going to call me, then I’d have probably reacted differently. Just, you see, I’ll probably be doing an upgrade with my Three account — and it’ll be an early upgrade, so there’s usually a bit of cash involved. I don’t mind that. However the last time I tried to do this, the Indian chap I spoke with was horrified at the £200 I’d need to pay. “Yeah, that’s fine,” I said. He tried to convince me to wait 6 months so he wouldn’t have to charge me that. He was well meaning. Very well meaning. But all I wanted was the handset and I was happy to pay. So I didn’t want another re-run of this.

But at least there was some interaction from Three.

o2 were pretty good too. I had a good dialogue with them across the afternoon. They didn’t offer to sell me a device (i.e. just get it done by phone/tweet/email or whatever). Instead they supported the process with me — because I had already indicated I intended buying a lease iPhone. I think that’s totally acceptable.

You’d think though, wouldn’t you, that operators would by now have some kind of system in place that tracks what *I* say in the context of spending money on telecommunications stuff. It’s all very well being able to interact with consumers by social media, but how about actually selling them stuff?

On the basis of around £250/month spend, I’m worth £3,000 a year to Vodafone. If you assume Vodafone UK company does about £5 billion-ish a year, I contribute 0.00006% of their revenues.

Not that much, I suppose. But a few of those start to add up.

Is there no “quick, Ewan wants to buy something” register that pops up and alerts the sales people sitting on their hands at the call centre? Or is the market on the social media channels that small that it’s really not worth bothering about? That could certainly be the case.

I’m sure I saw a rather nifty system from Amdocs at this year’s InTouch event that helped track and manage this kind of social customer interaction. I must ask them about it.

Meanwhile, what’s your reaction?

Was I expecting just a little bit too much? I’m sure the operator sales teams reading this would have rather they’d made the sale than ignored it. Did I do it the wrong way? Or perhaps I should have been more blatant? Maybe I should have addressed each operator directly with my sales intent, rather than have them come back to me?

Anyway, do let me know what you think. My next post will discuss my o2 in shop experience.

I still don’t have an iPhone 4S.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

9 replies on “Are Britain’s mobile operators too busy tweeting to actually sell anything? [Or: Are their Social CRM systems really this rubbish?]”

I have followed your purchasing attempt throughout the day… People rarely listen if I complain that it has actually become quite hard to buy exactly the device you want, never mind with the right contract in one go…

I have had my eye on Conversocial for a while now having followed Josh building it up over the years. Operators need this, and to train their customer service people up for all that can be gained from using social channels well.. Any mobile Customer Service execs reading this should get on to them…

I wasn’t expecting them to follow me Sam — instead I was expecting them to pick up on my tweet message keywords (“buy iPhone”). I think that’s been too big of an ask.

On a related note: Yes I do expect my operators to follow my tweets. Exactly the same way I expect British Airways, South Western Trains and so on, to follow my tweets. I don’t expect them to do anything at all except build a profile of me and when I need them, jump in to help. That secret sauce that flags up when I’ve got a problem is up to them to work out. There are much smarter brains than mine out there looking at this issue. For example, I’d like BA to connect my Twitter profile to my Executive Club account so that if I’ve got a problem or question they can determine my context right-away.

I’m not so sure that normal consumers would be as accepting as you in regards to operators jumping on every tweet that mentions they want a new phone.

Personally, I only ever want a company to talk to me via twitter if I engage them directly by tagging them in the tweet. Anything else is spam.

I think you may be expecting a little much. In an ideal world they would have filters running to catch anyone who mentions iPhone and then read the tweet to see of it is a potential buyer, but imagine the number of tweets they would be getting.

If you mention an operator by name or twitter alias, you do tend to get responses. @threeuk are good and I must admit that @vodafoneuk are very very good (shame Inam leaving them as the 3G network is not really up to scratch).

But you need to, at this moment, engage with them either directly or, as I say, by mentioning their companies in your tweet.

Never heard anything from t-mobile and I have tried.

I like the @ew4n wants to buy something alert though!!

There’s not enough incentive in Twitter/FB monitoring for it to be a sales funnel. At least not for the service side of mobile (carriers). Accessory makers and to some extent device makers have a better incentive to monitor and reward those channels.

IMO, and at least from the research of NexGen Skeptic, Excapite, and corss-referencing with Asymc, Chetan Sharma (sp?) and a few others, there doesn’t seem to be much “real” activity happening with “social networks” for it to matter for the meat of many marketing engagements.

Sure, things can and do change (TV corss-promotions for example), but the norm is that its a lot more energy wasted than sales earned.

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