o2, Carphone and the Flexible Workflow PhD researcher

What happens when you put a Flexible Workflow PhD researcher through the rigmarole of trying to get an iPhone 3G activated in the United Kingdom?

This is what happens. Ben Jennings still hasn’t got his activated and provides this perspective and a few suggestions for both o2 and Carphone for the next time…

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I’m as much as an Apple fan-boy as the next man, so when I heard that Apple was finally bringing out a 3G version of the Jesus phone, I was jubilant. Even more so when I found out that O2 was going to be pre-ordering online so I wouldn’t have to suffer through the joys, strike that, hell of queuing in line for 20 hours. I happily reregistered on both O2′s system and CPW (several times, just to make sure) and waiting counting down the days until the pre-ordering started.

“Check back with us in early July” they both said.

So we all did. No information. Even AT&T stateside were more forthcoming with information. But being the resolute English men (and ladies) that we all are, we waited patiently for some information. When we all could finally order, as has been well covered, O2′s system collapsed in about 5 minutes. O2 later say this is due to:

“13,000 orders per second”

Whether the O2 representative misspoke, or was simply technically unaware, this is obviously incorrect as this would mean 3.9 million iPhones sold in 5 minutes. I manage luckily to place an order with CPW online which then fails to process my credit card, due to their test transaction process which seems to have triggered many banks fraud heuristics.

I am now reduced to potentially queuing, oh the joy, for many hours, so I attempt to find out when my local shops are actually opening. None of which will give me that information. My favourite reply to this simple question was:

“I can’t tell you, it’s a secret”

Another fantastic piece of customer interaction was shared on the MacRumors Forum, with a customer asking for more information:

“rome wasn’t built in a day, you have to be patient”

At this point, I still have my Monday order outstanding which is stuck at the infamous Stage One, which no CPW employee, either by phone or email can find, even though their online webpage does. I eventually manage to place another order with CPW on Thursday and glory be, a lovely iPhone shows up at my door on Friday. Happy days, one would think. But no, I now, along with thousands of other customers, enter the ‘No Service’ hell hole. Many phone calls and emails later and I am still in the same position. I have a lovely new iPhone pretending to be an iPod touch.

The irony in this whole iPocalypse is that I’m a Flexible Workflow PhD researcher. I spend my days looking at clever ways of solving intricate computer to computer and computer to human integration problems. There are many companies, IBM, Oracle and Microsoft to name a few, that will be delighted to sell you incredibly expensive software solutions to design the most intricate workflows. But this is not what I am suggesting would have helped in the O2 and CPW fiasco. Both companies certainly have technical infrastructure problems to solve but when analysing the biggest customer problems, one simple thing pops out – lack of communication.

In O2′s own customer forum there is now a thread with over 44 pages of customers trying to find out why their sim cards have not been activated. Sharing information and best practices about how to actually find the right person with whom to talk. Talking over frustrations of having an iBrick. These are O2′s best new and old customers, the loyal fan-base. And they are being ignored.

In the words of the excellent Cluetrain manifesto Markets are conversations. O2 have made an excellent first step by setting up a venue for their customers to talk. They have set up a conversation venue. They have, however, failed to engage in that conversation. It’s like O2 inviting everyone round to their house for dinner and then not bothering to turn up themselves.

My proposal to both O2 and CPW is a simple three step, easy to implement, low maintenance cost proposal, which will probably lower overall support costs:

Step 1: Set up a single information page
All this needs to be is a status page with the latest information. A vanilla html page. Even if all it says is words to the effect of:

“We’re working on it, really sorry, there will be an update in 2 hours”

By creating a unified one stop shop for information, that is regularly updated with a consistent voice, this will reduce the number of emails and phone call to customer support. It will also have the benefit of unifying the message of the company, rather than phone operators giving out less than accurate information because they too aren’t being given up to date facts.

Step 2: Hire an evangelist
This only needs to be one person. Heck, they could even be a student, as long as they have the right information. Maybe they could run the information page too. This person’s role would be to engage with the customers on the O2 forums. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if CPW had forums too? Are CPW even aware that they are being talked about on O2′s forums just because there is nowhere else for this conversation to take place? The evangelist would be an invaluable tool to act as a barometer of what are the specific hot issues. The evangelist would also make the customers feel like they were being listened to, rather than ignored. They could even Twitter updates to gain that Web 2.0 cool.

Step 3: Give the information to the front end staff
A classic argument, whenever training is discussed, is that there is no budget for improving the training of the customer facing staff or would take too long to implement. This is simply not the case. In one of my many interactions with CPW, who delightfully called the iPhone the iApplePhone, I was asked was I aware that my new iPhone didn’t come with a mains adaptor and would I like to buy one whilst waiting to be connected to yet another support person that might actually be able to turn my phone into a phone. This puzzled me initially, I then realised that the customer representative was referring to the lack of a dock with the new iPhone. Which I then went on to purchase as the shipping was free. The point is that this up-selling potential was relayed to all the customer facing staff. Why not take that same training time and use it to make sure support has all the information that customers are going to want to know?

This simple three step plan would have immediate and low cost benefits to both the companies and the customers. Sort out the low hanging fruit then move on to fix the infrastructure issues. Which brings me back to where this all began. I really want an iPhone. SMS Text News Ewan is heading up the fight. My iPhone’s fate is in his trusty hands.

Help us Ewan, you’re our only hope!

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Ben, nice one. Thank you for taking the time to write!

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  • juliancooling

    I agree entirely. However, do they think that they have a problem that even needs to be solved?

    Reading all the chats and websites etc, it is constantly pointed out that the iPhone is a small seller in a big market. While all of this is going on, O2 is still competently running a really, really big engineering and customer service operation. It is fun to think that powmobs, because they are high value customers (min

  • http://www.smstextnews.com/author/Ben.Smith Ben Smith

    Excellent write-up. Welcome to the Ben-zone.

  • http://whatleydude.vox.com James Whatley

    Excellent point on re: Step 2.

    I feel a blog post coming on myself…

  • Richard

    From a techincal point of view the whole problem with o2 iphone launch appears to be about the number of concurrent sessions any of their systems can take. The website crashed because it couldn't handle the number of sessions. The upgrade processes failed because it had more points for the session to disappear than the new customers (extra step for the sms codes on the upgrade). The in-shop activation processs stopped working because of the demand.

    When the o2 shops opened on the high street they had queues outside, it was controlled there wasn't a bundle of people stuck in the doorway. Use the same idea for the website, if the demand was kept lower none of the sessions fail, everyone who starts the process can finish or timeout within a short period. To keep it first come first served anyone who visits the website during a period of high demand would be allowed to create an account or login if they have an existing account but not go any further. Then use a process like ticketmasters website to queue everyone.

    The shop activation problem is an odd one, the activation system has a known amount of possible concurrent users (no of shops * no of activation terminals), on the launch day there was only going to be that number of users. Then the only backup system they use is paper, its not suprising that it takes 5 days to enter all the data and activate everyone. A failover system that just gathers data and doesn't process could have been in place.

  • Richard

    From a techincal point of view the whole problem with o2 iphone launch appears to be about the number of concurrent sessions any of their systems can take. The website crashed because it couldn't handle the number of sessions. The upgrade processes failed because it had more points for the session to disappear than the new customers (extra step for the sms codes on the upgrade). The in-shop activation processs stopped working because of the demand.

    When the o2 shops opened on the high street they had queues outside, it was controlled there wasn't a bundle of people stuck in the doorway. Use the same idea for the website, if the demand was kept lower none of the sessions fail, everyone who starts the process can finish or timeout within a short period. To keep it first come first served anyone who visits the website during a period of high demand would be allowed to create an account or login if they have an existing account but not go any further. Then use a process like ticketmasters website to queue everyone.

    The shop activation problem is an odd one, the activation system has a known amount of possible concurrent users (no of shops * no of activation terminals), on the launch day there was only going to be that number of users. Then the only backup system they use is paper, its not suprising that it takes 5 days to enter all the data and activate everyone. A failover system that just gathers data and doesn't process could have been in place.

  • Richard

    From a techincal point of view the whole problem with o2 iphone launch appears to be about the number of concurrent sessions any of their systems can take. The website crashed because it couldn't handle the number of sessions. The upgrade processes failed because it had more points for the session to disappear than the new customers (extra step for the sms codes on the upgrade). The in-shop activation processs stopped working because of the demand.

    When the o2 shops opened on the high street they had queues outside, it was controlled there wasn't a bundle of people stuck in the doorway. Use the same idea for the website, if the demand was kept lower none of the sessions fail, everyone who starts the process can finish or timeout within a short period. To keep it first come first served anyone who visits the website during a period of high demand would be allowed to create an account or login if they have an existing account but not go any further. Then use a process like ticketmasters website to queue everyone.

    The shop activation problem is an odd one, the activation system has a known amount of possible concurrent users (no of shops * no of activation terminals), on the launch day there was only going to be that number of users. Then the only backup system they use is paper, its not suprising that it takes 5 days to enter all the data and activate everyone. A failover system that just gathers data and doesn't process could have been in place.

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