Sunday, 6 February 2011

Service Sector

I was feeling pretty self-assured and prepared. I had the 3 website open in front of me as I dialed T-Mobile to ask for my PAC so that I could transfer to three.

About twenty minutes later I was signed up to another 24 months with T-Mobile. Hats off to the lady who served me: she impressed me, made me feel valued, offered me a much better deal that 3 had on their website and did so in an efficient manner. I was a satisfied customer. A few minutes later a text came through asking me to rate my satisfaction with the call; five out of five was duly dispatched.

I had a friend stay at my house the following few days while over from Shanghai. He'd picked up an Orange SIM card (£10) upon landing at Heathrow, and then phoned up to enable the card, activate the confusingly-named Dolphin package and add £10 of credit. His Dolphin package came with 100MB of internet and 300 texts. The next day there were only a few pennies left - it seems the Dolphin had not taken hold of his account.

He phoned up the customer service line, annoyed that having only been with Orange for 24 hours he already had a problem. To say they were unhelpful would be kind. No refund, no offer to help - only the offer that the 50p he was charged for the call would be refunded. Despite half an hour on the phone, being bounced from one member of staff to another, he got nowhere.

I contrasted his experience with mine, but of course I spoke to soon. On Monday my new handset had not arrived as promised, and when I got home I found a card from a delivery company, despite the customer service rep taking my work address and promising it would be sent there. I phoned T-Mobile on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evening. Their call centre menu was hopeless with no option even vaguely fitting my problem, and their staff unhelpful. I still have do not have the promised handset, despite paying for 'next day' delivery. Oddly, not one of these three calls have resulted in me receiving a text asking me to rate them.

This is far from uncommon in my past experiences. What's odd is that, anecdotally, every mobile company seems to be as each other. Could the reason be a lack of competition in the sector? Despite the appearance of five mobile companies competing for market share, they are something of an oligopoly, with perhaps only 3 offering better packages or options. It's notable that T-Mobile's previously more generous fair-usage policy on data of 1GB has now been reduced to 500MB to bring it "in line with the rest of the industry".

The lack of competition is a bad thing for the mobile market, especially as mobile technology moves on so quickly so there should be an opportunity for innovation. Perhaps new wireless technologies will provide more competition, but for now each company seems to have little reason to offer the customer anything special.

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