How social media can win your brand friends for life

Companies around the world are waking up to the power of social media. They’re looking for the magic sauce that turns customers into fans. So it was no surprise that today’s Social Media for Results conference in London revealed some great examples of the best of social media practice.

I spoke about how organisations can use social media to help their customers, especially when things go wrong. I quoted an amazing finding from the United States: 47 percent of social media users had turned to social for help (this rises to 59% of people aged 18-24). And 71 percent of people who have had a positive experience will recommend that brand, compared with 19 percent who got no response. [Source: NM Incite: State of Social Customer Service 2012.] Incidentally, the figures are remarkably similar for men and women. In short, handling complaints well on social could turn an unhappy customer into a friend for life.

I spoke of my own experience as a Vodafone customer: how I enjoyed outstanding customer service after the social customer service team contacted me after I blogged and tweeted about my unhappy experiences. I also cited the example of Vodafone’s rival, O2, which did a great job keeping people informed with humour (and allowing critical comments) on its social channels after service interruptions recently.

My favourite experience however was Chiltern Railways. Last year, I got on the wrong train at London’s Marylebone. I tweeted about my stupidity. Within minutes, Chiltern’s excellent social team tweeted back the best train to return home on. Experiences like this make you feel special.

My other point today was that it’s so important to ask what’s in it for the customer (or council tax payer…) when you’re developing a social media presence. So many companies think: we need a Facebook page. Yet they don’t ask what value it will give. What content will you share? Are you simply going to churn out sales messages and dull news releases? Or do you have something interesting and relevant to say?

I also repeated my favourite subject at any communications conference: the need to use simple, compelling language. I quoted RIM’s apology (during the 2011 service failure) to customers in ‘EMEA’. As the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones mocked, ‘Where on earth is that?’ It doesn’t exist, except on corporate organisation charts.

Finally, a plug for an excellent book raising money for a very worthy cause. Behind the Sofa, compiled by Steve Berry, is a collection of celebrity memories of Doctor Who. All profits from the book will go to Alzheimer’s Research UK. I called Steve after we at PayPal had let him down. I was keen to find out how we could put things right and learn from the experience. Seven months later, I was delighted to read the book. Well done Steve!

[Disclosures: I am Head of PR & Social Media at PayPal UK. Steve Berry kindly gave his permission for me to mention his experience.]

Vodafone’s overseas internet rip-off

I’ve blogged before about my unhappy experience with Vodafone’s mobile internet service. I explained how I found it almost impossible to get online. So it was a bitter irony to get charged £100 by Vodafone in June for mobile internet roaming charges in California – especially as I was careful to go online when wifi was available in the office and hotel in San Jose.

When I first complained in June, a Vodafone agent accepted I was not responsible but said that my phone was. She said the phone was online continuously for six hours – yet at the times she said this happened, I was mostly in the office on the work wifi network. (And, just as significantly, I was not using the phone as I was on my work laptop and wifi-only iPad.) Despite this, the agent said they could do nothing until the billing period was over.

False sense of security: the Vodafone texts

It gets worse. Vodafone send me texts (above) saying that I was halfway through my 5MB data allowance. At no point did they say I had used up the 5MB allowance. So I was appalled to get a further text saying I had used up 80% of the £100 cap on data outside Europe (below). So Vodafone’s texts to me went straight from saying I was more than halfway through a 5MB allowance and would be charged £15 for exceeding it to telling me  I had used £80 of data. How incredibly irresponsible and misleading. (I’m now been told I had used 30MB.)

Vodafone’s bombshell

Customer service woe

It gets even worse. When I complained, I got a phone call from someone from Vodafone. They asked me for personal information, including my date of birth. I said I was uncomfortable doing so without being sure it was a genuine call. The caller said they’d send a code by text – which never arrived. When I chased by email, Vodafone’s agent asked me to send my date of birth by email. I said I wasn’t prepared to send such an important piece of info by insecure email – only to be told:

“I understand your concern about the Internet charges, Rest assured, the medium to exchange the information via email is on secure server. Your can provide information over the email. We care about your personal information that is the reason we have developed a secure protocol.”

Quite bizarre, as the email exchange was not taking place within a secure section of Vodafone’s website but by ordinary email. So the security of Vodafone’s servers was irrelevant.

Nearly two weeks on, Vodafone’s customer service team is still ducking all my questions:

Why didn’t you tell me that I had exceeded the 5MB allowance?

Why did you wait until I had supposedly used £80 of data over six hours before warning me?

Your agent acknowledged in June that I had not personally instigated the data usage – so why have you charged me for it?

I’m still awaiting answers.

The Guardian investigates Vodafone

The Guardian is doing a good job exposing Vodafone’s practices. Its deputy personal finance editor Rupert Jones this weekend reported that Ofcom is investigating price rises on ‘fixed’ mobile phone contracts. Vodafone is about to sting 10 million customers with higher monthly charges. As the Guardian said:

“The signs say pay monthly, the contract tells you how much you will pay … then suddenly something which you thought was fixed is moved.”

This weekend’s Guardian Money also reported that Vodafone had charged a small business £17,484 for a stolen phone. The company told the Guardian that  “Vodafone doesn’t monitor accounts – this is the customer’s responsibility.” It could learn a lot from the banks and credit card companies, who have a good record of monitoring unusual transactions and warning the customer.

UPDATE: once again, Jenny and team at @vodafoneuk came up trumps, with an excellent, fast and generous response. A copy book example of great customer service through social media. Thank you!

In praise of Vodafone’s social customer service

I blogged my frustration about Vodafone’s phone and data signal last week. I was so impressed by the company’s response on Twitter and on my blog that I thought it only fair to blog about it.

Jenny from Vodafone UK posted a reply to my post sympathising and offering to help. She also replied to my tweet. Her colleagues tried repeatedly to call me (last week was a busy one at work) and when we finally spoke the customer service team sent me a free Vodafone Sure Signal device to solve the very poor signal at home. It won’t solve the problem of poor data coverage on the go – but it will mean we won’t miss a call here.

This is a great example of how companies can use social media to help customers and improve their reputation. Well done to Jenny and the team.

Below: the Sure Signal device in action.


Three’s Huawei E586 mifi: answer to my Vodafone woes

Dream device: Three mifi

I blogged last week how I found it impossible to get a decent mobile internet service from Vodafone. A friend, Trevor Chenery, suggested in response that I get Three’s Huawei E586 mifi device. It proved a very good recommendation.

I chose a pay-monthly deal, giving a free mifi device and 1GB of monthly data a month for just under £11 a month. I can get online with five devices – plenty for my needs.

Three’s mifi up close

I gave it a test last Thursday on a day in London. I connected quickly and stayed connected on my iPad on the Chiltern Railways train to Marylebone – a contrast to my experience with my Vodafone iPhone, which constantly searches for  signal – which it promptly loses. I was able to send and receive emails and search the web without difficulty. Later in the morning the mifi saved the day when the guest internet at a meeting venue wasn’t working. Finally, I was able to do an hour’s work at my hotel without paying £10 for a night’s wifi.

My only complaint is with the ‘dashboard’ used to change the device’s SSID name and password. At no point did the otherwise good quick start guides say this didn’t work on a Mac. It seems bizarre that Three has created a service that in effect can’t be run from a Mac – at least on Safari. (I’m sure you can still get a Mac online through the mifi – you just can’t change any settings on it.)

The other thing to remember is that the E586 will need regular charging. You can’t rely on it going into standby mode like a phone. That’s understandable, as it doesn’t know when you’re going to need to use it to get online. But it’s wise to charge the device overnight before you head for your morning train.

In short, an incredibly useful gadget that’s a perfect accessory for a wifi iPad or a phone on a network that has very poor data coverage such as Vodafone.

Vodafone UK: time for a divorce

Above: connection frustration. Life with Vodafone UK

I should never have moved back to Vodafone. The last 16 months have been an incredibly frustrating experience, as life as a Vodafone customer has meant constant inability to use the mobile internet. I can’t wait for my two year contract to end in December.

It never occurred to me that Vodafone would be dramatically worse than O2. I had been a Vodafone customer, corporate and personal, for 16 years before I switched to O2 when I got my first iPhone (the second, iPhone 3G, model) in October 2008. For many years Vodafone ran adverts boasting it was the best network for voice calls, and it never occurred to me that it would prove so appalling for data coverage and performance.

From the day I moved back to Vodafone in December 2010 I found 3G coverage almost non existent, despite the company’s charts showing how widespread its 3G network was. I can only assume that the company hasn’t increased capacity to match demand – what I found was that a supposed 3G signal dropped to Edge or worse by the time I tried to do anything. And that was when I was stationary.

On the move, Vodafone is almost useless. My Vodafone iPhone is constantly searching for a signal, and all too often comes up with no service. Tonight, as a passenger on a journey down the M40, I wanted to find out about the distinctive tower next to the motorway near Bicester. By the time I reached home 40 miles later, I had only managed to get a page of Google search results. The shocking Vodafone network failed to open the two most promising search results despite 35 minutes trying. It took just 12 seconds on my home wifi network to find out that the tower was distinctive 1909 water tower at Trow Pool near Bucknell.

Vodafone isn’t just poor for data. I can no longer get a reliable voice signal at home – despite years of never experiencing a problem. (I used to feel sorry for people on Orange who found they couldn’t use their mobile at home.) And before you ask if my iPhone is to blame, my work BlackBerry proves that Vodafone is just as bad on the RIM device as on Apple’s iPhone.

Even in London, I find Vodafone unreliable. I found even Edge (never mind 3G) out of reach at one point in Westminster and on a walk back from a dinner in town last year I couldn’t get online once in 15 minutes.

Breaking up won’t be hard to do when my two years are up. I’m likely to buy my next phone SIM-free so I’m not held hostage again for two years by a failing mobile network.

UPDATE: my post has struck a chord. A neighbour says he got Vodafone to give him a Sure Signal device to stop him cancelling his contract. (He couldn’t get a signal in his house without it, and also finds mobile internet impossible with Vodafone.) Another friend recommends Three’s mifi device to get online rather than rely on Vodafone. Just some of the responses I’ve had. Let’s see what Vodafone says.

UPDATE, Tuesday 8 May: kudos to Vodafone for replying to this post offering to help, and also contacting me via Twitter. I will update after I get its response to my email.