Would you gamble your customer experience for 50p?

Posted by Mike McMaster

August 28, 2014


EE-blog2When we want customer service, we tend to want it to be a good experience. And how long it takes is certainly part of the mix – it is one of the 4 key drivers of whether a Customer Experience is easy (Professor Moira Clark models effort driven by physical, emotional, mental and time).

EE, the mobile phone network, is directly testing this right now – some of their customers are being offered the opportunity to “queue jump” when they are sitting listening to the lovely hold music waiting for a customer service agent...but they have to pay 50p.

This really seems to have divided opinion in our offices. Some colleagues are frankly outraged at the proposal, whilst others think that it is a great idea.

The Telegraph is running a poll as part of their article (above), and the results as of the 22nd of August were:

“Would you pay 50p to jump a customer service queue?”

  • Yes: 14.93% (501 votes)
  • No: 85.07% (2,854 votes)

Personally, I’m in the “yes” camp. My summer holiday last week involved extensive use of the “flexible” ticket option for ferry check in, which included “priority boarding”. Allowing me to arrive 9 minutes before one ferry sailed and still get on board – driving straight past a queue of cars, none of whom made it onto that sailing. Of course, the “flexible” ticket costs more – but that’s how the deal works.

This isn’t new. In all sorts of transactions there is an explicit option to select a level of customer service and pay a different price. Theme parks sell VIP or “Front of the Queue” tickets at a premium, and airlines make faster check-in a key component in the Business Class proposition.

In fact, the Telegraph poll (15% would pay) almost exactly matches the airline model: a Virgin Atlantic 747-400 has 459 seats...15% of which are more expensive, but offer a better service (Premium Economy or Upper Class).

But EE are taking a huge gamble here. They are introducing this as a new proposal after their customers have bought their service, and they don’t know how they will feel about it.

It isn’t enough to just track how many people take up the offer. EE can’t track the 50p’s and pat themselves on the back and say “job well done” if they hit 15% or more, because this carries the massive assumption that you can infer how a customer feels based on whether they pay up or not.

Some customers will be quite happy to sit in the queue and wait. Others will be outraged that someone is paying to jump in front of them. And those that pay the 50p may still be incensed that they had to wait at all, or had to pay more to get what they believe is a basic part of their package.

The easy number that EE can track is customer churn – but that’s the gamble. Have they made a change, and a very public one, and now have to hope with fingers crossed that their customers don’t leave?

Some models assume that you can infer customer experience, and would probably say that everyone who waited had a worse experience than those that jumped the queue. But Customer Experience is about each individual and their preferences, choices and emotions. One of our research papers talks about this more (http://www.henrystewartpublications.com/jdsm).

The only reliable way for EE to understand if their 50p initiative is working, is to ask every customer how they feel. Or wait and watch the customer churn figures. I know which one sounds like more of a gamble.



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Topics: Customer Experience, Customer Experience Management

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