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Customer care

17th June 2006 • Dave

Once upon a time. I was proud to be a customer of PlusNet for my Internet Service Provision, and proud to be a customer of Orange for my mobile phone service. Both companies were genuinely innovative and provided an excellent customer experience. And when anyone asked me who I bought my internet or mobile phone service from, I was proud to say, PlusNet for the Internet and Orange for my mobile phone service.

Originally PlusNet was a friendly local internet service provider which grew from humble beginnings in the North of England offering feature-rich internet service packages including: broadband internet access, hosting facilities including free domain and web hosting, a full complement of usenet news groups, advanced hosting features such as PHP and MySQL and so on. Most of this is still available today. What has changed is that PlusNet now charge a premium for anything more than the most basic telephone support, email support no longer exists, and the amount of spam from the ISP itself targeted at customers is on the rise.

Orange were one of the most exciting companies of the 90s in the UK. They were one of the original GSM digital mobile phone networks, the first to introduce SMS Text messaging and Caller Line Identity back in 1994. These are services which now most people in the UK expect to take for granted. Orange invested in a voice-activated answer phone system, Wildfire, which was the only safe way to use voice mail while driving. Wildfire was also beneficial to anyone with sight loss or with dexterity difficulties as the system allowed the user to store contact information which could be saved and retrieved by voice from any phone. Orange also used to have a loyalty scheme, Orange Equity, which paid points for mobile minutes used. These points could be redeemed to purchase a range of items including a selection of wines and other items including more mobile minutes. Wildfire and Equity are really only the tip of the iceberg of outstanding Orange services which have been axed by the cellular operator over the passed decade, but they serve as examples to illustrate services which once characterised the type of company Orange once were.

Changes in technology and market conditions inevitably mean that businesses have to look to new strategies for generating revenue. However, it seems to me that despite their prtestations to the contrary, both companies are rapidly abandoning their core values and any regard they once had for customer satisfaction, in order to widen their service portfolios to increase their profit margins.

Orange now offer broadband and PlusNet now offer a telephone service while support for their respective core services is declining. Orange do not offer the range of internet services I enjoy with PlusNet, and I very much doubt any mobile services from PlusNet will be able to compete with the mobile package I currently receive from Orange.

I am still a customer of Orange and PlusNet. But more importantly for Orange and PlusNet going forward, both these companies have lost the loyalty and personal recommendations of thousands of customers. If you want a mobile phone then check out O2 or Three. Both of whom I have found very helpful and offer a tremendous range of products and services. For internet access, well that depends what you want to do with it. Although Zen Internet seem to be attracting a lot of favourable coverage lately.

My message to consumers is to be careful to separate the wood from the trees. All that glitters is not gold. And any one of a thousand similar clichés. This really is not about nostalgic rambling for “good old days” products and services which once were, but a plea to business, when you do something well, the reason customers have subscribed is because we want you to continue to do it well.

These days when people ask me to whom I subscribe for mobile phone and internet service, I shift uncomfortably, mumble something about mobile phone companies and internet service providers all being much of a muchness, and my eyes glaze over while I fondly recall a time when my mobile phone company used to send me a case of wine every year and my internet service provider was actually interested in talking to customers. Where did it all go wrong?

As a post script to all of this. I am having to pay O2 for a pay as you go sim in order that I can transfer my Orange mobile phone number which I have had for 8 or 9 years from one Orange mobile phone to another Orange mobile phone. While number portability works well between networks, number portability between two sims on the same network apparently has not been implemented.

More over, the post of this text to my site has been delayed due to PlusNet FTP server issues, which you guest it, they will not support via the phone. I emailed PlusNet at 18:25 and an hour and fourty minutes later I am still waiting for a response.

20:10 PlusNet report the following: “We are currently investigating a problem with FTP causing the error message that you are seeing, service status will be updated shortly regarding this problem and we post a further update once the problem is resolved.”

22:05 “We are currently investigating reports of some customers being unable to upload files to their Homepages webspace. Customers may see “Access Denied” type errors when upload files.”

18/06/2006 @ 09:59 “Our engineers are still investigating the problem that is causing some customers to see an “Access Denied” error message when uploading to their Homepages webspace. We have identified that this is being caused by one of the backend storage platforms, and we will be looking at this during the day.”
And it goes on…

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