EE is one of the largest telecoms firm in the UK and serves around 28 million customers via it’s T-Mobile, Orange and 4GEE brands. The new service, Priority Answer, is only available to customers on SIM-only contracts and the company says that the charge will be used to improve it’s service.
However, the introduction of the service created uproar among it’s customers and a huge amount of press attention. Most of which reported the negative reaction of customers to the introduction of the service and, on the back of that, much of it also questioned the wisdom of the new service.
Further, The Telegraph in it’s own piece ran a poll of it’s readers asking them: ‘Would you pay 50p to jump a customer service queue?’ With nearly 3,500 votes cast, just over 85% of people said they wouldn’t pay for such a service.
Now, the idea of queue jumping, particularly in customer service, is an interesting issue and has many ethical and economic dimensions. If you are interested in exploring the issue in greater detail then I would recommend reading Michael J Sandel’s fantastic book What Money Can’t Buy, which dedicates a whole chapter to the issue of queue jumping.
Personally, I don’t like waiting in queues, much like anyone else I suspect. But, I do respect the queuing process and, therefore, I’m not a fan of queue jumping, particularly when it’s done right in front of me.
However, with a background as an economist, I can also see the rationale of allowing people, who can or want, to pay for the opportunity of faster or better service.
The problem that EE has faced is not that there isn’t a demand for their service. It is more to do with how they implemented it and how they didn’t seem to take into account how their customers might react to its introduction.
Its implementation seems to have surprised customers. But, not in a good way. This surprise has then had a negative impact on their reputation and possibly the retention of many long-standing customers, particularly those that took exception to the queue jumping option on ethical or financial grounds. Further, this ‘negative surprise’ may go a long way towards undermining the trust and goodwill that has been built up between EE and its customers over the years.
EE would probably have fared better if it had implemented this new service as a premium service option, where they give their customers the option to sign up to faster service for an additional monthly charge and then give them a specific customer service number to call when an issue arises. Similar options that offer premium and faster service already exist and work well in other industries.
The lesson out of all of this for other firms thinking about how they manage their queues and improve their customer service is to always think about how customers will react to new initiatives and to make sure that they minimise the wrong sort of surprises.
Trust and reputation are often hard won but very easily lost.
This posted was originally published on my Forbes.com column here.