Orange overhaul cautiously welcomed


Orange’s shake-up of its service proposition, announced earlier this month, has been broadly welcomed by the sales channel. But final judgement was reserved until the changes take effect.

New Orange UK chief executive Tom Alexander pledged to make Orange the number one UK network for customer satisfaction within two years. He also aims to make it number one in customer numbers among UK airtime providers by 2012.

He is streamlining the business by cutting 450 roles from middle management, administration and support and adding 500 staff to its customer services team. Another 60 outlets will be opened by the end of the year, and the whole retail footprint will be overhauled to include service points in stores for customer enquiries. Orange’s Indian call centres operation will be migrated back to the UK, with all contract enquiries dealt with in the UK by Christmas.

Around £5 million will be spent on gearing up Orange’s internal systems to better deal with customer enquiries in-store, online and via a new instant messaging service. Another £5 million will be spent on a summer brand refresh.

Orange’s distribution partners said the proposals were well needed, if not entirely new for network operators in the current market climate.

Hugh Symons Communications business manager Bob Sweetlove applauded the return of call centres to the UK. He was curious to see how the changes will effect the indirect channel, which was not remarked upon in Orange’s announcement.

"Other networks have done pretty much the same, so Orange hasn’t exactly been amazing in terms of innovation," said Sweetlove.

Moco managing director Ian Robinson said the network trend to outsource call centres had "backfired" so moving them back was "common sense", as was eliminating duplication of staff roles. "However the middle management roles they want to cut out could produce a period of instability," suggested Robinson.

"But the shake up is necessary. The message is good, but requires successful execution. We need to see Orange sparkle again. It has all the ingredients for the cake, but the cherry on top is still missing."

Andrew Boden, managing director of Mainline, part-owned by Orange, said: "It is a very determined statement from Orange. The decision to handle business customer service in the UK seems an appropriate one, and one that will help augment its position in this sector.

"We don’t have any details to indicate how the reduction of middle management will directly affect us or our customer base, but it is important for all of us to remain efficient in a very competitive market."

Orange’s plan to bolster its network with 450 new 2G masts and investment in HSDPA was described as "hardly innovative" by telecoms analyst Ovum.

It said: "It highlights the work Orange needs to do to regain the initiative from its competitors. The time frame merely fits with the other UK mobile network operators, rather than giving Orange first-mover advantage."

But Shaun Collins, managing director of industry experts CCS Insight, was fulsome in his praise. "I think his plans are very astute. With Orange fixed broadband and mobile broadband networks, it is perhaps the best positioned network to offer people ubiquity of connectivity," he said.