Customer service must be EE’s Priority


Following further poor results in Ofcom’s latest findings, James Pearce backs the operator’s new queue jump service to boost its reputation among customers

EE has came under fire for introducing a priority calling service which allows customers to spend 50p in order to skip the queue when trying to get through to one of their customer services representatives.

Some customers have reacted angrily on Twitter and other social media to the idea of paying anything for a service that has always been free for contract customers. Some also hit out the idea that not all calls are equal.

EE Priority Answer, which it launched on August 6, gives customers the choice of sitting in the queue and waiting or having their call answered sooner, at the cost of 50p.

The idea of queue-jumping isn’t exactly new. Take a trip down to the majority of UK theme parks and you can buy a pass that will let you wander past the waiting crowds. Go to some UK airports and you can pay a little bit extra to use a fast track service that lets you get through the check-in process quicker. Even our road system has queue-jumping in the form of toll roads.

The idea of paying for customer service isn’t a new one either. Prepay customers expect to be charged whenever they call their network providers whilst EE customers already face charges if they call after 8pm.

Only way is up
The problem EE faces is justifying the extra cost despite the clear difficulties it faces in customer relations. EE has topped Ofcom’s quarterly customer complaints report since Q3 2012 – meaning it has been the most complained about network for seven quarters in a row. Results released by the telecoms regulator in June showed EE had received 0.12 complaints per 1,000 customers for Q2 2014, twice the industry average.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee said in February that his target was to make EE top for service within 18 months. EE is showing progress, as the number of complaints has fallen every quarter since Q4 2012.

The operator has opened up two new UK contact centres in the last year, in Derry and Derby, and also moved 1,000 customer service representative jobs back to the UK.

Even then, introducing charges and making these services premium, customers may feel that EE is a premium service and that the operator only values high-spending customers.

EE is the largest operator in the UK with more than 30 million customers at the end of Q2 and as such carry a high level of expectation to show innovative and creative ideas. This, it could be argued, may be just the next evolution in customer services, especially if the other operators follow suit.

The integration of Orange and T-Mobile has caused a number of challenges, as shown by problems with revenue share payments to dealers, high numbers of complaints and the loss of signal in places caused by optimisation of the network. Yet in order to maintain its position as the top operator, EE need to continue innovating, and sometimes that may involve taking steps that do not appear to be customer friendly.

It all leads to a fascinating debate about the ethics of queue-jumping and how to value each call equally. Whilst there is something un-British about avoiding a queue, ultimately the decision is about choice. For customers unhappy about paying the 50p, they still have the choice to stay in the queue.