Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr

Today's customers are not easy to please

Complaints about Vodafone have soared despite it splashing out £2bn on upgrades.

by Rebecca Smith
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2016

Throwing money at a problem doesn’t guarantee it’ll solve it. As Vodafone has found out quite comprehensively.  Complaints from its mobile users have risen sharply – despite the fact the telecoms firm has spent £2bn of a £20bn network upgrade programme to improve customer service.

From October to December customers complained to Ofcom at twice the rate they did at the beginning of 2015. Not that MT likes to rub salt into the wound, but Vodafone customers were ten times more likely to complain about their mobile contract than those with O2 or Three.

Now you might just say we are a nation of complainers. Barclays also just had the unwelcome honour of being the most complained about financial services firm – racking up 279,561 complaints in the last six months of 2015. It was down a little on the first half of the year, but still received 40% more than the industry average. 

More widely, it seems consumers are becoming less tolerant of what they perceive to be bad service – and more emboldened to let companies know about it. The traditional methods of writing, emailing or phoning to complain have now been added to with the rise of social media. A particularly heartfelt or amusing complaint on Twitter can soon go viral and become a PR headache for the firm in question.

Technology is doing great things for all sorts of industries and services, but its rapid development has also meant customers become increasingly expectant about what they think companies should be delivering and entitled to a seamless experience without blips.

Vodafone’s new billing system was a particular problem with customers. Last year, its CEO Vittorio Colao said the firm has reached a ‘turning point’ with customers benefiting from its £20bn network upgrade programme Project Spring – which so far has invested £2bn in the UK. This latest publication from Ofcom suggests that may not cut the mustard. Problems surrounding the implementation of a new system are often transient, but more worryingly for Vodafone, it wasn’t the sole cause of complaints. They ranged from billing, pricing and charges to complaints handling and fault, service or provision issues.

Customer service has always been a tricky thing for businesses to be consistent on, but in recent times, hasn’t been helped by rising customer expectations. Improvements on this front won't be single-handedly made by investing in new tech and more members of staff to field complaints. They need to be factored into a wider strategy – businesses need to be aware of exactly what customers expect from them and upfront about what they can realistically deliver.

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