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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

When Nicky Brimmer of O2 first took to the stage to talk about ‘Turning customers into fans: linking employee engagement to customer service’, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous poem started bouncing around inside my head. Nicky sketched a picture of O2 and Telefonica, Fortune’s number one most admired company, 295 million customers and 285,000 employees. Can you really love that many people? Let’s try and find out.

O2 was born out of BT back in 2002 and Nicky told us that when BT floated what was then BT Cellnet ‘we were at the bottom in every respect’. Customer satisfaction, quality of service, you name it. A decision was made to use the new start to build a new culture, new values. O2 wanted to be known as bold, open, trusted and clear. As a former BT employee I spent time managing the relationship between BT and O2 and I enjoyed the challenge. I admire the way O2 managed to shake off BT’s arrogance and forge something new, too often the pull of the familiar wins out. And if proof of their continued desire to learn is needed, O2 are one of many companies joining the Stop Doing Dumb Things unconference later this month to explore more ways of connecting employees, customers and community better.

Nicky told us more of the history as she took us along the O2 and Telefonica timeline, and I’m going to focus on some of the stuff that O2 are doing to better connect customers and employees. O2 call it creating fans, which doesn’t sit well with me though I can see how it fits with O2’s image.

We were shown a brief campaign video which showed six ways that O2 people could love what they do:

helping customers, simplifying, connecting customers to things they love, making it fun, great value, and change for the better.

These things manifested themselves in different ways.

Customer feedback and insight is fed back to staff quickly. O2 has the means to get store specific feedback back to the store within 24 hours. I like this and at the same time I would hope that at least some of that feedback is experienced in the moment through dialogue between customers and employees at the point of sale and service. Customers are invited to address senior management meetings directly with their challenges.

O2 people test O2 products before launch, not only to see how they work, but to familiarise themselves with them and act as sales advocates post launch too. And if O2 people come across a customer problem down the pub or anywhere else for that matter, they have access to a simple text based help system which helps resolve customer issues more quickly.

Nicky talked about the importance of HR, Brand and Internal Comms working together to make great connected experiences for customers and staff. Good to hear – I’d like to learn of more companies forging strong collaborative links like this in pursuit of better service. Heres a replay of an O2 customer service story we featured on here back in 2009.

And O2′s award winning CSR efforts focus on how O2 people can get involved with volunteer activity in their local communities. A simple and powerful way of strengthening connections in the neighbourhoods where you work.

Nicky closed telling us that O2 simply sees employee engagement as ‘good business sense’. And she shared some honest views on challenges too. O2 are working on allowing employees to use their own technology to do their work, and are considering some kind of financial trade off for people who use their own equipment to fulfil O2 work. Nicky described this as both a ‘great idea’ and a ‘struggle’. She also freely admitted that whilst customer churn has reduced since the link between employees and customers has been strengthened, more recent figures are not so good. And I get the impression there’ll be no knee jerk reaction to that – which is encouraging. Maybe there is love in the air after all? I’d love to know what you think.

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