EE to shift focus from network to service to maintain leadership position

EE is to shift its strategic focus from investing heavily in its network to making quantifiable improvements to its customer service levels as it looks to maintain its 4G leadership position in 2014.

EE No Brainer

EE launched a ‘No Brainer’ marketing platform last month.

When EE first launched 18 months ago it invested £1.5bn in the roll out of 4G and improving its 2G and 3G networks. 

Its early-mover advantage, granted by Ofcom which gave it the green light to launch 4G months ahead of rivals using its existing spectrum licenses, has shown clear signs of paying off. EE’s 4G customer base grew 68 per cent quarter on quarter to reach almost 2 million for the three months to 31 December - well ahead of closest rival Vodafone, which revealed last week it has 500,000 4G customers.

However, a blinkered focus on building out its network does appear to have had a detrimental effect on EE’s customer satisfaction levels. Ofcom’s latest telecoms customer service satisfaction report, published in December, found EE to be the most complained about mobile provider. Its two subsidiary brands T-Mobile and Orange generated 0.13 and 0.12 complaints per 1,000 customers respectively ahead of the third worst offender Virgin Mobile, which scored 0.09.

In a presentation to investors today (20 February) after announcing its full-year 2013 results, EE outlined how “delivering great service” will become a key priority for 2014 and that it will deliver on this pledge in three ways: expanding its retail footprint, improving its digital experience and increasing staff levels.

EE plans to continue the de-duplication of former T-Mobile and Orange stores that have now been rebranded to EE but still appear on the same high streets. As a result it will reduce its retail footprint by 25 stores, but will redeploy redundant retail space to 50 new locations. This will allow consumers to be “closer to an EE store than ever before”, a spokesman told Marketing Week.

The mobile operator is also making significant improvements to both the front and back end of its website and MyEE mobile app to make it easier for new customers to join and existing customers to manage their account. The roll-out for the updates is expected in the first half of 2014.

These improvements will be supported by the company bringing 1,000 call centre jobs back to the UK over the next two years. An EE spokesman told Marketing Week experience has shown that UK customer service agents speaking to UK customers delivers better productivity and results which should lead to an improvement in customer satisfaction levels.

In the same two-year period, EE also plans to triple the size of its apprenticeship scheme, from the 460 apprentices it has in the business to date. It is hoped that by bringing on board more “digital natives”, EE will better serve customers increasingly technological service needs - which has seen customer queries move on from traditional changes from address and queries about bills and on to questions about how to install WhatsApp or setup their work email on their mobiles, the spokesman said.

Alongside service improvements, EE will continue to invest in voice coverage, quality and reliability.

EE generated flat revenues, excluding regulatory charges, year on year of £5.73bn in the 12 months to 31 December. Adjusted earnings grew 10.1 per cent to £1.57bn in the period. Churn was also flat at 1.2 per cent.

The operator said it continued to strengthen brand awareness levels over the year, with spontaneous awareness above 50 per cent and prompted awareness levels up to 80 per cent.

Last month EE created a new brand platform dubbed “No Brainer” which it hopes will broaden its appeal from early technology adopters to the mass market. 

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