Nick Jeffery took the reins of Vodafone UK in September 2016. He talks about his first year in charge and why he hopes competitors will fear the company moving forward
Eurocomms.com: You headed up Vodafone’s enterprise arm for several years; how have you found the transition to running a retail division?
Nick Jeffery: The transition has been really interesting.
I spent a good proportion of my time in the UK in my previous role but I didn’t take anything for granted when I started in September last year.
I took to the road for the first few months to hear the views of our people and our customers.
Several recurring themes emerged from these conversations, not least that we have a sound technological pedigree and very capable employees.
But we needed to improve our underlying IT systems, improve our customer service, complete our network modernisation programme and make our products and services more relevant to different customer needs.
And this is where the transition has been simple.
Because it doesn’t matter if I’m responsible for a multinational corporate client or a suburban family, or a busy professional or a student, we have to provide the best customer experience for everyone, and that’s what I’ve always focused on.
I’m encouraged that within just one year, we have made great progress.
We have successfully migrated more than 28.5 million customer accounts and almost one billion individual customer data fields from seven legacy billing and services platforms to one, state-of-the-art system.
This is allowing us to be first to market with a number of initiatives – recently we were first to abolish roaming within Europe, the first to launch a Pay As You Go full bundle roll over of unused data, texts and voice minutes, and the first to introduce a dedicated youth offering, called VOXI.
Our improvements have led to the best ever billing accuracy of 99.94 percent, which in turn has seen positive customer feedback.
We’re also determined to remove the frustration that can arise when contacting large organisations.
These days, if a customer phones our call centres, the average time they wait to connect with a live customer service agent is around 14 seconds, an improvement of 96 percent from early in 2016.
Add to the mix, TOBi - the UK mobile industry’s first AI chatbot – which is already offering immediate, relevant support to resolve more than 70 percent of customer queries.
I’m excited about the future of innovation in these areas of digital communications, and initiatives such as the introduction of our new speech recognition system that make our customers’ experience of dealing with Vodafone so much better.
Our multi-billion pound network investment is really paying off.
Our call setup success rate is now 99.87 percent, and our 4G coverage extends to 98 percent of the population outdoors and 91 percent indoors.
We’re also rated the number one carrier for voice and data in London, and the number one for voice in the UK, according to independent consultants P3.
We’re doing everything we can to improve, because we’re absolutely determined to be the best mobile service provider in the market.
Our focus is now on rekindling the kind of fast-moving, entrepreneurial and customer-focused spirit that turned the small Newbury-based start-up of 30 years ago into one of this country’s greatest international success stories.
We still have some way to go but we’ve made a strong start.
Vittorio Colao often refers to the UK as an enterprise market, Vodafone has lost 685,000 mobile subscribers since Jan 2016, ditched plans for a Pay-TV offering and made a low-key entry into broadband. What is your message to those who say Vodafone has rather given up on the UK consumer space?
Far from it. We are re-doubling our efforts in the consumer space.
We were voted the best high-street retailer at the 2017 mobile industry awards and our consumer business returned to positive service revenue growth in the last financial quarter.
Also, I’d like to challenge the claim we’ve made a low-key entrance into broadband.
Last year, we led the industry in removing line rental imposed by the incumbent telecommunications provider, we are currently the second fastest growing broadband provider in the UK and we are quickly narrowing the gap between our first place rival.
With regards to TV, it is well documented that viewing habits have changed since we announced our intention to launch pay TV services in 2014.
The majority of teens use YouTube to watch TV programmes and films and our mobile deal with NOW TV is proving popular.
We retain the ability to launch TV in the UK in future, should there be a business case, but our focus is on delivering content relevant to particular market segments.
It’s true that the enterprise market has always been a key part of the UK operation and we are proud to serve critical private and public sector organisations.
However, the consumer market is as important, and we continue to focus on providing all our customers with the best service possible.
As you mention, Vodafone has launched a raft of customer service updates, but telecoms overall is still viewed as poor at customer service. Will these announcements be enough to challenge this perception?
The industry has not helped itself in the past.
Hanging over it are a number of over-promises and bad practises, like roaming bill-shock.
Customers have told us they want the industry to change.
We are embarking on a new programme of customer service commitments that are designed to remove barriers that stop people from connecting and communicating.
Our roaming propositions are evidence of that.
4G roaming is available in 117 destinations worldwide – more than any other UK operator – and we were the first to abolish roaming in the EU.
We didn’t stop there and extended ‘Roam-free’ to an additional 10 countries not within the EU such as Turkey and Switzerland.
Our Roam-further service covering 60 destinations outside Europe is based on customer feedback.
They wanted to use their home price plan abroad to look at maps online, access social media, send photos as well as make and receive calls and texts for a set fee. No hidden charges.
We did that and again, unlike some other operators, we don’t slow down your data connection and we don’t charge extra if you want to call in-country to book a taxi or a table at a restaurant.
Above all, Roam-further enables customers to do all of these things without fear of ‘bill-shock’ since it is just one charge, no hidden extras.
Overall, I’m pleased to say that our service commitments are gaining traction.
We’ve got more work to do to turnaround the perception of the industry, but we have made a good start.
Looking ahead, what is the most important thing on your to-do list and what challenges do you face in executing it?
Since joining Vodafone UK, improving customer service has been my top priority.
That hasn’t and will never change.
We are building a sleeker and sharper business that is totally focused on our customers’ needs.
I am incredibly proud to lead this business and look forward to returning to a place where our customers have good reason to admire us – and our competitors good reason to fear us.