I witnessed 6 articulate people from various backgrounds and generations almost breakdown the other night in a focus group here at Big Green Door. Having started the discussion with a topic that garnered a tepid reaction I was blown away by how emotional, angry and unified everyone got when the topic changed to mobile network providers. The more they vented, the more I nodded.
Whether its defining feature is wireless headphones, snake or an aerial that looked like it belonged on a car, everyone remembers their first mobile. My parents had spent too long trying to pry their mobiles out of my inquisitive 11-year-old hands and decided to buy me my own. I was one of the first among my friends in school to get one so it didn’t take long to save all of the six relevant numbers (including the police, just in case I forgot 999) into my phone book. It seems silly now but the feeling of pure empowerment that coursed through my veins was unlike any that I had before. I could call anyone, anywhere.
4 years of personal development and technological advancement later, and an ever-expanding phone book progressed from pay-as-you-go to a pay monthly contract. The benefit was clear to me; an upgraded phone every year. And the benefits for my parents were also clear; boundaries as to how often I could ask for a top up and the end of constant pestering for the latest and greatest new phone.
The process was simple; we called up the network providers my mum was already with and negotiated a contract to suit me. A year later we called them back again and renegotiated my contract and got a new phone. The year after that I had my first experience in the art of telephone negotiation, literally. The result suited all parties and everyone was happy. In the same way you would imagine a family bank or a doctor, my younger siblings soon joined the networks books.
When I called the same providers a year later to renegotiate my contract things weren’t so simple. The offers on the table didn’t meet expectations and the ace up my sleeve threat of changing supplier that had so much clout in previous negotiations meant nothing. It didn’t make sense to me; there were now 4 separate numbers on this contract paying in excess of £100 a month and yet there seemed to be no compromise that the call center employee could or was willing to make.
The empowerment of owning a mobile and joy of having the latest and greatest tech in my pocket was starting to diminish. My attention had turned from the mobile to the provider and I was back in a market that seemed to have endless avenues.
I used an online comparison tool to look at the differences in cost across the networks and found one that offered the best minutes, texts and data for the lowest price. It should have been a no-brainer, but the thought of ‘Welcome to Tesco mobile’ as my answer machine message was out of the question. ‘The network you’re on says something about you’ one of the respondents told our moderator. I agreed. Beyond the service and the cost implications, what do people look for in a network provider?
At the time, there were 3 brands that were talking to me; Vodafone had Schumacher and Beckham in their adverts, O2 sponsored my football team and Orange had reinvented Wednesdays.
There is so much more that goes into the purchase decision than the ability to recall an advert that speaks to you. That raw emotion and anger at network providers that was sung in harmony in the focus group, along with their anecdotes triggering personal ones made me realise how big a decision it is to decide who your phone provider for the next 18-24 months will be.
There are currently 18 network providers in the UK. I have been contracted to 5 of them since getting my first phone. It’s one of the only contracts that I, like many others, are willing to switch the minute the agreement expires. Gone are the days of a family doctor like status, each member of my family is on a different network. Networks brands are working hard to be meaningful to people, but clearly, they need to do more.