EE should have held the Bacon

The artist formally known as Everything Everywhere - or EE as they now like to be known, have had some rough press recently about the teething problems they've encountered with their 4G launch. Initial EE 4G customers complain of confused staff, inoperative devices, mixed messages and a general sense of chaos with EE's in store execution of 4G sales.

My experience with EE is similar. I do regular mystery shopping for a client, which involves visiting mobile phone shops to check service standards. EE are now selling three different brand within their store - Orange, T-Mobile and EE brand 4G services. That means three separate tariff structures, and a whole lot of confusion for their staff. But at least the computer system works right? Well, no. EE is still running off separate legacy Orange and T-Mobile systems, as the migration to a single EE in-store system is still in progress. 

In Oxford Street on Monday, I was told in an EE store that I couldn't order iPhones on Orange, because they "used to be a T-Mobile store". Instead I was directed down Oxford street to an identically branded EE store, who "because they used to be Orange, could sell Orange contracts". At the second EE store, the staff member was quite happy to discuss tariffs across all three brand.

The tariff discussion is always interesting, as the staff need to refer to a binder with a spreadsheet matrix for each of the three networks to provide the monthly fee and handset charge for any particular handset and tariff combination.

The same day one staff member in a Queensway EE store told me that the binder spreadsheet matrix was too small for him to read, and it was causing him difficulties in providing tariff information to customers.

The instore EE catalogue attempts to position and communicate the new EE tariffs against the legacy Orange and T-Mobile tariffs, but it is a jarring and confusing read.

No wonder the store staff are confused. There are just too many moving parts in play between all the combinations of handsets, EE tariffs and legacy Orange and T-Mobile tariffs. The staff are hampered with managing  three brand tariff structures from spreadsheet printouts in binders with no unified in-store IT support. By comparison, the staff at O2, Vodafone and 3 stores have got it easy.  

I think that EE should be commended for pushing ahead with their 4G launch at the earliest possible date. There is a valid argument that the UK needs to maintain parity in terms of mobile network technology with other major markets. 

EE set themselves a tough task in moving fast enough to secure a November 4G launch. There were added complexities in trying to land the re-brand of Everything Everywhere to EE, whilst simultaneously rebranding the  Orange & T-Mobile stores to the EE brand. In hindsight perhaps these steps should have been taken sequentially. Further, it could be argued that the EE launch was a perfect opportunity to deploy simplified and streamlined legacy Orange and T-Mobile tariff structures to make life easier for the in-store staff to juggle selling the three brands.

I believe UK consumers would be prepared to cut EE some slack with initial teething problems around the 4G service - provided the launch was positioned as a soft launch aimed at 4G early adopters, before ramping up to a full launch early in 2013.

The big mistake with the launch was signalling to the market that the EE 4G experience was consumer ready by running flashy advertising like the Kevin Bacon slot, and pulling glitzy PR stunts such as the Battersea Power Station launch and Nicole's Twitter dress.

These Apple-esque stunts made a promise to consumers that the overwhelmed and under supported in-store staff found difficult to deliver against. An EE store may try hard, but it's no Apple store, and that's not the fault of the EE store staff. At the moment, they're just not set up to win like their Apple store counterparts.

The cooks at EE should have put in a call to the kitchen to hold the Bacon until their table service was ready. 

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