Telefonica’s Jonathan Earle: Don’t forget to be helpful in the tech innovation rush

There is a graphic doing the rounds on LinkedIn that shows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with Wi-Fi at the very bottom of the pyramid.

Whilst this is tongue in cheek, it is clear that we have an increasing reliance on technology. I recently heard a colleague in our market research department saying ‘if the network goes down then it’s the equivalent of me losing my right arm’. Ouch!

As barriers to entry come down, the ability for new entrants to enter a market and shake it up has never been so high. However, I feel that many companies (new and existing) are losing sight of the need to help their customers and to be equally famous for this key, if old fashioned, skill – either when things go wrong or to inspire us to do more with the technology. The focus seems to be on the next shiny new development.

Let me share an example – on Saturday, I received an email from Virgin Media telling me I was late with my payment for £392. Given I don’t have a relationship with Virgin Media and possibly I never will given their apparent carpet bombing direct marketing approach, I was surprised.

I rang their call centre and someone told me to go to a website before putting the phone down on me. I then rang back and spoke to another operator who was more helpful but had no idea how my email address had been added to their billing data nor what to do about it. ‘It’s just one of those things and we have had some issues with this…’ they said.

I then LinkedIn with its CMO only to be told that I should call the call centre again as they were in a remote location – not exactly what I was looking for. Its website, however, screams Fibre bundles and ‘do you need help switching’ but nothing about helping, inspiring or educating.

Helpfulness as a core skill to underpin technology is something that customers are crying out for. Take our very own O2 Gurus as an example. The thinking being that technology is complex and customers need to know where to turn to when they have an issue and want to be inspired to do more. The O2 Guru isn’t commissioned on sales and is purely there to help customers on any of their technology questions across any of our channels.

Apple Geniuses perform a similar role for Apple products and services. Zappos, First Direct, Hiut Jeans all go out of their way to help their customers as they know that that creates trust and loyalty.

It feels technology companies are ploughing on ahead, developing more and more new stuff but are forgetting the little old customer who either isn’t that advanced in their thinking or else isn’t living and breathing it as much (they have other things to worry about!). What existing or prospective customers are crying out for is helpfulness, as helpfulness as an experience will allow these technology companies to stand out even more. Please help!

Jonathan Earle is Head of customer strategy and development for Telefonica UK

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