Welcome to the latest exciting interview where I’m out and about interviewing, and having breakfast with, some of the biggest players in the world of Customer Service today. Today’s guest is the Director of Customer Services at one of the companies that over the years has driven me to distraction! Here he is to defend his corner and tell us more about the service provided in his organisation, Dean Burdon from TalkTalk.
Unlike me who was brought up conditioned to believe that a day cannot start without porridge, Dean doesn’t usually have breakfast but if he does, it’s a nice healthy option of granola and yoghurt. Sounds like a good plan to me! Wish I was as disciplined. I’m still recovering from last week’s pile of pancakes.
On a day-to-day basis, Dean looks after the residential customers and all the colleagues that work to support them. His role is two-fold; as well as overseeing everything that happens in the across the contact centres and the varied teams who manage all TalkTalk’s channels. Dean also looks at many different issues such as – ‘Are we handling cases in the best possible way? Are we spotting trends? Are we keeping customers and colleagues informed?’ Hmm well none of my cases have ever been handled in the best possible way but do believe that customers are kept well informed.
The second part of Dean’s role is around using the ‘learnings’ of TalkTalk to shape the future of the Customer Service experience. I asked Dean if he could explain this more and he said, ‘We are on a journey to deliver real change in how we support customers.’
At the age of 17 Dean joined a call centre and has been in Customer Service ever since. He says that he has ‘Done all the roles, learned a huge amount and had the pleasure of working for some brilliant leaders.’ For Dean a great leader ‘Has a simple message and inspires people of every level within an organisation to achieve their best. It is nothing to do with what they earn our how many people work for them. It’s the after effect of the interaction you have with a leader that matters, I often ask ‘what would XX have done here’. With all great leaders there are lessons you can learn.’
When I asked Dean about the best part of his job he said ‘Best by far is the people, both customers and colleagues.’ He believes there is nothing better than seeing someone’s career develop or seeing an issue resolved in the right way.
In contrast Dean says that the worst part can be ‘Trying to switch off from the job. Our contact centres don’t close which means customers always need support and the business need to be updated. My own social media and even local café can become ways of people reaching out and it’s my nature to want to help. I think in this kind of job you learn to accept the demands and roll with it.’ I have to give praise where praise is due in this respect as I’ve seen Dean personally respond to customer concerns quickly and effectively, regardless of the time of day.
When I challenged Dean about the history of dissatisfaction from customers over using foreign call centres, he explained that there is ‘Always a tough balance however my focus is to remove the need for a customer to contact us in the first place and become much more proactive in how we identify customer issues and then fix them.’
Dean went on to say that ‘What we need to do is work with customers to understand what experiences are driving contact and then offer real proactive fixes or self-service options, this has been the step change we have made in the last year – leveraging big data to find customer issues and fixing them without customers noticing.’ Agreed, but problems still do arise even if companies try to anticipate them and communication issues experienced when contacting non UK call centres can cause extra stress to customers who are already upset.
Running though scripted questions has always driven me insane when contacting TalkTalk so I asked Dean why it was necessary. He explained that ‘Broadband is a technical product, so while at times knowing if you have a ‘phone plugged in upstairs’ may seem irrelevant it does however have an impact on how we would fix a customer’s issue.’
Dean believes that ‘What is paramount is that we fix the issue for a customer first time – none of us want wasted engineer appointments or repeated contact. Part of getting those treatments right first time is the consistency in how we diagnose the cause…………..We are now working to allow an customer to order their own engineers, track repairs and monitor their own usage almost real-time online taking away the need to call us at all. ‘
I still remain unconvinced as to the necessity of processes involved in diagnosing customer issues but Dean assures me that if I stick with them I ‘Will see more changes as a customer, more simplicity and faster resolution.’ Let’s hope so.
In an area where we are lucky to achieve 1.3mbps as a broadband speed, it infuriates me that I am charged the same as those who attain high speed. Dean’s response was that ‘The prices of our services are always market leading and with fixed price plans are always the most competitive they can be for new and existing customers. But within every price is the costs of connecting homes to the UK network, equipment and engineers. A lot of these are fixed costs regardless of the speed a home can achieve. ………The price is fixed nationally by the regulator, so our rental costs (the single biggest cost we have) are the same irrespective of whether someone has a very fast or slow line.’
Dean would ask any customer who believes they are not getting the speeds they were expecting should get in touch with them so they can investigate. If TalkTalk cannot fix a customer’s speed issue within a reasonable timeframe/cannot provide the minimum guaranteed speed, then they will always offer the opportunity to leave without paying an early termination fee.
Dean goes on to say that ‘At TalkTalk we want to get as many customers off the old copper network and on to fibre services as possible because we know it provides better speeds, better stability and the experience that customers want now and will need in the future. A lot of the frustrations we see today are from customers where the old copper network just cannot meet their needs any longer, the answer is fibre.’ Sadly that’s one thing we’ve been waiting an eternity for here and the closest we’ve currently got is when the Open Reach van passes us on the lane!
With regard to the possibility of enhancing the product offering for those who experience slow speeds, Dean says ‘Slow speed areas and rural broadband are an ongoing industry challenge and not something we alone can address……..The single biggest thing we can do is support the upgrading of that infrastructure. That’s what we’ve been doing. We’re backing a scheme that gives every home and business a legally guaranteed right to a minimum speed of 10mbps.
As someone who himself lives in a village and can see a fibre enabled exchange from his home, Dean also experiences frustration that connecting the house hasn’t even been planned 4 years after the homes were built.
I chatted to Dean about the results of the Which? Survey, which he describes as ‘Disappointing’ and argues that TalkTalk is already seeing more customers than ever staying with us as we continue rolling-out major service improvements.
In Dean’s opinion, people should choose TalkTalk as ‘It has always driven the broadband industry for the benefit of the consumer. Fairness for the customer is the thread that runs through the business and is the thing that marked us out as the original challenger.’
I asked Dean where he saw himself and TalkTalk in 5 years time and his response was ‘For me, who knows – I never predicated I would be where I am today so clearly, I am not the best person to ask. I just hope I continue to enjoy what I do; I push boundaries in some way and continue working with talented people.’
Dean went on to say that ‘As for TalkTalk I am sure I will see the business grow as a brand that people respect and a place people want to work………….I’m confident there continues to be a real opportunity in the market for TalkTalk as a value challenger, offering simple, affordable, reliable and fair connectivity for everyone.’
Clearly one of Dean’s lifetime ambitions has been fulfilled by getting the opportunity to have breakfast with me but Dean also states Nelson Mandela as being a choice companion as he is ‘Someone so focused on his people and his beliefs that he changed a nation and left a forever legacy, incredible human being and someone we can all learn from.’ In addition, Dean would like to have breakfast with Steve Jobs who he describes as ‘A leader of questionable techniques by some but a true artist of simplicity. I hugely respect his ability to challenge complexity and boil everything down to the least buttons, clicks and effort.’ I can’t argue with that. Who would you choose?
Are you satisfied with the service you receive from your telecoms provider? Are you a TalkTalk customer? Please let me know in the comments.
Although I remain firmly on the fence when it comes to the quality of my own personal customer service experience with TalkTalk, it has been lovely to chat today to Dean and I really appreciate him taking the time to address the issues raised. By way of thanks, I’m even going to let him have the last word so he has the opportunity to highlight the following accomplishments of TalkTalk.
- We were the first and remain one of only a few major providers guaranteeing no mid-contract broadband price rises across all products, so when you join its consistent as a price.
- We’re the only major provider not relying on loyalty penalties to offset cheaper deals for new customers. Independent research shows delta between what new and existing customers pay us is £2, compared with industry average of c. £15
- We are committed to helping customers avoid stealth price rises – we’re one of very few providers that proactively contacts customers ahead of contract end, informing them that their bills are about to rise and proactively encouraging them to re-sign for the best deals available.’
Thanks again Dean! (you almost had the last word)
Until next time everyone!