Vodafone's 'painful lesson' in social media

Summary:Vodafone Hutchison Australia CEO Nigel Dews has admitted that the company could have handled social media feedback much better in the early stages of the company's highly publicised network issues late last year.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia CEO Nigel Dews has admitted that the company could have handled social media feedback much better in the early stages of the company's highly publicised network issues late last year.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia

(Credit: Josh Taylor/ZDNet Australia)

When users first began reporting to VHA staff in the last few months of 2010 on Twitter and the Whirlpool broadband forum that their calls were dropping out or that they were unable to access the internet through the Vodafone network, staff initially denied there were any network problems and often blamed the devices the customers were using. Often customers were advised to reset their personal settings on their smartphone device.

Dews yesterday acknowledged that the backlash to this sort of feedback from customers had taught the company a "very big lesson" in social media.

"We didn't listen closely enough or early enough to what our customers told us in those forums. Even though we sell unlimited Facebook, it didn't make us an expert in understanding social media," he told ZDNet Australia. "It's a humbling medium. It's an exposing medium and a very exciting one to be a part of."

The telco boss said that the company had originally approached social media as another means of selling; however, now the company had taken the approach of "service first rather than selling first".

"We're making sure the lessons are being learned and the money that needs to be spent is being spent," he said.

Dews said he was personally involved in the "forensic" investigation the telco had undertaken into how the company handled the fallout and said the company would be channelling the "pain" of this incident to ensure VHA becomes a better company.

The telco chief did not disclose the actual number of customers that had left the company in the wake of the network issues, but said there had been a "spike" in the churn rate.

In February, Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim ruled that although customer information had not been made available on the internet, as was originally reported, the telco was in breach of its privacy obligations for its Siebel customer relationship management system because staff used shared log-ins and passwords. Dews said the reporting of this breach caused many customers to panic, and the company had now moved to improve security measures.

"It's already been well and truly boosted. We had a lot of plans in place and we've accelerated them. A lot of what we had planned to do over the next 12 months has been done and we're planning to do more," he said.

"I think the only way you can re-establish in the minds of customers that their data is safe ... is to do it, and to over do it," he said, again stressing that there was no online access to customer information.

With the company overhauling its 3G network with Huawei, and rolling out a number of new base stations, Dews was optimistic that customers would be happy with the service once again.

"We're like the radio in your car or the TV in your living room. Sometimes you only notice us when we're not there."

Topics: Telcos

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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