We want your love, says BT boss

He's sorry about BT's international adventures and the dot-com debacle, but do users really want Ben Verwaayen to get this personal?

After the dot-com debacle, telcos have to win their customers' love, according to BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen. The telecoms bubble was no more than a chain letter scam, and the current level of the industry is more like "normality" said Verywaayen, speaking on Tuesday at the UK Technology Summit run by the European Technology Forum. Capital expenditure in telecoms has gone down from $240bn (£153bn) in 2000/2001, to $130bn in 2001/2002, said Verwaayen, but that level of investment will never come back, because it was wasted. "The duplication money is out of the industry," he said. "Doing the same thing with a different logo is no longer enough." "In the bubble, the real value was in the exit strategy," he said. "The model was to move fast, and build a footprint so a dummy with a lot of money would buy you out." This was like taking part in a chain letter scheme, he said: "Early in the process, it worked." Now, however, companies from the bubble have to sort out a long-term plan, and this means sorting out two 'B's - their balance sheet and their business model. "Companies have problems with one or other 'B'," he said. "If you have the two 'Bs' you are out -- it's like two yellow cards in football." The problem now is selling real products to users -- "Do we have the patience and focus to build a real relationship with the customer?" he asked. His answers suggested that BT has work to do, and that when Verwaayen says "real relationship" he is thinking in terms of family life. "We have changed so often we don't present a clear image to the customer," said Verwaayen. "We had the feeling our customers didn't love us, so we went abroad," he said, referring to BT's failed Concert joint venture. "Now we have returned and it is like my teenage son coming back late at night. Our glasses are broken and we have a bloody nose. The customers say to us 'Where have you been?' and we say 'We are sorry, we still love you'." It's not a pretty image, and many customers will prefer the old, stuffy BT to one that talks about passion and love, but they should expect a more touchy-feely approach from the company in future, as BT, in Verwaayen's words, must "reassess its position in the value chain."


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