Sunday, February 21, 2010

Custcon 2010

I've recently joined the customer experience team in Virgin Media, and one of the first things I got to do in the new role was to attend our customer conference, which this year was held near Leamington Spa.

The customer conference is an annual two day event where we get together with the customer facing areas of the business, the product teams and other areas that have a direct impact on our customers and celebrate what we've done in the last year as well as looking forward to what we're doing into the next year and further.

It was a brilliant event that I really enjoyed, and I definitely left it buzzing about all the great things that are coming up.

Our chief executive Neil Berkett kicked off the event by taking us through where we've got to and what the business' key priorities are for 2010 - and continuing to put the customers first is at the top of the list:After Neil we had one of the very best presentations I have ever seen, which was totally enthralling.

Stefan Osthaus is the VP of worldwide support and customer experience for Symantec, and walked us through how they had refocused their business and software development on the customer experience (including use of the same Net Promoter® system that we use within Virgin Media), and what results it's brought them so far as well as where they're taking it.

There was also lots of fascinating geeky 'under the hood' information about the Norton security products, and I hope I didn't bore him to death with subsequent questions!

It's certainly given me plenty of food for thought on things we should be doing.

In the afternoon we had some fascinating presentations from the product teams (even my old boss!) about what they are doing, and naturally everyone was excited about the TV presentation. I also learnt a lot more about mobile and fixed line phone, which no doubt I’ll find uses for. There was also a Q&A session with some of the senior team present.

In the evening it was time for our annual customer experience awards, where many of our senior team presented awards to some of the heroes around our business from the last year. The gala award went to one of our colleagues out in India who literally saved a customer's life by acting quickly when their behaviour suddenly changed while on the phone to us. Truly inspiring stuff and both standing ovations were totally deserved.

Day Two included further insight into how other companies are approaching customer experience - some of the things Starbucks are doing in the US were of particular interest to me - and we all got to try out some of our product install experiences and learn more about some of the customer facing teams in 'customer experience street.

However, I'm not sure my colleague Chi-Hong has much of a future as an installer:The day also featured a presentation from a group very close to me - our own Twitter team @virginmedia - on how they are helping customers out who contact us via Twitter and on how we use it proactively to find customers who need assistance.

We also heard from some more of our senior team about the plans for the rest of the year, and then it was time for the conference to wrap up with the various people present reflecting on their observations and making some resolutions about what we’ll all do to improve things for customers ahead of next year’s conference, which it is intended will be the biggest event yet in Virgin Media.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Digital Dorothy

Ten years passes very quickly.

Valentine's Day in 2000 was a Monday, and it also marked the launch of what was then a revolutionary new service – unmetered dialup Internet from Telewest priced at £10 per month.

Reading back at some of the news stories about the launch really is a walk down memory lane, such as the quotes from the consumer managing director at the time, Philip Jansen:
"To date, operators have rationed the Internet by charging every minute. We're changing that, so it can now truly be the people's Net.

Freedom from worrying about cost will dramatically change the way people use the Net."
The launch was shortly after BT announced their own product branded 'Surftime' at £35 per month and two years after Freeserve had launched a 'free' dialup service – with them making their money from the telephony revenue instead.

Remember that at the time it was not uncommon for Internet users to be running up phone bills of £80 per month or more, and it was still a month before we launched the UK's first broadband service.

Our service had customers connected to a local dialup point of presence, where calls were routed to across our telephony network based on the customer's caller line ID.

And we were a victim of our own success in our doing things better than BT!

Customer demand was huge for the service and the voice switches just couldn't cope. Some customers were getting engaged or number unobtainable tones when trying to connect as well automated messages saying things like "sorry, there is a fault" and "the other person is cleared".

Some customers even got so familiar with the woman's voice on the automated messages that she was even dubbed 'Digital Dorothy' in our newsgroups!

A virtual team was quickly established and huge amounts of capacity were (at times almost literally) thrown into the voice network as well as on dialup racks (some of which are still in place), authentication platforms and elsewhere such as e-mail platforms.

Very quickly it was learnt who did the best work under pressure, and within 6 weeks the service had been stabilised and many of the team then focused on our broadband rollouts.

We learnt a lot from what happened at the time, such as the importance of detailed and thorough capacity planning and really understanding our customer experience, something that has stood us in good stead ever since. Oh, and we also very quickly created a dedicated service management function in our networks team!

And personally I always keep this on my desk to remind me of the lessons:

Sunday, February 7, 2010


As one of the internal Virgin Media people who trialled the Google migration for addresses before we started customer migrations, I had to un-link my Google Mail account from my blueyonder one (so my BY account would fill up with e-mail) - I've been aggregating my blueyonder mail in my Google inbox so I can get used to the Google experience ever since we started our migration project.

It's only this week that I remembered I hadn't linked them back up again - sorry to anyone I took ages in responding to accordingly!

I've been on the Internet with my blueyonder e-mail address for 10 years now (and my Cable Internet one of the same format before that), and plenty of spam bots have harvested the address through years of helping out customers on newsgroups, forums etc. I always try to post with a valid address so that people who don't understand 'munging' e-mail addresses can still get through to me.

So, when I used Mail Fetcher to aggregate my mail I got a flood of e-mail - mostly spam - come through.

As I tweeted yesterday, when all the mails flowed in I did some analysis of the spam sent to me, and it came out as:
  • 41,782 messages correctly classified as spam (and put into my spam folder)
  • 8 spam messages delivered to my Inbox (naturally I clicked on 'Report Spam' when I received these to help train my spam filter)
  • 0 'false positive' messages in my spam folder that were genuine mail (as far as I know, only skim read the senders and subject lines)
I'm happy enough with that as a user, and it backs up my previous experience of the Google Mail spam filters, which are truly excellent.

The spam that's come through in the last few hours alone can be seen below:

[Click on image for a larger version]

Analysing the latest 52 spam messages in my Inbox (in retrospect I should probably have analysed the lot for a bigger sample before purging them yesterday) I can report the following pattern:
  • 36 (69.23%) messages about medical products
  • 7 (13.46%) in a foreign character set (no idea what they're about then)
  • 3 (5.77%) Phishing mails
  • 3 (5.77%) examples of 419 scams
  • 2 (3.85%) general products spam
  • 1 (1.92%) other scam
And I'd like to emphasise that I have never purchased or shown interest in such medical products!

Friday, February 5, 2010

blueyonder Completion (Google Update)

Next week we'll effectively be finishing the second mass migration of customers to Google - mailboxes – and in fact in many ways it's done already.

Other than about 300 mailboxes all ex-Telewest customers have now been moved to Google now, and are enjoying 7GB mailboxes (was 30MB on the old platform), search and chat features and more.

So how has it gone? Again, like the National migrations, very well. We got through the bulk of the mailbox migrations in around three weeks and we’re able to go as fast as 70K mailboxes per day – which is a sure fire sign that the contact centres were happy with how the migrations have gone.'

We’ve had a few issues along the way (as we would do with any migration of this size) – post migration 'welcome' mails being delayed in delivery to customers and some confusion with new help content going live for example – but generally it's gone very well and we've learned plenty from the migrations (as we did for National customers) that we'll be putting towards the upcoming migration of customers.

And that's going to be kicking off very soon. All the networks changes to make the migrations happen have started going in and there's been plenty of detailed data cleanup our brilliant IT team on the project have been working on. Once we've got our final production testing done and moved some staff mailboxes over as a trial we'll be onto customer migrations.

Not going to reveal any final dates yet as it depends on how the testing goes, but it's not far away! As with the other migrations we'll be writing to customers to keep them up to date with what's coming.

Once that's done we'll be giving customers on the 'old' domains the option (i.e. it will not be forced) to change to the format of e-mail addresses if they wish to and addressing customers who have 'weak' passwords that need to be changed so they will work on the Google platform in the longer term.

We're also starting to communicate to customers who need to change their e-mail software settings.

Once that's all done it'll be time for a damn good project team to be having a well earned rest and all!