Mark Bridge writes:
Wouldn't it be great if mobile customers loved their networks so much that they'd fight for them? Ofcom would be inundated with complaints from O2 users about its decision not to allow GSM frequencies to be used for 3G services. Vodafone customers would demand that Nokia pre-loaded the N8 with a Vodafone 360 application. Orange users would be sending petitions to radio stations, asking them to implement HD Voice on phone-ins. And giffgaff users would take to online forums to defend the service they receive.
Oh, hang on. That last one's already happening.
Before I go any further I'll offer a disclaimer. I'm not a giffgaff customer. I've never been a giffgaff customer. And chances are I'll never be a giffgaff customer. Not because I dislike the company – far from it – but because I'm self-employed. Alas, giffgaff's oh-so-appealing unlimited internet bundle excludes "commercial" use, which means much of my web browsing, downloading and email usage wouldn't be eligible. Fair enough. The rules are perfectly clear. Which means I'm not writing this as a current, previous or potential customer.
When giffgaff launched, the community focus was a breath of fresh air. Not only were customer service issues being dealt with by the customers themselves, the company also had a wide-ranging socially-networked presence. Twitter. YouTube. Facebook. All present and correct.
Which means when things went wrong – from teething troubles to O2 data problems and other unwanted parental interference – they weren't hidden. Honesty is, as my mother always told me, the best policy.
The flip side is the oft-quoted statistic that says most unhappy customers tell at least nine other people of their unhappiness, with 13% of them telling more than 20 people. Social networks make that easier than ever. Couple this with a tabloid tendency to look for trouble and you might think those forums, those Twitter updates, those Facebook wall comments, could all knock some of the shine off the network.
But that's not what seems to be happening. To its credit, giffgaff appears to be handling those complaints well (even if community members are occasionally less well-mannered than the 'official voice'). Most recently, giffgaff customers have defended the company at online forum pownum. This is a new site that generates a score out of ten - the pownum rating - based on the opinions of consumers. It's all about the power of numbers - hence 'pownum'.
When pownum tweeted about giffgaff's score of just 2 out of 10, giffgaff's Social Media & PR Manager took to her company blog. Heather Taylor pointed out that allowing free consumer comments but charging companies for a 'right of reply' seemed unfair. Community members agreed. Not only have their comments now pushed giffgaff's score up to 9.47, they've also pushed pownum's score down to 7.29.
There are many companies that talk about fanatical customer support; Rackspace is one of the best-publicised. But when that customer support is largely provided by your own customers - and those customers have good reasons for being attached to their mobile network - you start to approach the kind of cult-like consumer enthusiasm that's usually only associated with Apple.
Of course, giffgaff is a relatively young company. We've not yet had a year of full-time giffgaffing. Customer numbers and financial results are the kind of empirical data that investors like to see (although backing from O2 means we'll probably only see the results the parent company wants to share).
However, if the current levels of customer enthusiasm are maintained, giffgaff really could be a game-changing business. And not just for the mobile industry.