MIR: A tech evangelist’s perspective on the o2/CPW saga

Please note: It must be pointed out for reasons that will soon become clear that the following is my own personal opinion and not necessarily those of my employer, SpinVox.

Hello folks,

If you haven’t read Ben Jennings’ excellent post on his view of how to deal with the iPhone debacle, then go and do that now.

This post is related.


…I’ll tell you.

It was with great interest that I read Ben’s three step proposal for dealing with said horrifying iPhone badness. All three steps were interesting but for me, it was step two that really made me sit up and pay attention…

For those of you that missed yesterday’s piece – here’s the part I’m referring to:
“Step 2: Hire an Evangelist.

Ben writes:
This only needs to be one person. Heck, they could even be a student, as long as they have the right information. Maybe they could run the information page [in step 1] too. This person’s role would be to engage with the customers on the O2 forums. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if CPW had forums too? Are CPW even aware that they are being talked about on O2’s forums just because there is nowhere else for this conversation to take place? The evangelist would be an invaluable tool to act as a barometer of what are the specific hot issues. The evangelist would also make the customers feel like they were being listened to, rather than ignored. They could even Twitter updates to gain that Web 2.0 cool.”

Why am I interested in this?

Well this actually makes up a part of what I do for SpinVox and, hand on heart, I honestly have NO IDEA why other companies/brands, big and small aren’t following suit.

There really is NO EXCUSE for not at least listening to the web to find out what people are saying about you, your products, you level of customer service, your shops… Basically, if anyone out there is saying ANYTHING about you, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re saying it online.

“Well that’s lovely James, well done. But CPW is everso slightly different from SpinVox…” I hear you cry.

Yes… and no.

Admittedly, not every company is like SpinVox and I do not pretend for one second to have a single clue about the inner workings of Carphone Warehouse, however what I do have is a certain amount of knowledge about being a Product Evangelist.

And rule number one? LISTEN!

OK, so it would seem that someone out there at O2/CPW is obviously ‘listening’ to the web, (or maybe just to Ewan), or else I doubt very much Dan Lane would have his iPhone activated right now, (which he does by the way – in case you were worried).

But knowing how to engage with your community once the listening period has begun can be a fantastic way to circumnavigate these kinds of troubles and tribulations.

I cannot imagine for a second that someone, somewhere along the line at O2 and/or CPW didn’t put their hand up in THAT meeting and say:

“Err… But what if it all goes wrong?”

What IF it all goes wrong? It DID all go wrong!

Fair enough, it’s going to take some balls for someone to say:
“Well it’s alright, we’ve got an Evangelist, it’ll be fine!”

But by having one as part of an over-arching customer service team (aligned with the PR and the Tech Teams) can and will make all the difference. Hell, why not make it part and parcel of the lead up to launch?

At least those savvy enough to know about said person/representative will know they have someone to turn to who isn’t bound by a single ‘Failed Security Check’ message.

Like Ben says, an evangelist can help the customers feel like they are being listened to rather than be ignored.

Having sales folk in-store? Standard.

What about on the end of your customer service line? Yep. Got that.

Ok, so how about ONLINE?

….Anyone? Hello?!

Having a reputation manager, product evangelist, community manager, customer champion, social media manager or just ANY kind of digital representative that can talk to your customers for you can and WILL make SO MUCH difference to your online reputation!

If CPW had their own forums then they could’ve redirected their complaints to the static info page that Ben laid out in Step 1, (see post referenced at the beginning of this one). If they had their own representatives on those forums then they could feed back live information.

Hell, it doesn’t even to be their forums. They could trawl the o2 ones!

Also, being an evangelist isn’t just about talking up your stuff all over the place (online and off), it’s about being a trusted face and a trusted place. The first port of call not just should anything go wrong, but also for potential customers, partners or even just for those who are looking for information about you.

(A recent SV example from a day or so ago can be found here, on Twitter).

Sticking with the point – if the CPW website is broken? Get to X.

Oh, not happy with the CPW customer service? You should drop a note to X.

Having trouble with that thing you bought from CPW? You should follow X, (s)he’ll help.

These are all examples where an evangelist would help your brand reputation.

Something, ANYTHING to calm those folk down who think they’ve been misled, cheated, defrauded, messed around, screwed over… (do I need to go on?) …by CPW (and/or O2).

This isn’t rocket science folks and I am most certainly not revealing nuclear codes here –
A simple Google Alert will tell you who’s talking about you RIGHT NOW.

“It can’t be that simple James!” – No really.


I just set one up for Carphone Warehouse, (set to ‘as-it-happens’) and within minutes I got a ping…

The first link points to the second link, the second link look something like this:

Familiar story huh?

Well how about hiring an evangelist to monitor this stuff?

To reach out to these disgruntled bloggers and say something like:
“Hi Tom
Look, we messed up. Big. We are REALLY sorry. In equal measure we also REALLY want you to get your iPhone. I honestly do not know when we will be shipping your iPhone 3G out to you, but if you’d like to email me your details I will do my best to find out what the current state of play is regarding your account.

John Smith
CPW Evangelist”

Reasonably simple; make it personal, reach out to your critics and let them know they are being heard.

Help them understand that you are here to help and yes, even humans mess up sometimes.
Fingers crossed, Tom’s account details would be passed back, a rapport would build, information would be shared and the next thing you know you might even have a fan who’s happy to tell the world that actually, yeah CPW got it wrong.. but y’know what, they ARE trying to get things done.

CPW, if you’re listneing, engage your online community and ignore them at your peril.

And if you want to tack a bit of science on the end of that just to really hammer it home:
Recent studies show that the internet is the most influential medium when it comes to consumers purchasing decisions; twice as strong as that of Television and almost eight times the influence of traditional printed media.

Source – http://pov.fleishman.com/blogs/fhsocialnetwork/2008/06/new_research_reveals_the_impac.php

Here endeth the lesson.

Last updated by at .

Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

33 thoughts on “MIR: A tech evangelist’s perspective on the o2/CPW saga”

  1. Like your work. As always, unfaultable logic.

    <Grumpy Boss 1.0 hat on> But who's gonna stump up £100k (or whatever) from their budget for a job with the description “Faff about with all that poncy bloggy stuff”? I mean, if a blogger falls off his last post in the forest, does anyone hear?

    Spinvox I'd rate as a pretty enlightened bunch, and they should definitely pay Mr Whatley more – and make his expense account for “briefing” industry types much more rotund.

    Some MNO's are getting half a clue. As opinion shifts from print to web, this sort of job will become more important, but again, it's an extra corporate mouth to feed.


  2. A counter-example, of which I'm sure there are many – I wrote a blog post this morning about BT and its fibre rollout plans, mentioning Be Unlimited. 10 minutes after I tweeted the post, I got a 'follow' on Twitter from @BeUnlimited, whose most recent tweets are about the same subject, linking to a blog called 'Be Broadband's Social Media Press Office'.

    Some know how to do it right – mostly it's the new and disruptive companies, not the dinasoars.

  3. Hmmm…it sounds good in theory but I am not sure if it would work in practice unless the evangelist had real authority to cut through the shit, apply a little credit and do whatever it takes to make customers happy again.

    It reminds of that initiative years ago for London Underground to be more responsive and informative in the case of delays. If only they would they would tell us why we are stuck in a tunnel, the argument would go, at least we would feel that we were in the loop and not being neglected. In the end it turned out that the announcements only made people even angrier than before – mainly because the drivers were as badly informed as the passengers in a lot of cases and could only ever be fairly vague which really doesnt help that much.

    For something like this to work you would need to treat this really seriously. I am always surprised that mobile companies dont do this more.

  4. oh cool but spinvox doesnt even work properly. or this message again in spinvox translation: oar coo but spinvox doesnt event lurk property. Does your google alert pick this up mr whatley? ps pay him LESS until he eats his own dogfood.

  5. I use Simply Mail Solutions to host my e-mail and they've been EXCELLENT. A year ago, after leaving a comment on this very blog about an issue I was having with RoadSync and SimplyMS's Zimbra server I received an e-mail from Keith, their Technical Director that started with “I always do a weekly search around the web in case any of our customers are having problems that we could help with… and noticed your blog comment” and then went on to offer some help before finishing with “Anyway, apologies for the intrusion but if there’s anything you think SMS could help with, you know where I am.”.

    I'm not saying that my experience with them has been without problems but every time I've needed to contact them I've had a prompt and intelligent reply. Combined with the pro-active approach mentioned above this ensures that I'm far more forgiving when they do experience issues and that I'll be using their services for a long time to come yet and so should you! – http://www.simplyms.com

    Now O2 and Carphone Warehouse on the other hand… just you wait until they mess up my account again, I'm going to be all over them like James Whatley on a social network!

  6. Interestingly enough, Be Un Limited are owned by O2… but I can't say a bad thing about Be, use it at home and love their service!

    Didn't know they were on Twitter though!

  7. Preach Mr. Whatley, Preach.

    You can easily replace CPW in the post above with any consumer-focused company, Evanglesits are needed all round.

    Having been an Evangelist myself I know just how much we can change the public's perception of a company and help through the rough times. Online, people are for more likely to critisise than to praise so it's the ideal place to figure out what your customers are saying about you, what problems they're facing, what they expect from you and much more precious information that is just out there waiting to be picked-up and acknowledged.

    Companies have even *paid* for this type of feedback in the past. An Evangelist can help identify all of this and not only be a human face to the company but can also feed all that information back into the company to help improve their products and services.

    I'm trying not to go off into a rant of my own so I'll cut this short. Evangelism is a role that is only going to become more and more prevalent especially in the technology industry and this is a great thing. James and other high-profile evangelists are certainly helping to spread the word about how useful having someone in that role can be to a company. Let's hope that more high profile companies start to take notice.

  8. For those companies that can't or won't setup their own forums to solve these sort of problems, there is always http://getsatisfaction.com/ which would be a simple way to get things working better for customers online.

  9. Two responses I received on Twitter –

    1) Twitter user @vodaclone (aka our friend Terence Eden)

    “Agree in principle – but (DA here) has this saga cost O2 Apple CPW? People are not returning their phones/cancelling contracts”

    2) Twitter user @technokitten (aka our friend Helen Keegan)

    “CPW does have folks looking at this. iPhone launch was so bad, that whatever u put in place wouldn't be enough. http://url.ie/j73


    1) *Actual* costs, yeah maybe… and that's a big MAYBE, (I doubt very much they'll release the cancellation figures) …but what about brand trust? Once bitten, twice shy my man.

    2) That link delivers another damning case against CPW/O2 from Helen. Ouch.

  10. Telefonica very sensibly have left Be pretty much alone brand and culture-wise since the acquisition. I worked with some of the old-school Be folks since before they were Be (Avatar Broadband), their approach is quite refreshing. They could teach their sister company a thing or three.

  11. You make a valid point.

    The evangelist *does* need complete buy-in from across the entire company to be able to go ahead and cut through the crap.

    It not only helps with actually getting stuff done but it also further increases the relationship building process…

    If the evangelist is seen as someone who's voice is just lost in the noise then they you may as well as well be shouting at a brick wall.

  12. If you're having problems with SpinVox then by all means get in touch, I'll be happy to help.
    Not sure what you're point is on the dog food front, I use SpinVox every day!

    (and my Google Alerts are working just fine)


  13. Paul Walsh, The Irish Opportunist, just tried to leave a comment …
    (he's not getting on with Disqus Ewan!)

    …and ended up writing a full post himself –


    Paul writes (after his rant about disqus):

    “I’d rather encourage all staff into becoming evangelists, but that will only happen when they care enough about the brand to become brand guardians. Having nominated evangelists only works when they’re evangelising specific technologies – like you get with companies such as Microsoft and Apple. By demonstrating that you care to educate and listen to people about your technology, you end up doing the marketing bit indirectly and in a much more discrete manner.

    My advice to Carphone Warehouse is for the senior management team to take stock of public perception and put in place a plan to change the culture across the company. They have a serious culture issue which I believe is management’s failure to evolve as the company changed direction over the past few years. Only then will staff care enough to treat customers as customers and not second class citizens.

    Carephone should consider hiring new management, not tech evangelists. Change must come from the top, even if instigated and encouraged by those on the ground.”

  14. Of course you're right, Dude.
    O2 and, to a lesser extent, CPW should by now have added comments to every one of the pained articles here on SMStn by now, even if only to apologise for the cock-ups.

    Dunno about calling them evangelists tho' — a less right-on title might help their wider adoption among the Luddites.

    Keep at it, mate. You know it makes sense!

  15. I have to say – I do see the benefits of using an independent mediator to liaise with bloggers and customer forums etc. Google alerts are the easiest way to track any form of conversation out there, so why they aren't top of the list for any customer care/relationship manager – I'll never know. Actually, they probably are for many – but maybe this method just needs a little more visibility with senior management? If a CEO/CTO is getting those alerts as well, they'll be asking questions down the line as to why these consumers aren't being responded to.

    As pointed out below, there are many already getting it right. I remember sitting through a very interesting presentation by Hugh Davies @ 3 about his use of this method. He has dedicated resources purely devoted to responding to blogs. It's just obvious to him that this needs to be done. And more and more, I'm seeing 'web 2.0' businesses spring up with a team to do this already in place. For those within corporate organisations, I think there is still a need for Education.

  16. Great article and super timely, if you invest money in a call centre, shops and a website it's not difficult to listen and engage your customers online. I guess the devil for big traditional corporates will be their PR & Communications policies and desire to control all external messaging, time to dust off naked conversations again…

  17. James, excellent points as always and perhaps the SpinVox crew are starting to understand what you actually do….. 😉

    The issue for me is when “evangelists” are actually PR people. Don't get me wrong, PR's do a lovely job, but most of them are NOT using social networking in a really active way in their personal time (some are and you know who you are..) but we actually need to think about not media training, but evangelism training.

    Could be seen as an oxymoron because evangelists generally don't need training in what they do. I've also seen people who have had media training die a horrible death on stage or in front of the media.

    I'm personally very different – I love talking to the media, presenting to large audiences and being an evangelist – but no-one has ever trained me.

    The Wikipedia definition of a technology evangelist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_evangelist states “Technical evangelists may act, officially or unofficially, on behalf of a company or organisation, or on a personal basis, for instance”.

    Perhaps it would be safer to have voluntary evangelists – if you force them to evangelise – aren't they then just PR people in disguise?

  18. BE= quite literally the best service level and level of customer service I've experienced anywhere. Ever.

  19. Regarding #1, totally. I cancelled my order with CPW and am no longer buying the iPhone. Major buyers premorse on this one. The buck stops at the top, and if Apple can't even acknowledge what's going on, why am I going to have confidence they won't play nasty with their walled-off DRM-ridden monopolistic phone platform? Before this, I figured they might be able to pull it off, but they're just like any other company now.. just after the buck, no matter how many users get screwed by the henchmen. I remember a time when Apple was not like this.

    I've spent almost 10 grand with Apple in the past 18 months, and I'm seriously considering leaving the platform. They've gotten too big and are leaking trust and goodwill everywhere.

  20. I think, for the companies reading this, that an important factor to remember about having an Evangelist is that they're not *solely* useful as a janitor, to go around cleaning up messes. By having someone with a constant thumb on the pulse of your online userbase, these Evangelists can also be a great source of new ideas, feature requests, or anything else.

    Companies often pay big bucks for consumer research, and only hire Evangelists who are willing to put on the janitors jumpsuit on and wheel their mop bucket around the internet, forever cleaning up messes, without being heard on what's causing the messes in the first place.

    It's an entirely different way to conduct business, but I think it's much better.

  21. Some longish thoughts…

    Overall, I agree. There needs to be more human-voices interacting with the community. But here are some reasons why it won't / can't always happen

    1) Evangelism can only work in small pockets. You can evangelise for SpinVox because it's a relatively small company. No one person in O2 can know SMS, phone configuration, Voicemail, email access broadband, bluetooth, iPhone, SIMs, etc. I'm a big mobile geek and I immerse myself in this stuff and I couldn't answer questions on half the stuff my corporate overlords (Vodafone) provide. So you now get into the situation where you need an evangelist for every distinct product – that costs more money. And now, when you moan on your blog that voicemail isn't working – you expect the voicemail evangelist to know when the Nokia N97 will be coming out and how to configure Shozu on your Sagem.

    2) Apple and O2 have sold out of iPhones. If that's the cost of poor customer service – sign me up. A few people may have returned them, but probably no more than their usual return rate. When you have a monopoly position, you can get away with murder. If the iPhone were available on several networks, there would have been an exodus away from O2 after this debacle. Will people hold a grudge against O2 and Apple? Yeah, for about 6 months. Then the iPhone 4G will come out, or there's a good deal on O2 and people will return like a dog to its vomit.

    3) Outside of the fanatics, the general public will have only heard “Queues at iPhone launch”. Queues == popular.

    4) Evangelists are good – but one of the fundamental problems they run up against is lack of internal ownership. There are products in every company which have been released and no longer have an owner. No one to care if they fail or if they need upgrading to work with Vista. This is a problem in any large business and, even with high level support, evangelists can't easily change.

    5) I really *really* like the idea of evangelists. In sorting out quick fix problems, engaging the community and raising awareness of new products; I think they're great. The only problem is when they get locked into a losing battle. If the company has made a huge cock-up and they can't / won't apologise for it, they're seen as shills. If they publicly argue with unreasonable customers they look like idiots. There are so many pitfalls that make it hard to sell evangelism in a positive light.

    6) Some companies / products don't want feedback. They don't care what you think. The product shipped. Timescales were reached. KPIs on target. Why should a company expend any energy on engaging with people? We'll get a market research agency in for that. What do we care if people find the product hard to use – they're still paying £x per month.

    I'm rather deliberately playing Devil's Advocate here – I think there are more opportunities for good customer relations than we've ever had before. But it's a really hard sell.

    For anyone in the mobile industry, I recommend reading the Vodafone eForum (other customer forums are available) http://forum.vodafone.co.uk/ to see the sort of problems that NorMobs run up against and how evangelists can tackle them.

    (All views are my own etc)

  22. I agree with everything Terence Eden has to say regarding the CPW/o2/Apple debacle.
    It's unfair to blame CPW for everything anyway – and despite the awfulness of it all, a ton of iphones were still shifted.

    Re my post about CPW, if you follow the links, you'll find that CPW *do* have people watching this and paid attention and contacted Ian Delaney to sort out his billshock problem. And they did it well. The problem with this of course is that it couldn't have been fixed by the customer service staff at the call centre or in-store. Rather it was because Ian and a few of his friends blogged about it that it came to the attention of a member of CPW staff. Most people do not blog. Most people would never write about their customer service problems on the internet. And even if they did, it doesn't solve whatever problems there are back at base anyway.

    This stuff isn't easy and when you're dealing with super-large companies with many 1000s of staff, it's nigh on impossible. That's not to say you shouldn't try and sometimes you'll even succeed, but it will never be perfect.

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