Goodbye call centres? O2's launch customer-powered network

24 September 2009

O2 are rolling out a new people-powered network before Christmas. Yep, it's more of that social media buffoonery that's gripped the world like a clam in a vice. It's called giffgaff, which is - according to O2, at least - a "real English word meaning 'mutual giving'".

There's not a great deal of information around at the moment (although there are bits and pieces on the new website that appeared today) - we're going from an internal memo doing the rounds at O2 (thanks to Bitterwallet reader TFEB). We do know giffgaff is based entirely online, and members will be encouraged to create content (such as user guides), provide forum support, recruit new members or come up with marketing ideas. What's in it for them? The more members get involved, the more credits they'll be rewarded - which will pay off up to 100 percent of their top-ups.

According to the internal memo:

"Run on the O2 network, giffgaff will run independently of O2 with a team of about 14 people working from a separate office near Slough. The low cost business model aims to drive down costs by not having big call centres, subsidising phones, big marketing budgets or hundreds of staff, keeping the carbon footprint low."

giffgaff supplies a SIM to use in any unlocked handset, cutting out the need to get involved in hardware. So not only is it a quirky way of grabbing some headlines, it's dirt cheap to operate. Clever O2. Taking their lead from the likes of Wikipedia, O2 are hoping that by crowdsourcing all the human resources a mobile network needs, they can run the backend for pennies and develop a loyal userbase that supports itself.

Can a mobile network really run on 14 staff? How would that scale with bigger numbers? If it actually works out, it'll be interesting to see how the other networks react and what happens to the traditional model of call centres.

8 comments

  • TVDBP
    So basically its Genie with a new name?
  • SPeedY_B
    All well and good, however the users won't know what's going on when (not if, when) the network goes tits up, or when new network features are rolled out, or when coverage increases, etc. So content and information will still need to be provided by the service provider. Though I guess that's what the 14 people are for? Will be very interesting if it works anyway. :)
  • CompactDstrxion
    Interesting how they're not being up front about basically being O2 at all.
  • Paul S.
    I think it's what the movies call "plausible deniability". O2 can run an experiment into whether they can effectively sack a lot of people and save a ton of cash, under the guise of a new and exciting social meeja network thing, without their badge on it. If it works, O2 step forward and take the credit for revolutionising the mobile industry, sack a lot of money and save a ton of cash. If it doesn't work, no harm done to their brand.
  • TFEB
    lol thats a bit of an extreme opionion! I mean i cant ever see any company such as O2 sacking staff so that a user network and run the company. Its just not feasable. As a new entity though and a new form of revenue I can see it potentially working with a small suer base. i mean if this network hit just a few hundred thousdand I bet O2 would be happy with that. At worst it takes customers away from rival networks and at worst takes some O2 customers to er O2. lol But you are right about the setting up the network so as to not damage O2's brand if it goes wrong. But again thats just good business?
  • Paul S.
    I don't think it's extreme at all, and it's all good business if it works - not sure I said otherwise. The whole point of crowdsourcing is that the users do the heavy lifting. There will always few percent of a customer base who are power users, keen to get involved and who know as much about the workings of a company and associated services as the people working there. In this instance, they'll write manuals, hold online workshops, troubleshoot problems on a general and individual basis, put together FAQs - and pay nothing for their phone bill. This network has no hardware (except a SIM), no contracts and no phone support - everything is online. Between a handful of staff and a lot of willing poachers-turned-gamekeepers, there's no need for call centre support. The questions are - how popular will this type of model become and can it scale? You might need extra staff if it does grow, but the more users, the more hands-on customers happy to help for the sake of a free ride. If any significant number of O2 customers move to this network, it will mean a reduction in call centre staff. I don't think it's extreme or cynical to suggest the thought has crossed the minds of management.
  • [email protected]
    Hi SPeedY B I’m the marketing director at giffgaff and am enjoying reading everyone’s thoughts. I wanted to let you know how the customer service will work. In short, we are building a knowledge base that has in it all the reasons people normally call customer service about mobile networks and the answers to those questions. If the answer to your search query isn’t there it will be because it’s a billing query or lost or stolen, and in that case you can email our small contact centre. Or if it’s a brand new query, the post will go to the community forum to answer, and the queries could be anything related to mobile. Once there’s a good answer to the question, it’ll get stored in the knowledge base for the next person who has that thought – and so it goes on. Also, we’ll give a reward by way of a rebate for the questions answered by the community as well as the normal community rankings etc. Also, we'll keep the webstie updated constantly, so if there are any developments, you can find out what's going on by going onto giffgaff.com. It would be great to hear what you think.
  • Jack
    I think every mobile operator (and lots of other companies) has already tried a knowledge base thing - it doesn't work. I called T-Mobile 4 times this week to ask why I kept adding a number to my account and it wouldn't save, no knowledge base article will help as it turned out the operator was too stupid to click "save". Other times I had T&C questions or similar and a knowledge base with a hidden phone number that no-one answers is bloody annoyoing.

What do you think?

Connect with Facebook, Twitter, or just enter your email to sign in and comment.

Your comment