What every brand can learn from T-Mobile’s “uncarrier” strategy

Since publishing the Customer Relationship Architecture report, one of the most common questions I’ve received relates to the notion of a collaborative customer relationship strategy. Among other questions, folks have emailed to ask which companies we would classify as collaborative. Well, as we state in the report, they aren’t all that common. And, even where they do exist, not many firms are executing on the strategy particularly well. We’re not in a position to disclose the companies that took the survey, but what we can do is provide some examples of companies that appear to be pursuing this strategy.

T-Mobile

t-mobile international fee ad

 

One company that comes to mind is T-Mobile. At least in the States, T-Mobile is pursuing a really interesting “uncarrier” strategy. I saw Peter DeLuca SVP of Brand Communications for T-Mobile USA speak at the recent Ad Age Digital Conference and he explained their approach as one that was rooted in customer understanding. Essentially, they looked at the major pain points that customers had with their carriers and sought to change the dynamic in the wireless industry.

How? By introducing policies and procedures that turn the traditional cellphone industry approach on its head. For example, they eliminated contracts. They offered to pay prospective customers’ early termination fees if they left competitors and signed up with T-Mobile. They introduced new ways for customers to upgrade to the newest phones.

When you think about these moves through the lens of a customer relationship architecture, each one feels like they checked the “understand your customers” and “apply that intelligence” boxes pretty well. But, let me give a personal story about where they check the “to the mutual benefit of the company and the customer” box. I was heading to Ireland just after Christmas and saw ads in the airport that claimed T-Mobile was no longer charging for data usage overseas. I was so skeptical I went to their website found the relevant explanation, read it with a fine tooth comb, and took screen shots of the pages in case I had to go back and fight any charges. Sure enough, my data usage while I was there was free. Fast forward a few months later and I received an email telling me that my bill was going to drop by $14 a month because the company was no longer charging for texts sent overseas. I was paying for both my wife and I to have unlimited international texting and they were simply eliminating the fee. It’s fascinating to me that in an industry renowned for the lack of customer concern, T-Mobile has changed the game for me as a customer and begun to act in our mutual interest – not just their own. The zero-sum game has ended.

Strategy or tactic?

Overall, T-Mobile appears to be pursuing a collaborative strategy. And, it’s only fair to point out that we could debate whether it’s out of necessity as the number four player or not. But either way, as a customer I feel that the company understands my pain points and is making strides to eliminate them.

I can think of lots of anecdotal stories about other companies. I’ve written previously about GoDaddy’s call to me that saved me money initially and had me gladly spending more with them by the end of the call. Or, I could point to BankUnited with whom I bank. I landed off a flight one day to three voicemails and an email asking me to call them. Before I had the chance, they called me again. A check I had written was about to bounce and they wanted permission to transfer money between my accounts so that I wouldn’t be hit with an overdrawn or returned check fee. They lost out on the $35 or whatever it might have been, but made me feel like they had my best interest at heart. Does that mean that GoDaddy and BankUnited are following a collaborative strategy? I’m not sure. So far, it feels more like a tactic than a strategy. That doesn’t make it a bad thing, but it does highlight the point that a collaborative tactic — while admirable in its own right — does not a collaborative strategy make.

T-Mobile is one company that stands out as approaching a collaborative relationship strategy — and not simply stringing together a series of collaborative tactics. Who else do we think of as collaborative? Some of the old reliables like Disney and Zappos also jump to mind, but I’m curious to hear about your experiences — who stands out to you either at a strategic or tactical level as collaborative? Email me or post a comment below and I’ll continue to post examples over time.

Cheers,
Dave

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