Does T-Mobile 'get' online PR?

t-mobile hqI am in the midst of a situation with T-Mobile that is a perfect little case study in how organisations are struggling with the changes in communication and how Public Relations lies at the heart of the matter.

Last Tuesday (7 September) I decided to renew and upgrade my mobile phone contract. This included a new phone to replace my 'ageing' BlackBerry. In the e-mail confirmation, T-Mobile mentioned that their logistics partner would contact me within 48 hours to arrange delivery. Instead of 48, it took them 66 hours to contact me. Slow, but not very annoying. The real surprise came when I clicked the link to plan the delivery appointment: ...

On the planning page of AMP Logistics, I found out that the earliest delivery date possible was Friday 17 September! For a phone that was in stock. The earliest possible for me was Saturday, so all in all it will take them 11 days to deliver a stock item. I should mention that I live in the Netherlands, a country so small they could walk to my door in under 7 days... Note that it is AMP Logistics that creates the problem here, not T-Mobile. However T-Mobile is responsible for the entire order, so I decided to contact their customer service to see if something could be done about it. Long story short (and long on-hold time later): Nothing could be done. But I was surprised to learn that T-Mobile knows about these delivery problems, so why did they not mention that in one of the mails I received? I would still have ordered the phone and not be as annoyed as I was now.

Transparency and trust

Public Relations problems often arise in situations like this. Because of the lack of transparency, a non-issue had now become an annoyance. Of course this is still about a single transaction with a single customer, but the pattern can lead to problems in situations that are only slightly different. What if I had been in charge of negotiating a large contract for a big corporation beside my private purchase?

And then there is the effect of Public Relations Online: I am writing about this, you are reading this. If more people read stories like this, it will have a profound effect on T-Mobile. With enough situations like this, people's trust in T-Mobile will diminish. So the lesson organisations should take away from this is: Be Transparent. Had I known about the delivery problems I would still have ordered the phone but I would not have felt as if I was let down. Or should I say: lied to.

The online experience

galaxy sAfter my call with customer service I decided to write an article about it the next day. In the evening I vented my frustration on Twitter (among other sites). To my surprise, the next day I found a message from @tmobile_webcare asking how they could help me. This interested me from a Public Relations perspective (and raised my hopes of shortening the delivery time). Alas, after a number of messages back and forth, the end result was once again: "We can't help you, the problem lies with AMP Logistics". While I could understand that, I made a proposal: if they would call my local T-Mobile store, I could pick up a same phone there and they could cancel the delivery though AMP. Sadly, this is where T-Mobile dropped the ball: I received a short message "Sorry, that's not possible" and after that: Silence.

Still, from a Public Relations perspective T-Mobile did a number of things right in this situation:

  • They made a genuine effort to use a social site to interact and help. Instead of using sites like Twitter as yet another broadcast medium, T-Mobile really uses it to interact with people.
  • They interacted in the open, publicly for all to see. Transparency. Many organisations try to hide less successful events, T-Mobile showed they cared and tried to help.

So at least T-Mobile has a clue about the use of online communications channels and the changes they have brought about.

Public Relations Strategy

Public Relations is about creating and maintaining a good relationship with "the public": the people that have some kind of interest in the organisation. Almost always this is seen as a communication strategy. However, as this case study clearly shows, Public Relations has everything to do with your core business. From a communication perspective T-Mobile did most things right: the employees were friendly and helpful within their abilities, they used online social media in the right way.

But I still got away with a bad feeling: my issue is not resolved or dealt with in any way. The physical aspect of PR, the delivery of the phone was not handled right. Instead of standing apart from the crowd (which they could have), their image is still: 'just one of the big carriers, dodging responsibility if they can'. It is beyond me why my solution (me picking up the phone at the local store) is "impossible". I realise that there is some administrative hassle involved: the IMEI number of the new phone has to be connected to my phone and contract number. And perhaps a few other changes, but this information is all stored in computers. It might involve some work and some inconvenience, but hardly "impossible".

Therefore, T-Mobile's chance to distinguish themselves was missed by not handling their core-business correctly. This should make it clear that Public Relations is not just about communication. Good Public Relations starts with doing your core business right. No amount of brilliance in communication - online or face to face - can hide shoddiness in the handling of your core business.

Conclusion

I did not write this article to put T-Mobile to shame. After all, if somebody really is in trouble it would be AMP Logistics: they are absolutely horrible in their core business - the moving of boxes. If you need more than a week to deliver an in-stock item in a small country as the Netherlands, you do not have a PR problem, you have a very serious business problem. But since this site is about Public Relations, business problems like that are not examined here.

The reason I wrote this article is to show how, in today's connected world, Public Relations is far more than just a communication strategy. It extends through the entire organisation and should be treated as such. Treating PR as a communication strategy only is missing out on most of the potential. And as you can see from this example: the image I have of T-Mobile is largely defined by their actions in their core business, not so much by their communication efforts (however well done), because they are at odds with each other. And the larger this discrepancy, the worse for their image (more about "Image" in a later article). To put it simply: everything you do or say in your business is Public Relations.