How an "un-carrier" like behaviour was key to T-Mobile's growth

Four years ago, at a press conference, John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, dropped a bomb with his declaration to "put an end to a stupid, arrogant and broken (telecom) industry".

Since then, T-Mobile has become the fastest-growing carrier in the US. When Legere started, the company had 33 million customers. Today, the number is two fold reaching up to 72 million. Last year, the company scored the highest in customer satisfaction among the four major carriers in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and saw an increase of 6% from the previous year’s result.

Speaking at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas, Nick Drake, T-Mobile's senior vice president of digital, revealed how the campaign under Legere - dubbed as "the un-carrier revolution" - has helped the company identify customer pain points and remove them, through digitisation and personalisation capabilities.

One pain point the company realised four years ago was that termination fees could cost up to US$350 in the US. Seeing this, T-Mobile launched the 13 "un-carrier" marketing campaign. Two of its most daring successes from the campaign were dropping phone contracts along with subsidised phones, allowing customers to pay month to month; and giving customers the ability to download free stuff every week. At one point, the company also combined 200 different rate plans into a single plan that included everything, with no extra charge.

While in 2013, the carrier was the smallest out of the four major wireless players in the US comparing to Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, by  2015 T-Mobile surpassed Sprint to become the third-largest US carrier. In the same year, Verizon followed suit to roll out contract-free plans, followed by Sprint and AT&T.

Fast forward to today, just this year, the company launched a "Kickback" programme that credits certain customers with up to US$10 a month for unused data. He said:

We were completely out of touch with customers. We needed to disrupt the industry and stand out from the other guys.

"John calls them dumb, dumb and dumber," he added.

From 1.2 to 5 stars

Front-line is a key to success, said Drake. Keeping this in mind, T-Mobile did everything it could to support care agents and retail staff right at the start of the revolution.

Every T-Mobile executive is tasked with talking to customers through any medium the customer wishes to talk to us. This is so we can prioritise the pain points customers most want us to solve.

However, offline services aside, the company realised it also didn't have a digital customer experience for the future. Two years ago, it decided to let technology teams "re-platform" antiquated systems.

Meanwhile, on the front end, the first step for T-Mobile was to redesign its online site and introduce some lightweight videos to it. With greater capabilities around the platform's optimising content and production, the company saw prospect rates increase three-fold, and conversion leap by 500%.

"The site is the biggest front door to the business," Drake said. "Following the redesign, we were able to convert 60% of clicks into purchase, and drive greater engagements by optimising content in real-time."

The company then redesigned its app and introduced basic functions to allow customers to serve themselves. For instance, when a customer searches for a product, it can also be connected to a retail representative at the nearest store. Most recently, the app also added asynchronous messaging through mobile phone to connect customer to a care agent for a more conversational service. When a customer shops in messenger, a conversation with care agent will also be evoked to talk them through the technical aspects.

The company is also distributing its commerce through Uber, which now allows the company to ship phones to consumers in as little as 23 minutes.

The added new functions turned the originally 1.2 star-rated app into best in class in three months.

Drake said going forward, the company will go beyond wireless and push into the offline space to "make more waves".

"It is time to invent wireless again - the future would be seamlessly connected," he said. "We have to unify the channels to drive greater automation and personalisation, connecting cross-channel experiences. In the future, we will share the same view with our customers, and there will be nothing we do that they can't do for themselves."

Adobe paid for the journalist’s trip to Adobe Summit 2017, held in Las Vegas.