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Thursday, September 20, 2007

TalkTalk: Plausible deniability

After watching Yuvraj live smack 6x6’s off one of England’s most promising bowlers, I thought the only thing that could possibly cheer me up is by ringing TalkTalk to get the date which my 18-month sentence finishes and to fire up my broadband churn engine into standby mode.

After a pleasantly short amount of time in the call queue, I got through to an equally pleasant lady who informed me that my contract with TalkTalk started on the 6th Feb 2007 and therefore I had another 9 months to go. “Sorry,” I said “you must be mistaken I was one of those idiots, sorry pioneers, who signed up for service when nearly-free-broadband was launched in the spring of 2006”. She shot back “Ah yes, but you agreed a new verbal contract when you were unbundled in Feb 2007”. After picking myself up from the floor, I asked immediately to be connected with the retentions department.

After an annoying long chargeable wait, about 45 mins, in the queue for retentions during which I was offered the opportunity several times of hanging up, eventually I got through to another pleasant lady who informed me that my earliest release date was 28th October, unless I bought a £70 Get-Out-Of-Jail card. The call centre system had two dates on customer records: one was contract commencement and the other was the unbundling date, the other lady must have been confused.

I really wonder if this was genuine error or standard procedure for TalkTalk. To be honest and although it falls into the sharp practice category, I actually have a grudging respect for TalkTalk management – this goes to show they are really thinking about minimising churn.

The only reason I thought of ringing up TalkTalk in the first place for my release date was that I had received an offer through the post for a free 3-month subscription to LOVEFiLM apparently worth £29.97 and a free, unspecified but undoubtedly the Huawei HG520, wireless router worth £49.99. All I had to do was ring them up and agree to a new 18-month contract to claim the offer. Even if a tiny 1% of the base takes up this offer, it is well worth the effort for TalkTalk and again shows how TalkTalk are going to fight to retain their base.

I’d be surprised if the offer itself will cost TalkTalk anything: the wireless router probably cost them around £10-£15 wholesale and I wouldn’t be surprised if TalkTalk were actually earning decent money for every customer who stayed subscribed to the LOVEiFiLM service beyond the 3-month trial period. In addition, probably iLoveFilm are paying the cost of the direct marketing campaign.

Personally, I love the concept of a broadband ISP actually promoting a snail mail solution for downloading. I estimate that the LoveSomeFilms £9.99/month bundle, which is unlimited hires of 1 disc at a time, a user could without too much strain watch 5 hires in a month, which equates to around a 23GB/monthly limit on 5x4.7GB DVD's. Of course for P2Pers where downloads of films are taking too long on the throttled TalkTalk network, DVD Jon followers have seeded the net with software to allow copying of DVD's for addition into a more permanent personal collection.

After my experiences with TalkTalk, I thought I’d give Sky a ring and see if they were ready to accept my LLU business. First of all, Sky is missing a real trick by publishing a “0870” number for sales calls. They should be publishing a geographical number so that sales calls are part of any bundle from either mobiles or landlines. It really gets on my nerves to make sales calls which actually cost me money. Next, the poor customer attendant was confused because my number isn’t on the database – yes I’m unbundled. Basically, Sky aren’t ready to accept their own payTV customers who are about to start coming out of unbundled contracts.

So with TalkTalk already putting in the processes and procedures to deal with customers coming off contracts, no equivalent of the MAC process for LLU customers and my sneaking suspicion that only BT is ready to accept unbundlers back, I suspect that my 30% estimates of TalkTalk churn in 2008 might be a little high.

However, it doesn’t look like David Goldie who is in charge of the Telecoms division shares my optimism: CPW announced tonight he sold 824,375 of nil-cost options for a £3m payout. He still owns 823k shares so is not totally on a downer about CPW prospects.