The Carphone Warehouse

Executives Online has helped The Carphone Warehouse to gear up to meet demand for its expanding TalkTalk service.

The Carphone Warehouse has an enviable reputation in the fiercely competitive mobile phone sector. In just 14 years it has developed a network of over 500 stores and built a UK market share of 22%. Launched in February 2003, TalkTalk was a bold new move for the company, taking it into the fixed line arena, where it would compete with major players such as BT. The service quickly took hold, and by October 2003 it had attracted over 300,000 customers.

To further build its customer base, The Carphone Warehouse then launched a "free to talk service" – through which TalkTalk users can talk to each other free of charge, forever. As the only UK company offering this service, The Carphone Warehouse rightly predicted that a "free to talk" service would encourage current TalkTalk users to recruit their family and friends to the service. As such, it would rapidly grow The Carphone Warehouse’s customer base, and accelerate the company’s overall expansion. But it would also stretch its customer billing team – their systems and processes.

"We’re in a hugely competitive business," says Attiq Qureshi, Hosting and Support Director. "Good customer service is expected as standard. If our people were not able to cope with a massive influx of customers, and the technicalities of the new TalkTalk service, any new customers that it attracted would quickly walk away."

The pressure from the new service would indeed be great. The Carphone Warehouse expected its overall customer base to grow to 1 million – with 500,000 of these being TalkTalk customers. Furthermore, in the fast-moving telecoms sector, there was little time to get the "free to talk" offer from the drawing board into the market. Indeed with an April launch date planned, Attiq Qureshi had less than five months to transform the customer billing team. That’s why he turned to the fast track executive recruitment firm, Executives Online.

He continues: "We needed someone for a three-month contract, overqualified and over experienced, who could start tomorrow. I wanted someone with a proven track record in this field – who had ideally made some mistakes – and would know where the problems and pitfalls were. Executives Online found me exactly such a person."

It took only days for Executives Online to nominate Greg B for the position. Greg had worked for an array of major players from NTL, where he was Director of Billing and Operations, through to Colt Telecommunications, and Omni.

"Companies like ours can't afford to have plans put on hold while we recruit. That's why we went to Executives Online"

Greg B comments on the interim assignment facing him: "The Carphone Warehouse works with third parties such as Carphone Networks, T-mobile, O2, Vodafone. You only have to think of the complicated array of mobile phone deals, promotions and rates on offer from each of them, to appreciate the complexity already facing The Carphone Warehouse’s customer billing team. Then add to this mix a new type of service, TalkTalk, and an expanding customer base, and it’s easy to see how challenging the customer billing task really was."

Working with The Carphone Warehouse’s 22-strong customer billing team, Greg looked at the processes and procedures in place. He restructured the team, splitting it into different areas of expertise – billing and revenue assurance – and then focused on creating the absolute best practice in these areas. This included ensuring customers are charged accurately and at the correct rate, every time, minimising the room for errors and the level of customer queries.

Greg introduced the daily controls and checks needed and recruited the team – growing it by 50%. Greg also spent time building relationships with key stakeholders within The Carphone Warehouse business.

"I needed them to respect what I was doing, so that they would buy into the changes," says Greg. "As an outsider it's a difficult balancing act. You can’t be seen as a consultant – as you’re not just advising, you’re delivering clear, measurable results too. But you do want them to appreciate that they have brought you in for your expertise – as that way your ideas receive a better hearing."

Greg clearly mastered this balancing act extremely well and made a real difference at The Carphone Warehouse. Brought in for just three months at the outset – to get the company’s customer billing team ready for the TalkTalk expansion – his contract was extended twice. After nine months working for the company as an interim manager, The Carphone Warehouse has now retained him almost full time.

It’s easy to see why. Following the April launch of the free to talk service, the TalkTalk customer base grew from 385,000 to over 500,000 in less than three months. Within a month of Greg starting the assignment, the team was hitting very high performance targets for billing accuracy and timeliness and in fact, against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding workload, these measures reached 100% on a number of occasions.

Attiq Qureshi summarises Greg's contribution: "Greg brought to The Carphone Warehouse his obvious experience and knowledge which he gladly shared with others. He hit the ground running, quickly putting all the necessary protocols and support systems in place. But more fundamental than this, he gave our team a lot of confidence. At a time when they could have felt under enormous pressure, he made them believe in themselves, and not be intimidated by the challenge. He wasn't cheap but I didn't want cheap, I wanted good – and that's certainly what I got."

Greg has been such as success that when Attiq needed a support services manager to plug the gap while a permanent recruit was found, he immediately returned to Executives Online as he explains:

"Companies like ours can't afford to have plans put on hold while we recruit. That's why we went to Executives Online – and once again, in days they had found me just the person I needed."