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    Orange plays catch-up


    When ex-Virgin Mobile man Tom Alexander took over at Orange, one of the first things he did was bring in lots of other ex-Virgin types to have a really close look at the company. Well, the results are now in, with the operator releasing details of its plans and priorities under the new management. First off, as one would expect with the ex-Virgin mafia, there is going to be lots of focus on customer service, contact and interaction. Orange is creating 500 new customer- facing roles in UK customer centres & shops; launching new contact options including IM, web and in-store service; and stopping its expansion of its offshore call centre partnerships in India, returning much of its customer service focus to the UK. Pay Monthly calls will be the first to be returned in order to be dealt with by UK customer service teams. The operator also wants to increase its number of stores to 400 from the current 338, as well as re-shaping its online store. But it’s not all about customer service, the network too will be given a boost, with Orange committing itself to covering 30 cities with 7.2Mbps HSPA coverage over the next 18 months, and to upgrading five cities to 14.4Mbps HSPA coverage in 2009. It will also add 450 2G base stations, as well as unbundling another 100 DSL exchanges by the end of 2008, to add to the 850 exchanges already unbundled. As for products and services, Orange is adding a new range of “totally connected” products this year, including laptops that will “provide customers with broadband using Orange’s fixed-line service in the home, and the high-speed mobile data network on the move”. To drive this through, Alexander has also changed the management structure. The company is creating two new teams – the Consumer customer team, headed by Mike Newnham, and the Business customer team, led by Paul Tollet. This is designed to ensure a positive end-to-end customer experience. All other functions, including a new Sales & Loyalty team headed by Jean-Pascal van Overbeke, will work alongside and service the two new customer teams. A New Business, Wholesale and Strategy team, led by Marc Overton, is also being created and is tasked with uncovering new business and revenue opportunities as well as developing Orange’s wholesale and MVNO business. Mirroring Vodafone’s recent restructuring announcement, Orange is offsetting the creation of those 500 customer service jobs with proposals to cut 450 roles from administration, management and support functions. So what do the changes add up to? Well, Alexander was keen to promote them in terms of Orange’s recent “resrgence”, but in many ways this looks like an operator playing catch-up. 7.2Mbps HSPA in 30 cities over 18 months? Just five cities with 14.4Mbps HSPA in 2009. A new “totally connected” laptop. New customer service channels, including the trendy and potentially cost-saving IM. It’s not really a huge rallying cry, is it? A few more shops and call centre operatives in the UK. As we said, much of this uncannily mirrors what Vodafone announced recently. But in terms of network and services, the announcement can’t maskl the fact that Orange has slipped behind others in the UK. That said, Alexander was clearly brought in to do a job, and this may just be the beginning of that process.