O2 Gears Up for iPhone Launch

The leading British mobile operator and its retail rival Carphone Warehouse are preparing for a high-profile debut with extra staff and hours

O2 has substantially bulked up its customer service staff ahead of the high-profile launch of Apple's iPhone this week as the mobile operator looks to ensure that consumers that fork out for the expensive handset receive the best possible support.

O2 will add 1,400 staff prior to the launch of the handset on Friday to ensure it can cope with the unprecedented demand for the flashy phone. It will take on around 700 new customer service employees in Glasgow and Leeds, with a further 700 staff added across the company's chain of High Street stores.

O2 and Carphone Warehouse are bracing themselves for a stampede of customers when the iPhone goes on sale at 6pm on Friday.

Carphone Warehouse, which will keep its stores open late to satisfy demand for the touch-screen handset, has said it could sell as many as 10,000 iPhones in the first day alone despite the £279 price tag which comes on top of the contract with O2 that will cost between £35 and £55 a month. O2, which is supplying the handset directly to Carphone Warehouse, has ordered around 200,000 iPhones from Apple to satisfy demand over the Christmas period.

John McGuigan, head of O2's post-pay customer service unit, said that around 200 of the new staff will be dedicated to handling customer calls related to the iPhone, helping to activate and register the user if assistance is required.

He said: "It is very important to get the customer-service experience right."

He added that O2 will work closely with Apple which has already been closely involved with AT&T in the US to support the iPhone there.

Mr McGuigan added that it has also swelled its customer service employee ranks to ensure that its existing customers are not neglected as a result of increased support for the iPhone.

Mr McGuigan said: "We want to provide a fantastic service for people buying the iPhone -- that goes without saying. But we also want to make sure existing customers don't suffer as a result of the potential increase in demand for customer support from new iPhone users."

Mr McGuigan said that O2 has also focused on making the online customer-service function as robust as possible, given a lot of iPhone buyers will want to use the internet to resolve any issues they have.

He said: "People will be tethering the device to the computer anyway."

However, the company denied that the ramp-up in customer service staff suggests that some customers may struggle to use the feature-rich device, arguing that the phone is intuitive and easy to use.

As well as being a must-have, albeit it expensive, Christmas stocking filler for fans of technology, the iPhone is likely to give mobile music a further boost.

Whilst Apple's iPod kick-started a surge in the amount of music that people download on to portable MP3 players, the iPhone is expected to raise awareness and stimulate the use of mobile phones designed to play music.

A number of rival services have also been launched recently by the likes of Nokia and MusicStation.

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