Anyone who’s seen a mobile phone advert in the last few years will notice that most of the networks like to focus on ‘people power’ on the customer having control and doing lots of cool things (usually by texting and calling people). The idea is clearly that phones are liberating and with the right deal, you can do anything you want.

Except, can you?

Anyone who’s tangled with customer service at one of the big networks will know that the only people who actually have the power are the networks. If you want to change anything about your contract, you’re going to have to pay for it, and the only way of getting out of a contract early is to buy yourself out.

So, enter giffgaff, a different approach to mobile phones and sponsors of the Big Bang Theory. Technically giffgaff are a MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), which means that they use somebody else’s network to operate their services, and aside from offering free sims, that’s where any obvious relation to the major networks comes skidding to a halt.

The idea behind giffgaff is to genuinely put power back in the hands of those who pay for their services. Somewhat peculiarly this means that the customer service department is absolutely tiny (if you’re going to charge low rates, you’ve got to keep staff numbers down) and customer service is outsourced to other users.

This might not mean that you can pick up the phone and get an immediate answer if you’re having technological issues, but it does mean that you can go online and find the answer to just about any question you can imagine. The Forum is enormous and the users are helpful…but why do they get involved?

Because, as well as outsourcing customer service to the users, giffgaff has outsourced some of its profits to its users. People who use the network have a real reason to keep using it and to encourage others to do so, they get money if they do, which is rather a great incentive. Accordingly, giffgaff’s customers have a unique sense of brand loyalty, which makes them the envy of most other companies in the UK and the reason why giffgaff keeps winning awards.