I am writing this on the way back from a month’s lecturing in Moscow. During this time, I relied on my Virgin phone to keep me in contact with things in the UK. I had a russian phone too, so, managing the two handsets, I felt a bit like a rather dodgy trader. But needs must.
Just before I returned, I got a message from Virgin mobile to say that I had exceeded my credit limit. Strange, as I had renegotiated this just before I left the UK when access to my online account had failed for the umpteenth time. I was told then, in October, that I had fallen foul of some sort of systems’ overhaul that routinely upgraded the credit limits of more recent customers but, as a long-standing and loyal Virgin devotee, I had been overlooked, as had many of my vintage. A temporary correction was applied to my account. That appears to have failed in practice.
I rang up the international number on the text they sent and tried to pay off the outstanding debt. My phone, it seems, had been suspended for the last three days. Worrying. And then the real drama began.
I was speaking to a lad called Jack who was based in Manila. He was quite affable though he spent slightly too much time telling me how honest he was – when someone tells me he is honest, I generally suspect something is amiss: “The lady doth protest too much”. Rather like starting a sentence “with respect” something that prefaces complete verbal abuse. Jack was unable to process my payment because my phone was apparently flagged as fraudulent and blacklisted. That was monday.
Now once again, there is history, because this had happened before- no fault of mine, and I was told it had been corrected. I assumed, therefore, that the so-called correction on 13th October had not, in fact, been effective and I had been living in a fool’s paradise for 5 weeks. But that turned out to be untrue. Instead, an entirely new fraud error had been generated by Virgin. It was explained to me later by a man called “Much” who inhabits what is called the CEO office for escalated complaints, but no doubt it is just another call-centre. “Much” was very reluctant to give his real name so I am respecting his wishes in this account.
I cautioned Jack on Monday that I worried our call might be expensive. He insisted that, despite the fact that I was calling from Moscow, the call was free. He had me on hold at various times and the call went on in fact for an hour. There was a second and third attempt to resolve the problem: another two hours or so.
On Wednesday, I spoke to the CEO office who had finally lifted the bar on my phone and offered to pay the £250 there and then to gain access to my phone, but instead, they said the sum had increased to about £400. We may well ask how that happened, because, other than calling Virgin on a free line, I had not used the phone at all. And therein lies the rub: the line to Jack was not free after all. (the number, if you are interested is +447953967967)
When my case-handler finally got round to talking to me on Wednesday evening, he explained that the call to “Jack” in Manila was no longer accessible as a recording and so he was unable to verify whether Jack had, indeed, assured me that calls to that number were free. (In any case, “Much” could provide documents to explain that such calls are not free but charged on a standard overseas tarrif). “Much” told me that he was “only being honest”, like Jack before him. Somehow, Jack seemed more credible. As a “goodwill gesture”, and because “he did not dispute my story of what Jack was alleged to have said,” “Much” was, however, prepared to offer me £70. He also assured me, note, that he believed my story about Jack’s claim – so the offer seems a bit odd, and I feel a bit short-changed. No apology, incidentally, also for the fraud error, which he admitted was Virgin’s- an error produced he explained because of the considerable advances being made by the implementation of new software, but the second such erroneous fraud flag on my account this year! And no offer of compensation. It is a case of “Much” wants more!
I asked for a PUK code so that I could leave Virgin and take my phone number with me, but should I do this – Mr “Much” was very clear- then I would no longer receive the “goodwill gesture” he had been offering me. Astonishing and slightly threatening.
This £70 is not compensation, it is not a refund. It is, in short, a bribe by a company that is quite happy to lie through its teeth to extract as much as they can for a service that falls far short even of the term”shoddy”. I wonder if, indeed, what I have experienced is a form of “misrepresentation”? It comes fairly close to what American gangsters in Chicago would have called “protection”. I am paying for services they themselves have forced me to accept!
In the social media age, customer service should be efficient and effective. A quick survey of the internet shows very clearly that I am not alone in being frustrated by Virgin’s duplicity and aggression. One of the problems that I would identify here is that customer care and marketing or sales are divided into two completely different (and arguably conflicting) offices and neither has much care about its effect on the other. Beyond that is the infuriating habit of agents refusing to provide surnames and assuming they can use my first name too. This is not just an Oldie whinge about due respect- it is about basic honesty because, when pressed to identify the various people called Val, or Cherie or Jack, the evidence of their existence seems to flush away as quickly as the recordings that betray whatever errors they have inadvertently or deliberately made. Virgin is the harpic of mobile communication. I should add that I also spoke to a lovely switchboard person called Chantelle who was charming enough on 3 occasions to remember who I was and what the issue was. But, as a rule, what is agreed with one person is then denied by another and an appeal to the evidence of the “recording” meets with the response that it never took place or is lost. The fact, therefore, remains- shoddy customer care will eventually have an impact on sales. It is just a matter of waiting for the whole house of cards to collapse.
And who has a Virgin phone after all, these days? Come on! Virgin is simply a larger scale version of Easy Jet- it’s mobile phone service is an offshoot. The Virgin company began in the Late 70s and was properly registered in the late 80s: a 40-something year history, and it is time for some pruning.
Because I look after a number of students in the UK , and have phones on account for them to use, I have oddly now used almost every phone company in the UK. None are really honest or a pleasure to deal with, but Virgin’s deceit in this instance really takes the biscuit.
I will certainly make an effort to produce some cartoons about this at a later stage. (**22.11.15: now completed, see above for images of current board of directors) But now, I must board my flight! (I am NOT booked on a Virgin flight)