customer service

First serious posting for a while and it’s got to be a rant hasn’t it?  I just thought I’d share a few recent examples of what we amusingly call customer service – the way that companies treat you especially when things go wrong. That said it’s not all bad; just almost all. First things first, we recently moved to a new place in Teddington in SW London. It’s rented again ( I doubt we’ll ever be able or indeed wish to buy a property in  the UK again), and as the landlord didn’t really want to have a satellite dish on the roof we decided to get get a bundled deal for tv, broadband and phone line through Virgin Media’s cable service, as the previous tenants had done. Have you ever sampled the Virgin Media service installation and after sales care experience? It is almost as impressive as Gordon Brown’s handwriting.

It all started happily. The installation guy turned up within a few hours of his ETA on our first day in the new house. He started working on the phone connection (and please bear in mind that all he had to do was re-connect the service from the previous occupiers) whilst I got on with getting the new TV set unpacked and assembled. He proudly announced after a few minutes that the phone line was working AOK – I had no reason to question him, after all he was a qualified telecom engineer I thought and he got on with getting the TV working. Meantime I took the new BT telephone handset out of its package (fully compatible with Virgin Media) and got it plugged in so it could charge up – it would need several hours of charging the instructions said. Sigh. The TV burst into life – woo hoo – so he proceeded get the broadband line working. He asked what computer equipment we had – I told him an Apple macbook and desk top which caused him to sigh and ask if we had anything else. ‘Strangely no’, I said. ‘We only have the two pieces which we find sufficient for the two of us’. He harumphed a bit and with a huge blue lead connected up the mac laptop to the router/modem kit he’d brought in. The main broadband cabling was already in place. We actually hadn’t unpacked the desk-top by this stage but when I asked about this he said the wireless facility would be activated as soon as we installed the software onto both pieces of kit. Apparently Virgin don’t install the wireless bit – they leave you a CD to self-activate it. When you are a paid-up member of the Luddite Party like me, this wasn’t welcome news. He dashed off inside half an hour of arriving despite my but…but…but…protestations. Ah well the stuff was all working so why worry?

I had a quick wazz with the TV controller. The TV was fine although it became apparent that many of the ‘free’ channels available on Sky eg Paramount Comedy weren’t available on our VM package. Umm never mind. I tried the phone but it didn’t work – clearly the new handset hadn’t been sufficiently charged as yet (or so I thought).  The laptop worked fine but we were physically limited by the umbilical link into the flashing lights kit under the desk. I called my son-in-law who agreed to come over to install the wireless software etc in a couple of days. Good old E.

Next day we tried the phone again figuring the brand new handset would be fully charged by now. Nada, nothing, nowt. A non-operational pile of BT crap. Then C noticed from the instructions that it might take 24 hours for the phone’s batteries to charge up effectively. A day later we tried again and still nothing. For frig’s sake. We called VM and they scheduled a guy to come round in a couple of days. They suggested that it was almost certainly a handset problem. Umm. The guy turned up 48 hours later. He was an ex-BT guy who’d taken a package like me to leave, so we had something in common and over a cup of tea the reality dawned. It transpired that the fuc*kwit installer had only tested the line to the outside box. The VM line into the house was useless and wouldn’t have worked if we’d had the handset on charge for a million years. As it happened the handset (and separate BT line/junction point) was perfectly fine so I couldn’t even blame the old company. He replaced the VM line and inside box and told me that the installer guys weren’t VM employees as such, just resourced-in guys who worked piece-meal – they needed to sign-off dozens of jobs each day to get the on-target wages. So the quality control was laughable. It’s not reassuring news for a new customer is it? Ah well I liked his honesty and the phone was now working and I had secured a rebate for the lost service.

Son-in-law E came to install the wireless software. That’s when we found it wasn’t Apple compatible – it only worked for PCs. Oh for fuc*’s sake. E managed to find an over-air version which he downloaded, then got the laptop and desk-top to work wirelessly. I couldn’t have done this if I’d tried for 1000 years. Ah well, at last we now had the  full monty of VM’s services working – tv, phone and broadband. Except that the wireless service suddenly  disappeared after a few days. I called the VM customer service line many times and eventually got through to an agent who told me that VM had a lot of problems working with Apple kit (!) – strangely they didn’t mention that when we enquired about the service (you sense that this might be a problem they ought to address given that I’m told that there are a few other users of Apple computers in the London and SE region, especially amongst high-spending creative agencies/consultancies etc). Anyway she got me working by hooking up to the modem using the ethernet line again which meant we’d lost wireless  access. A few days later we’d lost the service altogether. Sigh.

I called the help-line several times to try and get the problem resolved only to be patronised endlessly – ‘try swapping the ends of the cable around’, ‘have you put the cable in the modem or in the router – they are different you know!’, ‘have you tried switching the computer off and on?’. At this point I lost it and started to rant like Victor Meldrew with piles. I eventually found a helpful soul who promised a further rebate and that an VM engineer (not a freelance installer) would turn up inside the next 48 hours. I was scheduled to head back to Italy the following day but C would be around during that period – albeit at work during the day. He took a note of C’s mobile number  – her office is a 5-10 minute walk away – and she could easily pop back to let the engineer in. Of course C got a call the next evening to say that  VM would be charging us a fee for wasted call-out as we weren’t at home as promised. C went loopy with them and asked why they hadn’t called her mobile as agreed. Sheepishly it was later admitted that the engineer  hadn’t read the second page of instructions with the mobile contact on. The engineer was re-scheduled for the following day – he turned up and got the broadband working again (hard-wired not wireless of course) by admitting that the power loading for the cable was heavier than normally acceptable for good service.

We still have no wireless service so the laptop isn’t functioning. It’s a real pain-in-the-arse. I’m so tempted to try out BT again but can’t bring myself to do it given the way they’ve dicked me about over my consultancy services in the last couple of years. I suppose there’s always Talk Talk but I’m told that if anything, its customer service is worse than Virgin Media’s. Unbelievable. Why is it so frigging hard to get decent service from the comm’s companies? Maybe because they are all too busy trying to pinch truckloads of customers from each other with ‘great deals’ instead of focusing on getting things 100% right first time with each new customer.

But it’s not just the utilities who are crap. We recently bought a large wooden train track on a raised base for our youngest grandson G who is nuts on Thomas the Tank Engine and his many wooden mates. It came in a huge box which we bought from Toys R Us store situated across the north circular from the dreaded Brent Cross shopping complex. I hadn’t expected to be back there so soon (fortunately the trip by car this time was less traumatic). We got it home and I spent hours assembling the base and track layout in preparation for a visit from out grandkids. It was around 2am when I discovered that there was a piece of wooden track missing  – a short straight piece measuring about 4” long. One piece out of around 1000 bits!  Sigh. Next morning I headed to our few local toy shops to see if any of them had any spare track parts (it’s all based on the Brio track system) but none of them sold spare bits. I was really not wanting to traipse around the north circ again back to TRUs but as I was heading into central London for some other shopping I thought I’d pop in to Hamley’s – one of the world’s best toy shops (they say) – as they’d almost certainly have some bits. I hadn’t been there for years and years and these days it’s staffed by a bunch of bored, unhelpful, disinterested kids. I headed for the right department, found the Brio track area and rooted around for a box of bits containing my missing piece. I found boxes containing long straight bits, short and longer curved bits and bits which sloped up/down. But not one box containing a short straight piece, apart from one which was a compendium box with over 100 pieces priced at nearly £30. I found this 17 year old fuc*wit member of staff and explained the situation. I didn’t mind forking out for a small box of spare bits of track but £30 was a bit steep for a 4” section. I thought he might offer to check the storeroom or something more imaginative, like offer me a piece of the shop display stuff. Nah. All he could say was ‘you’ll have to come back in few weeks time when the new stock arrives’. Yeh I’m sure my 2 year old grandson will understand why his granddad cannot make his Thomas track complete. ‘No kids eh son?’ was my grumpy response and I headed out of the shop.

I thought this was supposed to be the UK’s mother of all toy shops. Sigh. Next day I was heading down to Brighton and knowing there was a branch of Toys R Us there popped in, explained that I’d bought this track from another store but was disappointed to find a critical piece missing. The young shop manager asked to see the receipt of course but, satisfied that I wasn’t spoofing, called one of her colleagues to bring a new great big box down. When it arrived she proceeded to open it all up and after 10 minutes or so searching through the 100’s of bits we found the missing piece which she gave me and apologised for causing me such inconvenience. I was gob-smacked to be honest. I asked her what she would do with the now-opened box with 999 parts and a critical piece missing. She simply replied that it would go back to the suppliers with a stroppy note saying that they’d better get their quality control on packing sorted out. Blimey. Good on yer girl. Now that was more like it – customer service that actually means something to the company. And I’m writing to tell you about how good they are. This stuff matters.



5 thoughts on “customer service

  1. Hi PP

    Like you (and indeed in common with E) I rocked up to my father-in-laws at the weekend to set up his newly purchased PC onto his newly commissioned broadband service – emboldened as I was with my recent experience of setting up my new BT wireless modem and router (I had actually managed to configure a laptop, two desktops and an X-Box 360 all within the space of an hour and a half).

    Phrases such as “piece of pi$$”, and “we’ll be down the pub celebrating within 30 minutes” rolled easily off of my tongue as I stepped through the door. The wording on the VM leaflet should have warned me that I was in for the long haul. “We welcome you to our braodband service and can assure you that the router is already pre configured for you, so that simply you plug it into the phone line and your PC to be instantly connected to the internet”.

    Look I know now that I should have been more wary, but it’s easy to be wise after the event. All I thought about was how many beers my invoice would be, and the the pub had a new guest beer on, Spitfire from Shepherd Neame (lovely!).

    Having simply follwed the instructions in the glossy VM pamphlet, the broadband light failed to stay alight and merely blinked on and off, whilst any attempt to connect to the internet came up with a panel saying that no DSL line activity was evident. Oh f@*k!

    “Let’s call the installation’Priority’ helpdesk” I said “VM is such a people friendly company that they’ll surely know what is happening”.

    So I called, went through the “press 1 for complaints, press 2 for sales, press 3 for tracking progress on orders, press 4 for help on splitting the atom…… press 143 for help installing new equipment” hurrah.

    The, just to show how carring VM are I get a message that there is a long queue at the present time in excess of 15 minutes, so I might like to e-mail them (how the f@8k is anyone experiencing difficulties in getting connected going to e-mail them? Then……..then the bit I find hardest to deal with, I get the option of what kind of hold music I want “press 1 for classical, press 2 for inie/rock, press 3 for pop…… ” surely this is madness, they have invested money in managing their customers experience of queuing as a business process. This means they always have queuing other wise why bother.

    I waited listening to pop (even though I clearly said I wanted rock) for 45 minutes, and didn’t get a chance to talk to any one. So, we went to the pub, and I had to buy my own beer. Branson you ba$tard I thought.

    Next day, a Sunday, I called at 7:30 in the morning….. repeat of Saturday experience, another 45 minutes but had to wait until pub opened to get calm.

    This continued all last week, with both me and my father-in-law trying to surprise the helpdesk at all hours of day and night – but no luck. he finally cracked on Thursday and wrote a strongly worded letter to the MD and expects a call back. That’s the problem with having lived in an age when customer service actually meant something, I know his letter will end up in a bin.

    VM are sh1t. There is no other comment worth making. He has cancelled his subscription as his only recourse to getting soemone to speak to him.

    How difficult is this? Creat a product with appeal (well done Virgin for that one), make sure it works, has some reilience and clear ways to help your self through any minor irritations (Oh dear Virgin not so good there) and make sure that if anyone has to contact you that you answer them 9 times out of ten (Virgin you are complete cows ar$es).

    Having a problem isn’t the end of the world, however, not being able to pasify an upset subscriber who wants nothing more than what they have paid for is the death knell for any company.

    I hyave friends who work for Virgin, and called them to try to get some help, and even they said, “you’ll be lucky”, so even their own staff don’t have any faith. And these were ex-Telewest employees, you know the ones whose customer service was akin to the public face of Attilla the Hun.

    Sorry, to bang on PP, but your tale of woe touched a nerve. Now where’s Bransons house in Kidlington…… I think he may need a good proctologist to get his router back from where I’m going to shove it.

    Toodle pip


  2. Ha! nice end line cc and good to hear from you as ever.

    there you go; it isn’t just me then. they really are a pile of crap and it’s hugely disappointing because you and i both know the guys who set up the virgin mobile thing, which became virgin media when they fused with our old friends at telewest. where have all the people gone who cared about this sort of thing?

    it is sad that we can’t seem to get any of this right these days. i absolutely hate having to chase people to get them to make something work as it was described on the tin when we bought it. and then they try and fob you off and a simple phone call turns into a ranting session. i always have an argument now. it’s so unnecessary. anyway hope all’s well cc.

  3. Hi PP

    Latest update.

    I sent a mail to the new MD at Virgin Broadband, Jon James as follows;

    “Good Morning Jon

    Apologies for contacting you directly, but I really could do with some help which will preserve what little sanity life has left me.

    You see, the problem is my father-in-law; or more specifically his new Virgin Broadband service.

    He signed up over the phone for the service a few weeks ago, and I went to commission his connection last week.

    As his PC was previously owned by Noah, I took him gently by the wallet to Staples and we purchased a new glossy Compaq Desktop – his new pride and joy.

    I plugged his Thompson (supplied by Virgin Braodband in its impressive pack) router together with power, DSL cable via the cable dongle from his phone socket, and ethernet cable to the PC – simples!

    The power light sparked up, the ethernet glowed into a reassuring green, then the wireless light came on and we waited for broadband, then internet then surfing the BBC gardening website if full glorious colour.

    Unfortunately, our experience got only as far as the flashing of the broadband light (at a rate of 2Hz the helpful troubleshooter page told us, which is nice). The internet light stayed stubbornly off.

    I read again his letter which said he now had a service, and confirming his payments, then back at the steady blink of the broadband light – and do you know what? Right I’m thinking that this isn’t the experience you would hope for in the case of a new customer, fresh from 50 years of loyal service to BT.

    So, we called the helpline…… after 45 miniutes of hold music of our choice (now there’s one which I can’t figure, are you seriously saying that you expect customers to hold as part of your process and therefore have invested money in a bespoke music on hold service. Now colour me pink and call me Nancy, but isn’t this a bit of lop sided business thinking? I would have thought that you would have benefited from investing in ways to reduce the number of folk who call you, and deal speedily and efficiently with those who do, so that they remain loyal and have fab and groovy thoughts about the Virgin brand rather than a gnawing desire to have a proctologist retrieve your products from within you!)

    We have kept calling the help line, at all hours of the day and night, often trying to surprise them, you know when they least expect it. But after 5 days of this it became clear that despite getting pop when I clearly asked for rock on my customer interface customiser, we weren’t going to get to speak to anyone.

    So, bless him, my father-in-law has written to you, in the false but endearing hope that an angry letter to the MD will get him a response. Well he does read the Daily Telegraph.

    I therefore throw myself upon your mercies, and ask you to nudge a coherent member of your customer services team to call this poor chap and help him;

    a) Get his service on line and working
    b) Manage his expectations of the service
    c) Place a reality check on his view of the modern world of faceless corporations

    It really would mean so much for the ongoing mental status of him, his long suffering wife, his three kids, his three grandchildren and the locals within the Three Tuns pub who have tried to talk him back in off of the window ledge over the weekend.

    Make it happen Jon, please, for the love of a good man and his family – you know you have the power.”

    AND I got a reply, promising action from a named contact – even included a mobile number. My faith is restored.

    Just hope the bloody thing works now!


  4. well done mate, nicely crafted. let’s hope the guy turns up and sorts it soon (we’re still without wireless access!). let us know.

    interestingly have just had another experience. around 4-5 years ago i was bought a top of the range sony camera which cost nearly £500. you’d expect it to last right? but recently (and of course we’re way outside the standard warranty period) the telescopic lens mechanism has started playing up, taking several goes before it disappears back into the body of the camera when shutting down. then last week it refused to move altogether.

    so today i took it back to a sony shop and showed it to the sneering young sales assistant who took one look at it and said he could send it back for checking but that it would cost a minimum charge of £189 and no guarantee that the problem could be solved or warrantied afterwards. he casually added that he’d much rather sell me a new camera for £50 less. yes i’m sure you would mate because then you’d earn a commission instead of trying to help a loyal customer who’s been buying sony products for many years.

    i asked him if that’s the best he could offer – i simply junk my existing camera and buy a new one. it reminded of the the sony tv we bought for the staggering sum of £2000 about 6 years ago whose screen became smoke burned after a couple of years. we’d taken out an extended warranty fortunately (ha!) which allowed us a replacement which by that stage was costing around £700. however we were still liable to pay the outstanding balance on the £2000 despite everyone agreeing that the original tv set was a pile of crap. i swore never to take out extended warranties after that.

    so when the assistant in the shop told me the camera was really old-fashioned now (oh the embarrassment of a 4 year old piece of technology) and that we’d be better getting something slimmer and neater than faffing around trying to fix the old camera, i told him (in front of a crowd of customers) that i thought sony’s after sales care was lamentable and that i’d just decided that i’d never buy a piece of sony equipment again. a couple of folks shouted ‘well said’ as the young, indifferent sales guy just shrugged. so i left.

    it must be me i think….

  5. Pingback: another milestone « Pasta Paulie

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