Customer disservice from Virgin Media

Technical stuff

I thought I was over writing posts about ineffective customer service, the kind of thing that was pretty common four or five years ago.

The type of customer service that revolves around call centres and staff that, while friendly and polite enough, either couldn’t move outside their scripted processes, and/or didn’t have accurate information, and/or different call centre people had conflicting information.

The type of poor customer service from Virgin Media that I’ve written about in the past. (There’s worse if you remember Virgin Media’s predecessor incarnation, NTL, and ntl:hell from the early 00s.)

Sadly not the case as far as my experience with Virgin Media yesterday and today is concerned. And, equally sadly, it seems the scripted responses have now made it to their Twitter account.

  • Incidentally, if this type of content in my blog isn’t of interest to you, then please by all means choose something else to read or share. Might I suggest “Instagramming NYFW,” looking at what fashion brands are doing with Instagram and some great ideas for marketers.

Here’s a concise chronological timeline of what happened yesterday:

  1. On May 16, broadband internet and cable TV services went offline at about 3pm according to my wife. She called Virgin Media’s 150 support number and, summarizing it all, she was told that: a) there’s a service fault in our postcode area, b) engineers are working on fixing it, and c) full service will be back but potentially not until about 11pm.
  2. I got home at about 6.30pm – still no TV or broadband. I called 150 to get an update.
  3. I drilled down the voice response menu system and chose ‘TV fault’ – there is not a choice to talk to a single person about faults on more than one service.
  4. The service agent I speak to is polite and helpful; he asks me to reboot the V+ box which I do. TV screen then says ‘digital TV service will start soon’ or words like that. Agent tells me all will be fine in a few minutes. But those few minutes turn into six minutes or so: clearly something’s not right.
  5. Agent agrees and tells me he’ll book an engineer to come on Monday, between 8am and midday. He says the service may be offline until then, but the engineer will fix things. He asks me for my mobile number, saying the engineer will text me on Monday morning to say what time he’ll be here. And if service does come back before then, would I call and cancel the engineer (which I agreed to do). He then offers to transfer me to someone I can talk to about the lack of broadband service.
  6. So I get another service agent, equally polite and friendly, to whom I recount the story once more. He asks me to restart the Virgin Media superhub modem, which I do. To no avail – not all lights light up and the agent says he can see on his screen that no internet service is reaching my property. So he says the engineer who’s coming on Monday will fix it.

And that was that. A weekend awaiting us with no broadband internet and no cable TV. We have alternatives if we choose, eg, mobile phones that can act as modems, Freeview TV and, of course, an extensive DVD and Blu-ray library.

But when I awoke this morning, I saw the broadband service was up and running again, as was the cable TV. Hooray! I thought about cancelling the engineer’s visit for Monday so I logged in to my account on the Virgin Media website.

And see straightaway that no engineer is booked!

You don't have any engineer appointments

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100Mbps is great but it’s not just about content consumption

superhubHigher-speed broadband arrived at my house this week when Virgin Media flipped the switch to deliver over 100Mbps download speed via a fibre-optic cable connection, doubling the 50-60Mbps I’ve been enjoying for the past few years.

I knew this was coming as I’d had to upgrade the cable modem last month to Virgin’s Media’s Superhub – an attractive bit of kit (made by Netgear, incidentally) that incorporates a wireless router – in preparation for the higher speed.

Setting it up was a breeze, so I’ve been ready for the ‘ton’ of speed for some weeks now.

So what does a download speed of 100Mbps give me? According to Virgin Media:

[…] A fast and seamless experience for the whole household. Connect all your computers, smartphones, tablets and games consoles to one secure, superfast home network.

Up to 100Mb is 9 times faster than the UK average broadband speed, allowing you to download an entire music album in just six seconds, a TV show in 30 seconds and a movie in just 90 seconds.

Sounds good!

One of the first things I did following the switchover was run a network speed test from the desktop PC into which the cable from the modem connects, using That one test showed a download speed of 104Mbps. Terrific!


But take a look at the upload speed. Just 4.86Mbps. That’s pretty miserable, hardly an improvement on what I had before.

Why is upload speed important? The way I see it in simple terms, the faster the speed, well, the quicker you can upload content, eg, audio podcast MP3 files as I do from time to time. They’re not huge files by any means, certainly not compared to video.

Yet wouldn’t you think that the upload speed should have increased at least in proportion to the doubling of the download speed? Virgin Media says speed matters although they only talk about download speed.

Does the pitiful comparative upload speed suggest that Virgin Media thinks all anyone will do is consume content? Just download it, whether that means actually downloading a music album, a TV show, a movie or streaming content, doing all the to-ing and fro-ing that you do online without thinking about how it’s working?

Increasingly, though, people are creating and sharing content, not only simple stuff like Facebook posts, tweets and blog posts but also richer content like YouTube video.

It’s a question I asked Virgin Media’s tweeters. Here’s what they said:

No indicator of when, but, ok, Virgin Media, I’ll wait. Hope it goes up before 120Mbps download arrives

Related posts:

Customer service in the age of the retweet

virginmediasorry Virgin Media’s major service outage this morning reminded me how things have actually changed for the better with this company, certainly in my experience as a customer.

Not only has their cable broadband internet service vastly improved in uptime and overall reliability compared to a few years ago but also their customer service, broadly speaking, is better than I remember. I certainly wouldn’t anticipate writing rants like this one again, or this one.

Overall, I’m pleased with the service I get for my money which, in addition to broadband internet – which I’m upgrading soon to their super-fast 50-meg service – now includes landline phone and basic TV. Good products and reliable service at great prices, that’s my experience over the past year or so.

Yet when an outage like today’s occurs – a serious one, not the hour or two internet connectivity downtime that does happen from time to time – your first port of call tends to be customer support, the 150 phone number  – and unfortunately that’s an area where Virgin Media need to make some significant improvements.

I noticed no net connection before 7am this morning. So I called 150, drilled down through the various menus and heard the most poorly-articulated recording ever, at a volume so low I could not understand a word. I then got through to a chap in tech support.

What a miserable fellow he seemed to be! Mumbled, I could hardly hear him. I felt almost embarrassed in saying “Sorry, I can’t hear what you’re saying, would you mind repeating that?” On reflection, maybe that’s the state a Virgin Media tech support chap gets to after fielding God knows how many calls asking the same questions.

What he told me, though was interesting which, as far as I can recall from his mumbling, went like this:

The whole network is down. There might be news at about 9 if you call back then.

That’s as I recall his words (if they recorded my call, they’ll know for certain). Now that’s pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t you say?

When I did call again, at about 9.30am, I couldn’t even get to any menus: there was just a recording which, after playing, disconnected the line (I commented on that 150 recording in an Audioboo in which I included the actual recorded message).

So if Twitter was any indicator this morning, all you could see was a ton of comment from people like me with no connectivity, loads from others saying they had connectivity, all spiced up with opinion from yet others recounting previous awful customer service experiences with Virgin Media, nothing to do with today’s outage.

No words you could believe in from Virgin Media. I realize this is about fast-moving events – they undoubtedly want to fix the problem asap – yet it’s also about helping people understand what’s going on, especially in this age of instant retweets and the rapid, almost light-speed, dissemination of information and opinion online.

So for the next time, my 0.02 of advice, Virgin Media, is this:

  1. Make sure whoever is at your end of 150 is comfortable and confident enough to know what to say to a customer and how to say it.
  2. Gear up the tweeters on your @VirginMedia Twitter account by ensuring they have enough and accurate information to address ad hoc commentary like mine and others. You want us to retweet good things, not negatives that others will further retweet.
  3. Do whatever it takes to ensure your service status page on the web is accessible no matter what, even if your main site goes down as it did today. Offer a version of the page formatted for mobile devices. And do make sure that the service status page has meaningful and accurate information. If you do that, I’m sure you’ll lessen calls to 150.

What other related advice would you give to Virgin Media?