It takes more than gestures to deliver amazing customer service

It makes a nice change to have my expectations about Virgin Media exceeded.

Mind you, those expectations were pretty low so it didn’t take much – just a phone call.

I got that call last Thursday morning from a supervisor in Virgin Media’s tech support. His name is David. I don’t know his last name. No one at Virgin Media support gives out their last names or a phone number. Probably not hard to guess why.

Anyway, David and I had a pleasant chat about my poor experiences with Virgin Media broadband tech support over the past two months.

He was sympathetic to the concerns I expressed about the hurdles and hoops you have to jump whenever you have outage issues such as I’ve experienced and then have to deal with their 25p-a-minute tech support phone system.

Sympathy isn’t the same as empathy but I guess it’s the best I could expect. He did tell me that my account would get a refund for the downtime I’d experienced plus a payment of £20.

It’s not about the money, as I told him, although a financial gesture is welcome nevertheless.

This morning, a Virgin Media engineer showed up as arranged to take a look at the cable modem and run some tests.

His tests showed some interesting things re the broadband network. A bit too hi-tech for me, though – to do with signal latency and speed which was about 16, he said, when it should have been about 10. Nothing to do with internet speed, he added.

He replaced the modem and added an attenuator to it. So one of the first things I did was run a speed check which produced this result:


That’s actually more or less in line with results I’ve seen from the previous and occasional tests I do at places like Of course, speeds can and often do vary enormously depending on all sorts of factors outside your own control.

But at least we know the new cable modem works fine.

So I’m feeling a bit more positive about Virgin Media, mostly because I got a phone call last Thursday.

Yet it leaves me wondering what Virgin Media’s goals are in terms of customer service.

David may or may not be a typical Virgin Media tech support supervisor. His approach and manner were disarmingly positive and helpful. In fact, my experiences so far with his company’s phone support indicate he’s definitely not typical.

And the engineer (whose name I didn’t get). A pleasant and knowledgeable guy and the second Virgin Media engineer I’ve met. Both professional and knowledgeable and able to sort out problems.

But how does Virgin Media really want to engage with their customers? Do they even want to do that? Is insisting on speaking to a supervisor all the time the only way you can get satisfaction?

According to their website, when you become a Virgin Media customer, this is what happens:

[…] we promise you’ll be getting the best technology, great value and amazing customer service.

I have no disagreement with the first two, but "amazing customer service"? Definitely not if you ever have to phone Virgin Media tech support at 25p per minute.

A hollow and empty promise, in my experience.

So this gives me an opportunity to mention again the Social Customer Manifesto:

The trouble is, Virgin Media is just a spectator.

Related posts:

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. John O

    It is ironic that you’ve backed up your own prejudiced view that Virgin Media made a “hollow and empty promise” with a whole article full of evidence to the contrary. It seems some people can never be pleased. Even with huge, visible improvements, you now want Virgin Media to change their past too.

  2. PaulSweeney

    A couple of things occur to me here: (1) an outbound phone call to you had such a positive impact (2) “knowing” is important to you (i.e. measurable broadband performance (3) “professionalism”, (and I don’t think its a mistake that was the engineers. Last point first: I think engineers think of themselves as having a high level of identity with the profession as opposed to the company. As an engineer, they believe that they have some kind of competence responsibility. Secondly, customers tend to like knowing that they are in a logical problem solving process, because this is more likely to result in a resolution. Good problem definition, based on measurables, preferably visually represented, give you the feeling of a “common ground” from which this resolution can be built. Thirdly, if the company phones you it is an explicit statement that your problem IS important, so important that we are contacting you, not the other way around. The fact that they charge you for your technical support (in reality) indicates that you are nothing but a commodity, and we do not want to interact with you, because you have no future value add to us. How hard would it be to email customers in low broadband performance areas and give them the statistics PLUS the applied discount PLUS a click to call option if they want to know more?

  3. neville

    It all sounds so simple, Paul, doesn’t it? How hard could it be to do such as you suggest? Obviously very hard indeed for Virgin Media.

    A ‘prejudiced view,’ John? A subjective one, perhaps, based on my own experiences, but prejudiced? I don’t think so.

    And what are those ‘huge, visible improvements’ you mention? I see no evidence of that.

  4. PaulSweeney

    Well, your opening sentence gave me the impression that it was an improvement on an existing expectation of customer service! Also, as an additional element to the comment we should remember that they have, in some way, broken your trust, so they have to be truly exceptional to win that back. Everything they do will be viewed through this perspective of broken trust.

  5. MikeTheBee

    John O must have had better service from the ‘new NTL’ than I have received.

    I had great hopes for NTL under Virgin ownership and was persuaded to try and re-add the telephone service that had never worked since it was installed by NTL two years ago.

    It was not a good experience. I was away for 2 weeks after the re-installation, I made and rcvd no calls, but the day after I made the first call ( to customer service to ask what tariff I was on, they not communicated at all after the engineer came ) I got a stream of automated sales calls from all and sundry, not Virgin. ( one started, “Have you recently been bereaved…” I put the phone down at that point) So I rang CS and they said “That sometimes happens”. I rang again as the bill was wrong when I rcvd it (charged for the re-installation, when I wastold it was free), they said “that happens, we will credit you next month.”

    Then I got a call from someone identifying themselves as a Virgin Rep (which I tried to verify) saying I could have TV service for only £47. I said every bus stop in the area has an advert saying get “4 for £40” the 4 being BB,TV,phone,and mobile, so why would I pay £47 for 3.?
    The rep said she was not in the UK, and was working for a 3rd party subcontractor to Virgin. She told me that I was already paying £35, and £47 was a good price. I told her that I was not paying £35, but much less than that, and the phone then went dead.

    I don’t know that she was from Virgin, but she had my account details. She was very aggressive and I feel even more poorly inclined toward Virgin after her call.

    As Neville says when buying a service one should not have to spend hours on the phone to “get it straight”, it is inefficient for the Company and the customer.

    I say to all companies “Just set expectations, meet them and if you can’t COMMUNICATE!”

    Phew, that feels better.

  6. neville

    That’s quite a tale, Mike. All I ever hear from anyone who’s had to call Virgin Media support are horror stories.

    Doesn’t give you any confidence at all.

  7. Jake


    I knew I shouldn’t, I’d heard hundreds of tales of woe, but I did it. I switched to Virgin Media.

    My main reason for switching to digital TV was because the aerial reception in our home is atrocious – boosters etc simply make no difference. Virgin was the only option, because I didn’t want a satellite dish on the front of our Victorian terrace house.

    Anyway – my expections were dashed early on, when (having taken the morning off work at my expense) the installation engineer turned up late, and was then unable to install the telephone line. Broadband and TV work fine, though. “Okay”, I thought; “My ADSL line still works, I’ll stick with that until they can fix it”.

    A further installation date was scheduled for a weekend. A Saturday afternoon. I was impressed. “Finally, they’re making an effort” I thought.

    Until it reached 7pm and no-one had arrived.

    After speaking with nine different people (I counted them) I was told that the visit had been cancelled. I asked why. They said they didn’t know. I asked for a supervisor to call me back. They said someone would call within an hour.

    Needless to say, no-one called, so I telephoned again that evening. This time I was transferred through eight people, before being promised a callback the following day.

    No callback.


    Then I called again. I stayed on the line for 27 minutes, while a very nice young man named Manoj adamantly promised a supervisor would call be back, and promised that the cost of the telephone service would be credited to my account until such time as it was reinstated.

    Amazingly, Manoj called me back, and told me it took 24h to register a request for a callback to arrange another installation. He promised someone would call back the next day. This was 4 December 2007.

    I am still waiting.

    I had a reminder letter asking me to sign the contract and send it back. Not on your nellie, buckeroo! Provide me with the service I’ve paid for, and then I’ll think about it.

    I’m seriously considering cancelling the direct debit, but don’t want to risk the harm it could do to my credit rating.

    Oh well – looks like I’ve got to spend yet more money calling them again, and got to take yet another day off work, at my expense, before they can be bothered to actually provide me with the service I’ve paid for.

    And who said British customer service was dead?

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