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?

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. Wonderbra

    First of all i want to say that this is a brilliant post. Really its a great and timely reminder. This site is very nice link and the article are really amazing ! I’ll subscribe to your feed, thanks a bunch for sharing such an informative post with us. Keep blogging.

  2. Alex Brown


    Thanks for the feedback, which we’re taking on board. The Twitter team (or ‘tweam’ as we call them) were updating customers this morning as always, but a bit busy.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to do this.


    Alex Brown
    Senior Product Manager, Internet Products
    Virgin Media

  3. neville

    Alex, thanks for commenting here. Only now have I seen your comment: been a bit tied up with connectivity issues most of today.

    I really do wish I could say “thanks, no problem, appreciate your comment.” I do appreciate it but my experience this afternoon – after publishing this post – is the stuff of seriously horrific nightmares.

    I must have spent a total of over three hours on the phone (including ages getting to know some pretty awful hold music on 150) to five different people via your 150 number, right up until 8.30pm tonight – and my problems is still not resolved.

    The cause seems to stem from someone in your company who enabled my pending 20-meg to 50-meg upgrade, scheduled for October 10, today. As all your support people have told me this afternoon, when that happens and you don’t have the right modem, things won’t work properly.

    Today’s conclusion is that the service has been downgraded back to 20 megs, the upgrade cancelled (the only way to do the downgrade, they told me) and things still not working properly.

    I’ve lost huge amounts of time today so have no time right now to go into more detail (my tweets dureing today will give you a good picture). It would be nice to receive a call from someone at Virgin Media tomorrow who has a solution. Is that likely to happen?

    Forgive me if my experience so far doesn’t fill me with much encouragement.

  4. Jas Dhaliwal

    For @Alex at Virgin Media.

    As a 50MB broadband and cable customer myself, I find Neville’s experiences deeply disturbing to read. Your ‘tweam’ may be busy answering customer’s queries. However, the upgrade process to 50MB leaves a lot to be desired.

    I love the service Virgin Media provides, very little down time during the year. However, the experience of dealing with the customer service team is bad. Is the only way to get a satisfactory result, to threaten to leave?

    Indeed, during my own rare experience with customer services, the was the only way I could get a satisfactory result was to threaten to leave.

    I do hope you take on Neville’s comments, and work with your teams to provide, a clear and consistent level of support to ‘we’ your customers. The upgrade process is broken when you assume that we are happy to wait for a time to suit you.

    Be proactive, reach out to us and let’s work together to help improve your processes. If not, you’ll find more blog posts like this. An apology would be a good start to start the conversation, don’t you think?

    Jas Dhaliwal

  5. Alex Brown

    Jas / Neville

    Thanks for the comments and apologies for the hassle you’ve experienced.

    If you want to contact us via the Twitter team ( with some details we’ll get on the case and resolve your issues.

    Many thanks


    Alex Brown
    Senior Product Manager, Internet Products
    Virgin Media

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