Customer service in the age of the retweet

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?

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