Vodafone #FAIL

powertoyouI wrote the other day about delighting your customers not just pleasing them. The focus was all about behaviours and leadership, not technology or social media tools (although all of those things are intertwined in so many ways).

“Delighting the customer” is a phrase foreign to Vodafone in the UK, if my recent experience is any guide. Indeed, for this mobile operator, giving the customer an expectation of only the bare minimum of service seems equally foreign.

To be fair, I know many who are delighted with Vodafone and its service. I don’t know how many of those delighted customers have used Vodafone’s customer support service, though. Right now, I am the opposite to my delighted friends – I’ve had an appalling experience with Vodafone this past week that, as I write this, is still only partially resolved.

I wrote a long email to Vodafone support today, and decided to publish the text here on my blog in the hope that such public transparency might help a conclusion arrive.

If you have comments, thoughts, ideas,etc, feel free to offer them, here or anywhere you prefer online, an offer I have also made to Vodafone.


[Update Sept 26: Also see the Updates at the end of the post.]

Dear Vodafone,

Today is one week since I upgraded an out-of-Vodafone-contract iPhone 3GS to a new Vodafone contract with an iPhone 4S, arranged in your Reading store. It’s also a week that we’ve had this phone sitting in its box, unable to be used: unable to make or receive phone calls, unable to send or receive text messages, and unable to synchronize the device with iTunes, install iOS6, use apps, etc.

In sum, we’re unable to enjoy the benefits of a device for which I paid an up-front sum and signed a contract on September 18 – when the meter started running, as it were, on the good and services you were to provide under the terms of the contract. As you have all my details, you’ll know the contract number, phone number, etc.

As our email correspondence, our exchanges on Twitter and a few telephone conversations make clear, the new microSIM card for the iPhone 4S was not properly activated in your store and attempts to activate it at home, following your website instructions, have failed. In one of our phone conversations last week, one of your team members did tell me that the SIM card was faulty, one of a batch that were faulty, and a replacement card would be sent. You’ll know from your records that this promise was made twice on different occasions.

So a full week has passed by without my wife being able to enjoy her new iPhone 4S. The replacement SIM card finally arrived in the post today; more on that in a minute.

It was when I spoke to someone in your 191 support service on September 18 after repeated and unsuccessful attempts to sync the iPhone 4S with an iTunes account and set it up with iTunes, that I learned that the SIM card that came with the phone hadn’t actually been activated in your store. It’s also when I learned that my online Vodafone account was not working correctly. In fact, your colleague told me that, for some reason, it had been set up as two accounts (I’ve only ever been able to see one and was totally unaware of another account). Might this explain why, when I did log in that day on your website prior to calling 191, I saw incorrect information about my two numbers on the Vodafone account that I know of?

Your colleague said that to fix the problem he would delete both accounts online; all I would need to do would be to register anew the primary phone number of the account and a new online account would be created.

And that is where what increasingly seems like a farce began.

However I try it on your website, I just get the same useless error message: “Unfortunately, your request cannot be processed.” That’s all, no solution offered or suggestions to try something else. The only response I received from one of your web team when I tweeted my frustration again today was “Have you tried in another browser?”

Your website www.vodafone.co.uk is appalling from a customer perspective. It’s always, without exception, a genuine pain using it whenever I have done so on many occasions over the past year and more. Slow loading, error messages like the one I mentioned, bits that always get a “Sorry the site is busy please try later” type of result when you click a link.

As I write this note, I still cannot log in to my online account. Every time I try, I get the unhelpful “Unfortunately, your request cannot be processed” error message. I spoke to a support representative today and mentioned this; albeit friendly and polite, his multi-response was astonishing:

  • “Our servers have been very busy because of the iPhone 5 launch”
  • “The server which has your account info is down as the moment and I can’t access any information”
  • “I can email you a PDF of your latest bill; what’s your email address?”
  • “It’s an IT issue and you should fill out the web form about it”
  • “Wait a while and try again at the end of the week”

Astonishing. So basically, I’m on my own with trying to sort this out. That’s customer service?

Let me go back to the SIM card, the replacement one that finally showed up in today’s post. The nice little “Ready to start?” activation-instruction card that came with the little “power to you” card in which was mounted the microSIM card directed me to vodafone.co.uk/microsimsupport where the advice was to “Log in to your account to activate your SIM.” Ha-ha, I thought, here we go!

But I clicked the link anyway – and got a new error message: “Unable to render /framework/skeletons/vodafoneDefault/head.jsp.” Boy, you do have trouble on your website.

So I called the 08700 number mentioned in the letter – nice of you to offer only a premium-rate number for this aspect of your customer service, very classy – where I spent around 15 minutes with the customer support chap I mentioned earlier. He was able to activate the SIM card. He told me to wait about 30 minutes before turning on the new iPhone 4S in order for the activation to be known in your system. It actually took nearly three hours before it kicked in, with the new 4S phone now working on your cellular network and the old 3GS one not any more.

So we finally have a working iPhone 4S!

But what a performance. A farce; I could even call it a comedy of errors when I think of your company, Vodafone. I will say, though, loud and clear, that every person in your company with whom I have spoken on the phone this past week has been polite, seemingly genuine in their apologies about things. Yet they are all without empowerment – completely powerless to quickly and decisively resolve this piddling little problem. It’s not even as if they have to go and talk to someone and get approval to do anything – although that may indeed be what they have to do – it’s simply that no one can offer any solution to my problems.

The best I can expect is knowing that tweeting your web team @VodafoneUK gets a result – meaning, a reply – whereas calling your call centre involves a huge amount of time on the phone, drilling through multiple menus and speaking to someone who, whilst polite, just has a script to follow with no empowerment to act outside the box or that script.

When I started writing this note, I’d decided that I would wash my hands of Vodafone, demand a refund of the money I paid for the iPhone 4S, get the codes I need to transfer all my numbers to another mobile operator, and request the immediate closure of my account.

Yet I hesitate as, in spite of this, I would like to stick with you – I’ve been a Vodafone customer in the UK and abroad since 1999, in some cases before you were called Vodafone – if you can do the following:

  1. Sort out my online account so I can use it.
  2. Restart my contract for the iPhone 4S from today September 25. Why should all this cost me a week?

If you can do that immediately – how about by EOB September 26 – then we might have a fresh start together.

I’d also like to hear from you with your comments, opinions, whatever, regarding what I’ve said in this note. Do you really care about your customers? Is all of this somehow my fault? Do you see me as unreasonable in asking you for help during this past week?

I want to share my feelings about this and about Vodafone with others on the social web, so I am posting the text of this email to you on my blog at nevillehobson.com. Do feel free to comment there if you feel inclined to.

Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards
Neville Hobson.

[Update: Sept 26 @ 10.30am] I’ve not yet heard back from Vodafone to my email yesterday apart from their system auto-response email saying they’d received it.

Meanwhile, my wife’s exploring her spiffy new 4S, marvelling mostly at how fast it is compared to her old 3GS and the better resolution screen!

A simple thing on an iPhone (indeed, on most smartphones in my experience) is setting or changing the SIM card password: on an iPhone 4S, you just go to Settings > Phone > SIM PIN, move the slider to ON if it says OFF, type in the current PIN and you’re set.

If you want to change your current PIN to a new one, you tap on ‘Change PIN,’ enter the current one, type in a new one twice and you’re done.

My wife wanted to set a PIN as she had on her 3GS. With a brand new Phone 4S, she assumed there was no PIN set, so she went that route and got the ‘Enter current PIN’ question. So she entered the one that she’d had on the 3GS. It didn’t work; she got down to ‘1 attempt remaining’ before I realized that there must be a default SIM password set by Vodafone and suggested she look online for info.

Trying to access help pages on Vodafone’s website was a disaster so we googled and found lots of reference to four zeros.

It looks as though that’s the default PIN code on all Vodafone SIM cards. But could we be certain that was the case, especially with the new microSIM cards in the latest iPhone models? And only one attempt left before you’d need a PUK code to unlock the phone (which you can get from your online account…and you know what my experience is with that)? The only way to be certain was to ask Vodafone.

A call to the 191 number, drill down the menus and I get a customer support guy. What surely should have been a simple dialogue (“Hi, what’s the default PIN for a new Vodafone microSIM on a new iPhone 4S? Is it 0000?” “Yep”) turned into something that lasted well over 15 minutes as the chap couldn’t find what he needed to know about my account. He went off to ask someone, I guess, and was then able to help.

He probably thought he was on the phone with the clueless customer of the year, but in the end, we got it sorted out and my wife now has her PINs done :)

I just hope I don’t have to call Vodafone 191 again.

[Update Sept 26 @ 6pm] I’m pleased to note that Vodafone got a grip of things this afternoon and, as I write these words, this has occurred since my earlier update:

  1. They’ve created a new online account which I can log into and register my phones. I did that just now. While the website itself really is flaky – why does it always take at least a minute and often more than three to load any content after you click anything? – it works.
  2. The start date for the iPhone 4S contract has moved to today. And, by way of apology, they’re giving me a month’s free account credit. A gesture, sure, but I’m happy with that. Indeed, it is the gesture that is important.

All of this was communicated to me in various phone calls I received from a very helpful lady at the Vodafone Directors Office in Stoke-on-Trent. She’ll email me confirming the details. which I expect to receive in the next day or so.

So all’s well that ends well. Broadly speaking.

I was curious about this “Directors Office.” What is it, I wonder? Is it singular or plural (I don’t sense an apostrophe anywhere)? The place where the C-suite lives (but surely that would be corporate HQ in Newbury)? Where you might find the boss of customer support?

I googled which turned up an interesting job vacancy on the Reed Careers site for a Customer Relations Team Leader in this Directors Office in Stoke.

The intro to the job description gives a glimpse into the department and what it does:

This is an exciting opportunity to join Vodafone UK in a Customer Relations Team Leader role within the Customer Relations department. The role is based at Vodafone’s office in Stoke. This role manages the department accountable for investigating, resolving and responding to customer complaints addressed to Vodafone Directors, in a way that protects Vodafone’s reputation, and ensures excellent customer experience. The role manages a team of 8 agents taking calls from escalated customers. These customers can be legal issues, consumer and corporate. It’s a team leader role like no other, its very high profile and will be dealing with senior stake holders, UK and Group Board level directors.

Bold text my emphasis, which illustrates an ambitious deliverable. I’d love to get some insight into how this department “protects Vodafone’s reputation, and ensures excellent customer experience.”

It’s also interesting to note that the job description goes into some detail about the qualities desired in the successful candidate including “experience of Ombudsman and regulatory complaint resolution”, “experience of managing clients with large and complex service requirements”, and “experience of delivering against challenging targets/ to tight deadlines/ to work under pressure.”

Wouldn’t it have been amazing to have also seen something like “knowledge and use of social media/social networks considered an asset” or “demonstrated success engaging and building a following in social media, with a voice and presence that is consistent with Vodafone’s values and culture”?

(I pinched those two ideas from a Salesforce.com job ad for a community manager – the one that also says a “Klout Score of 35 or higher” is a desired skill.)

In any case, one thing I understand from learning a bit about this Directors Office is that my poor experience over this past week surely isn’t unusual if Vodafone has a special department dealing with escalated customer complaints. I guess my email yesterday and it being published openly on my blog escalated things as it wasn’t until these two events happened that Vodafone made a move to resolve my issues today.

I’m not sure if or how it protects Vodafone’s reputation. Maybe that translates as I don’t say negative things online anymore, because I feel happier about Vodafone?. As for “ensures excellent customer experience,” not yet, Vodafone, you don’t get a result that easy.

What you’ve done today is address issues, fix some problems and say you’re sorry in a very traditional way. I appreciate it, thank you. Now we start afresh.

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. twitter_romk1n

    wow, they do usually fail with such things, but i found that when you email with WRT135 in subject – internet team from twitter and forums, they pretty good, they call you back and usually sort everything out.

  2. Dan Bowsher

    Hi Neville,

    Thank you for bringing your recent Vodafone experiences to our attention. I’d like to assure you this is clearly not the kind of experience we want any of our customers to have and we take customer feedback of this nature seriously.

    The root cause of the access problem with your online account was a system error. This has been fixed and it’s good to hear your new one is up and running. I’m also glad to hear the bill credit has been applied to your account and that your wife’s making the most of her new phone.

    I’m not going to fill this post with excuses for the situation you’ve experienced over the past week or so, but I do want you to know we are listening and working hard to minimise the chances of this happening again to you or any other customers. You took the time to give us a clear view of the issues and we’re looking into all of the points you raised with a view to taking short and long term measures to fix them.

    Now – to answer some of the specific points you raised in your last update. It’s standard practice to have a Directors’ Office or equivalent in a large organisation. Typically, our team there handles complex issues and matters which fall out outside of the scope of the regular customer service process.

    These matters form a very small proportion of the interactions we have with customers each day, but it’s important to have the Directors’ Office in place for such times.

    Regarding your comments on social media skills not being referenced in the job description for the role you’ve highlighted, it’s a fair point. As you know, we have a dedicated team providing customer service online, including community managers, and they work closely with the Directors’ Office and other parts of the business.

    Given the kind of matters that our Directors’ Office handle often involve dealing with customers ‘offline’, social media skills are not essential. However, an awareness and an appreciation of its role and workings certainly wouldn’t be frowned upon here or anywhere else in the organisation for that matter.

    We have an integrated approach to social media involving a number of departments across the business, allowing us to share skills, knowledge and ideas. The more people are involved with this, the better!


    Social Media Comms
    Vodafone UK

    • Neville Hobson

      Thanks for your comment, Dan, I appreciate it.

      One thing I do know is that Vodafone is one of the big UK companies who have people (like yourself) who do pay attention to the social web. It’s good to know and to see what such companies do when social channels form elements of their overall online presence and how they engage with customers and others online.

      Where it comes to naught is when breakdown experiences like mine this past week occur and when your social capital goodwill, so to speak, evaporates.

      I am satisfied with the outcome we’re at today, and impressed with the way in which your colleague in the Directors’ Office fixed all the problems in less than a day. The unfortunate reality now, in my view and based largely on the poor experienbce I’ve had, is that I expect something similar to happen again.

      I don’t mean the specifics of this incident, more the way in which a problem is addressed. Not addressed, in fact, due to the powerlessness of those within the organization to really solve customers’ problems.

      But I’m starting a fresh relationship with Vodafone. I’m not looking for problems by any means, just practicing a realistic, albeit a bit cynical, outlook.

      I just don’t relish the idea of calling 191 again or having to use the website.

      Thanks for the additional information about the Directors’ Office. And now I know there is an apostrophe ;)

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