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.

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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

“Wtf?” is my first thought.

Then emotional logic took hold and I thought about getting hold of someone at Virgin Media that I can “Wtf?” with. Someone not via 150. So I tweet.

That latter tweet produced this response from Virgin Media –

Cute, I thought.

Either the tweeter didn’t see the earlier tweets, chose to ignore them or was just in marketing mode because I’d tweeted about high broadband speeds. Yet they’re using Lithium Social Web to track and manage conversations so I can’t imagine they’re as disconnected as they seem.

Virgin Media - Lithium Social Web

In subsequent tweets, I hoped to get a simple answer –

No such luck –

No, definitely nothing outside of 150 –

And now what? The services I’m paying for each month – and I have been so paying to Virgin Media since 2006 – are up and running and working well.

Yet this isn’t about just paying for a service. It’s far more about a relationship and trust:

  1. Trust in my belief that I’m dealing with an organization that genuinely cares for its customers. You know that from the experience you have when you call customer service and talk to people, never from the marketing bumf that comes through your letterbox or appears in your Twitter feed.
  2. Belief that the people I deal with there act professionally and I can rely on what they tell me. So if they tell me an engineer’s booked, why should I disbelieve them? Well, their own website told me why today.

Still, I’ll most likely continue using Virgin Media, maybe until our next move when that may be a break point to be tempted by someone else. Not because they’ll offer better service (and maybe they will), but because this experience will come to front of mind and be an influencing factor in my mental review of what I think of Virgin Media and which service provider I may wish to do business with.

As far as I’m now concerned, Virgin Media is on borrowed time. Would they care? Seems doubtful.

[Update 20/5/14] I’m pleased to note that some individuals at Virgin Media do care as I had a 20-minute conversation last evening with Billy McDermott, Virgin Media’s Social Media Team Manager, who called me to discuss my experiences as recounted above in this post.

It was a frank and positive conversation where my concerns were appreciated, in particular the matter of the engineer (non) booking. A gap in the chain, so to speak, where work was actually done but the missing link was customer communication. Some internal issues to address there.

On the point on how Virgin Media uses Twitter as a customer service channel, I told Billy that I think they’re leaning too much towards the analytical and monitoring bells and whistles (eg, Lithium Social Web) and not giving enough attention to actual conversation and genuine engagement.

And there’s a big point to consider which is someone like me writing a blog post and tweeting my discontent, and then getting a result, as a couple of people have pointed out in tweets since yesterday.

Acknowledging people on Twitter, whoever they are, who articulate concerns will likely open the floodgates via this medium to unhappy customers. It’s inevitable especially when people see that its an effective channel. That’s where your analytical and monitoring tools can be of particular help as they will help you separate the genuine from the bashers.

Still, it’s not an easy answer yet as there are issues to consider when things begin to scale like resourcing, training and more. So it is an issue that isn’t as straightforward as it might seem.

Ironically, my broadband internet service wasn’t working when I awoke this morning. And I called the 150 support call centre. Probably because it was very early morning, service was quick and satisfactory (known issue, engineers working on it, service fully back by 9am, they said).

So I’m somewhat philosophical about all of this. Virgin Media isn’t perfect by any means. What they offer, in my experience since 2006, is very good – I have little complaint about the services I pay a monthly fee to receive.

Customer service, that’s another matter, one that companies like Virgin Media are striving constantly to make more effective. As I can see in my Twitter timeline, many people have little patience or willingness to see more than the poor experiences or, what seems worse, just being ignored. That latter point is so easy to fix, and one where social channels like Twitter can be so effective.

In all of this, I’m reminded yet again of The Social Customer Manifesto created by Christopher Carfi in 2004. That’s ten years ago, just to point that out.

The Social Customer Manifesto

Worth reflecting on how much work there is still to do in building effective, sustainable and worthwhile relationships between businesses and customers.

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.

    • Neville Hobson

      It’s a paradox, Doug. I find their offerings (broadband, TV, landline) pretty good. And the two previous occasions this year where I’ve called 150 have been useful (although no way would I characterize the experiences as amazing customer service).

      What really troubles me this time is the thing about the service agent saying he’s booking an engineer and then seeing in my account the following day that no engineers are booked. Plus the definite sterilization of the Twitter account and what it tweets. It’s as if Virgin Media’s customer service system is being run by a robot.

      Can’t see any radical change in the offing, unfortunately.

      • gijsprezly

        It’s sad to see even big companies don’t free up enough resources to execute a good social strategy. There is so much potential in using these networks to drive new customers.

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