Virgin Media: A good example of how NOT to do customer management

SUMMARY:

I moved into my flat in London on the 8th of November last year and I still find myself without broadband, despite being promised it on three separate occasions by Virgin Media.

 

virgin-media-logoFor those of you with a good memory, you may recall that about two months ago I wrote a report on how Virgin Media and EE – two of the UK’s main broadband providers – had shown spectacular levels of ineptitude and poor customer service, leaving me without internet in my zone 2 London flat for a number of weeks.

Well, here I am, over four months after having moved into my new home, and I still find myself without a broadband connection (I am currently paying £6 a day to use a BT WiFi hotspot, which is accessible if I sit near the window in my living room).

This is a story about how Virgin Media has failed to redeem itself and is a shining example of how not to approach customer relationship management.

It is clear to me that Virgin operates in silos, its departments don’t talk to each other, its processes are hit and miss, it is happy to make empty promises to its customers and is mostly concerned with sales, rather than providing a good service.

By way of background, after moving to Harringay in November last year, I researched which broadband providers could offer me a super-fast internet connection on my road and was somewhat surprised that despite being pretty centrally located in London, Virgin Media were the only company that delivered fibre connections.

However, pleased that there was a fibre connection on offer, I went ahead and booked a Virgin Media engineer to come and install the broadband in the first week we moved in. To cut a long story short, that first visit was entirely unsuccessful.

After talking to the engineer, then having to ring a construction team and phoning customer services, who had to call an area manager to find out what was going on, I managed to establish that there was a problem with the cables in my area and Virgin were going to have to come back and do some work on them before connecting us up.

Disappointing, but fair enough. Not entirely Virgin Media’s fault that it has inherited some dodgy networks from days gone by.

I was told that planning permission would be needed from the local council to dig up the road and this could take four to six weeks. Although somewhat frustrated, we waited patiently.

failing facepalmThis is where glimpses of Virgin Media’s poor processes began shine through. First of all, from what I recall, we ended up waiting around 8 weeks for this first piece of construction work to be done, rather than the four to six weeks we were told.

However, we were written to and informed of the date it was being completed, a few days before it happened. Once the team had come and gone, I then got a call from another team asking when we were available for an engineer to come and install – which turned out having very little to do with my availability and more to do with theirs, considering I had to then wait another two weeks or so for a slot.

First question: why did Virgin Media’s install team not have on file that the work was being completed on the date the construction team were being sent out and call me a week or so in advance to arrange an engineer to come and connect us up shortly after the problems were fixed? Instead, what appears to have happened, is the construction team have sent a note to the install team AFTER the work was done, with no communication happening in between visits, resulting in a longer wait for us, the customer.

I should also add at this point that throughout this process I’m also having an ongoing conversation with Virgin Media’s social media support team, after having sent some angry tweets. And whilst their social media support was actually very good, it meant that I was having conversations with them, customer services on the phone and occasionally the construction team – depending on what needed doing.

Silos, silos, silos.

However, it doesn’t end there. Having then arranged a new install date at the end of January, we then get a call a few days later informing us that actually the work wasn’t completed on the day (erm, so why tell us it was completed and arrange a new install date?) and that planning permission would have to be applied for again to come and finish the job.

Another four to six week wait. Brilliant.

But having waited this long and having put a considerable amount of effort in to getting this broadband connection, we decided that we would wait the few more weeks and get the work completed. And so the construction team were told to go ahead with the job.

After this, confusingly, we then received a letter confirming our install date for the end of January, where+big fail2 the letter was dated after the conversation I had had with customer services team telling me that more construction work was needed. So, again, I rang customer services to find out if they were now actually coming out at the end of January and I was told that the letter had been sent out in error and I should just hang tight.

So, we waited. Eventually, at the beginning of this month, we were sent a note in the post informing us that the construction team would be in the area over the next day or so and finishing off the work. Fantastic!

The construction team came and did their thing and then the next day I get a call asking when I am available for an engineer to come and install. Quelle surprise, an engineer isn’t available for another two weeks or so. However, feeling relieved that it’s finally going to get installed, I don’t kick up too much of a fuss and book an engineer for the 18th March.

Just as a reminder, this is over FOUR MONTHS after we booked the original engineer to come and connect us.

Anyway, I was told that the engineer would be arriving between 1pm and 6pm on the 18th. I received written confirmation of this and received a text in the morning telling me to be at home during this time – hilariously, the text also told me to ask my engineer about getting £50 credited to my account if I refer a friend. An enemy maybe, but I don’t think I’ll be referring any friends anytime soon.

So, on the 18th I made sure my meetings were in the morning and that I would be home between 1pm and 6pm. Needless to say, as time edged closer and closer to 6pm, I started to feel a bit anxious that maybe, just maybe, the engineer wouldn’t actually be arriving.

And sure enough, 6pm came and went and no-one had turned up. So I then go about ringing the customer services team – again – to find out where my engineer is. The guy on the phone then tells me that the engineer has been rescheduled for a later date. Why? I ask. Because the construction team HADN’T actually completed the work for a second time and would need a THIRD visit, with planning permission required again, with you guessed it, a four to six week wait.

Why was I told that I would need to be at home and an engineer would be coming and that the work had been completed? Why was I receiving texts on the day and the previous day confirming this? Why had someone rung me to confirm the engineer in the first place? Why had I received written confirmation? There was clearly a note on my account from the construction team highlighting that more work needed doing, but this had obviously not registered across all departments.

Anyway, as you can imagine, this was the final straw for me. I told the guy on the phone that I no longer wanted anything to do with Virgin Media and that I wanted to cancel my contract with them – now. Unfortunately, that person couldn’t actually cancel my contract for me and I was told that I would have to be transferred to a ‘cancellations team’. Fine.

So I waited to be transferred. And despite my angry tone and being adamant that I wanted to leave, I had to have a 10 minute conversation with a guy trying his best to persuade me to stay! Annoyingly he also tried to offer me three months free service as compensation, which I had already been offered after the first incident back in January – so hardly going to convince me to stay. He also kept describing the situation as “an inconvenience”.

Four months without internet when you work from home and are paying for it on a daily basis is more than an “inconvenience”.

CRM Customer Relationship Management Dictionary DefinitionHowever, thankfully I finally managed to cancel the contract and have now booked myself a Sky engineer, who is arriving to install on Thursday (finger’s crossed). And whilst it won’t be fibre broadband, it’s bound to be better than no internet at all.

My take

For me, this is a perfect example of having all the elements of good CRM in place, but still failing spectacularly. Virgin has social media support, text reminders, they do keep in touch with you, they have helpful people when you speak to them, and yet all the processes fall down because no-one seems to be talking to each other.

And having had this experience with them, I will now never go back and will tell anyone who asks how poor the service has been. That’s the risk of getting CRM wrong.

Let’s see if Sky does any better…

    Comments are closed.

    1. Phil Wainewright says:

      Your write-up is remarkably calm Derek considering what you’ve been put through. I would be absolutely livid if I had experienced this and demanding a meeting with the CEO. It is quite incredible.

      OTOH though this company has form. I wrote a post back in 2010 headlined Most inane customer service #fail ever:

      http://www.zdnet.com/article/most-inane-customer-service-fail-ever/

      The culprit? The same business that you dealt with, then called ntl:Telewest although it was already part of Virgin Media at the time. I’m on such a short fuse with stupidity that I was already using capital letters after just SIXTEEN HOURS let alone the FOUR MONTHS you endured.

      Interestingly, once I’d published that post, I was contacted by Virgin Media’s social media team, who offered me a refund on my bill. I carefully explained that I had not published the story to get a refund, what mattered to me was, were they going to change their procedures to make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else in the future? To which the only response I ever got was, we’ll process a refund. Clearly the social media team had a budget to mollify angry customers but no remit to actually take the feedback back into the business and tackle the root causes of dissatisfaction. 

      That budget decision may have made sense for the business as a short-term cost-benefit analysis – based on a quarterly or even annual financial analysis, it’s cheaper to buy off a few vociferous customers than completely overhaul the business’s operational systems. Five years later, it looks less and less like a smart move. 

      What amazes me more than anything else throughout two and half decades of writing about telecoms utilities at the same time as relying on their services for my livelihood is the smug assumption of their executive management that they have some kind of special expertise in managing customer relationships. It is absolutely laughable. No industry has pissed away so much money on customer-facing infrastructure with so little effect on customer goodwill.