The misery of moving, part 1: Virgin on the ridiculous

While I'm not expecting any sympathy, the recession has been a tough time for journalists too. One of the first things companies do is slash their advertising budgets, and that can hit newspapers and magazines harder than most. On a personal level, this meant redundancy, finding a new job as a Broadband Genie, and relocating to another city.

As Lord Carter's Digital Britain report suggests by its very existence, broadband is a staple part of British life now, rather than a luxury. Just like gas, electricity, a phone line, water, food, air etc, we Brits now NEED broadband to exist, otherwise we'll become gibbering buffoons incapable of communicating or buying our groceries. There is a difference though.

Ever tried to cancel a utility? Easy peasy. Gas and electric? A quick phone call to a polite customer services rep. Water? The same, no problems. These people know their stuff - no messing about. Moving is stressful, and anything that makes it a little easier is a huge bonus - and you remember those companies too. Now, to cancel my broadband...

Round 1

My young lady friend and I had signed up to Virgin Media for a year, taking a phone, TV and broadband deal in good faith - we were as sure as you could be we'd be in our new home for at least a year. But life did what life can do, and suddenly I'm on the phone and cancelling after just a few months.

My first experience of Virgin Media customer services was good. A nice Scottish lady listened to my tale of woe, showed sympathy, and explained my options: I could either transfer my account to whatever my new address would be, or cancel and incur a penalty charge. This would normally be £120, but due to my unfortunate circumstances (ie, the redundancy) they were happy to halve the charge. Thanking her, I went about rebuilding my life.

Round 2

A common criticism of broadband companies, just as it is with mobile phone companies, is that new customers get a much better deal than old ones. Virgin Media, sadly, is a case in point. And while I realise it’s a big company, a certain amount of flexibility wouldn’t go amiss. I can only assume it doesn’t have enough faith in the majority of its call centre staff to make rational decisions on the fly – it seems that for every nice Scottish lady from Round 1 there is a small army of reprobates (see below) to strike fear into the heart of any company exec.

I had found temporary accommodation, and the person in question (who I hope you’ll hear from in another blog post another time) already had a similar Virgin Media package to my own… except he had been a loyal customer for years, so was on a rubbish deal. I suggested to Virgin Media that he could cancel his deal, I could move mine in, and keep the contract going for a little longer. But no, this was not acceptable: I would not actually be continuing my old deal at the new home, but starting a new 12-month contract – the first I’d heard of this. As it was temporary accommodation that was out, so I held off while I looked for new digs of my own.

Round 3

I like Virgin Media’s cable offering, I really do. A great television package and the fastest consumer broadband on the market temper the frustration of being lumbered with a new phone line you don’t necessarily want or need, and all at a competitive price. That is, of course, if you’re in a cabled area. My new home was not.

The call to Virgin Media was short but sweet: I couldn’t get cable, so had to cancel. Nice Scottish lady had duly left a note on my account saying so, which meant barely audible and hard to understand Asian lady would add the £60 early disconnection fee to my bill and cancel my account. Simple. I got one more bill, and thought that was the end of that, so cancelled my direct debit. How wrong I was.

Round 4

Amid the super stress of buying my new flat, a bill for £172.17 drops through my door from Virgin Media. After picking my jaw up from the floor and letting my anger subside, I get on the phone to Anthony in collections. Anthony kindly informed that – surprise, surprise – there had been a series of schoolboy errors on my account and I actually owe £52.74.

Somehow, the £120 early disconnection fee had been added on, instead of the £60. Realising their error, whoever was dealing with my account then added another £60 on, instead of taking it off. Not a great day at the office, I’d say. Anthony apologised, took my payment for what I actually owed, gave me a reference, and promised me that was the end of the matter – case closed. Could he email confirmation that my account had been settled? No, he said – but he assured me that was the end of the matter. Guess what…?

Round 5

A few weeks later, and even deeper in house buying stress (don’t get me started on solicitors…), I get another letter from good old Virgin Media, this time in a slightly different envelope and with the cosy Red logo replaced by a rather more ominous black one. Which includes an information sheet about defaulting payments and threatening action against me if I don’t settle my outstanding bill of £116.88 within 14 days. Something tells me Anthony might have forgotten to close my account – precisely the reason I’d wanted a confirmation that he assured me wasn’t within his remit. Note to Virgin Media – perhaps it should be?

I am livid. I phone Virgin Media. Again. And am greeted by a bored and unfriendly voice. I only wish I’d taken their name, but I was taken by rage. I explained my situation and was met with the phone equivalent of a blank stare and the kind of ‘the customer is always wrong’ attitude that makes you wonder how this person got a job in ‘customer services’ in the first place.

This paragon of customer care listened to what I’m sure he thought was a string of lies and idiot statements, before telling me to hold while he checked things with someone else. I swear he was gone no more than 10 seconds, before coming back on the line and cheerlessly informing me that I was wrong and had to pay up, now preferably. I lost it, swore a lot and told him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong. He wasn’t having it. I asked to speak to Anthony, whose name was surely all over my account. He said he wasn’t free – could Anthony call me back later today? Of course he could. I apologised for swearing. He said it was OK. I went off to wait for a phone call that I new damn well would never come.

I know I shouldn’t have lost my temper, but I spent years in retail and know that what 99 per cent of people want is resolution, not an argument. This man came out with no intention of listening, offering sympathy or investigating my situation. It was one of the worst pieces of customer service I’ve ever received, on every level. I was disgusted.

Round 6

I left it a few days – long enough to relax, but not long enough for the bailiffs to come round to my temporary home and start demanding stuff with menaces. I called Virgin Media back, and got the incredibly polite but quite tricky to follow Bragadha. She was clearly on the other side of the world destination wise, but by my side as far as my situation. She listened, looked at my account, spotted the obvious error that Mr Round 5 probably didn’t even bother trying to spot, and apologised profusely.

Bragadha sorted the situation in minutes, despite a few accent problems on both sides, and assured me my account would be closed. I’d heard that before, I replied. No problem, she said – she would call me within 24 hours to let me know the account was definitely shut for good. And, true to her word, she did just that. I guess it’s possible to use your initiative after all.

The result

After a gruelling battle, this one probably ended even on points. While the horrors of Round 5 almost tipped the scales against Virgin Media, the quality of its deals means that, in future, I would go back to them if a good deal came up in my area. Until then, looking for good customer care will be my top priority when looking for a broadband provider.


  • neutral

    by Ben at 15:30 on 18 Jun 2009 Report abuse

    I know exactly what you mean!
    Our 20Meg line kept being capped for the family of 5 using the Internet and playing online games. Our line, which is shared between 3 computers through a virgin wireless router, which we were forced to purchase, after our belkin router was blacklisted and all Internet sites were blocked by Virgin!.

    The speed was capped from 20mb right down to 3.2mb shared between 3 computers and having to go through a router, resulted in each PC getting approximately 800KB/s for browsing the Internet.

    This reduced speed was forced between 3pm and 10pm, right when we NEED to use the Internet. They said we were downloading illegally when we weren't, and we were not even told in our monthly bill that their terms and conditions had changed.

    They told us to look on the website for the article about the change, and after 3 hours of searching I finally found it. It was in a topic area that you never would have expected that type of article to appear, and it was riddled with false or misleading or contradictory information.

    If I were given a choice I would get a mobile wireless broadband package with a mobile phone provider and double check that the areas where I use the dongle have good service coverage!!

    Needless to say Virgin has me (Computer tekkie, with a CISCO CCNA networking qualification + others), my dad and my mum all having a heated discussion with a customer services rep (foreign, of course, and contradictory at every counter-argument we came up with).

    Oh the downfall's to foreign telecommunications operators / call-centres!

  • neutral

    by Robert Marker at 8:55 on 23 Jul 2009 Report abuse

    I've always said with Virgin Media - it's a great service when you finally get it - but getting it installed or moved is a nightmare!

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