Four months of pain. An open letter to Virgin Media about customer service failure

Four months of pain. An open letter to Virgin Media about customer service failure

The principles of good customer service are the same in any industry, be it the wine trade - or media and cable services. Issues may and will arise, it is how you deal with them. Over the past four months, Virgin Media have failed me in an impressive way with regards to customer service. Whether sharing my story via this open email will make Virgin Media reconsider their approach I am not sure, but at least it should inform or, all else failing, entertain others.

Dear Virgin Media,

This is a lengthy email, but it also chronicles a lengthy story of bad service, broken promises and days of my time wasted by Virgin Media – all for nothing.

Gene Hunt, CC BY 2.0

The short version starts with a ‘special’ deal to recognise me having been with Virgin for almost five years and ends after 7 visits of Virgin engineers, days wasted waiting, hours on the phone and broken promises – only to be finally told that my issue could not be addressed as Virgin Media is not capable of delivering clear TV quality anyway. Needless to say it also involves me paying money for this loyalty reward.

The longer version begins in April 2012 with the offer of a special deal on cable TV and faster broadband as a reward for being a Virgin Media customer for years. As I wanted faster broadband anyway I gladly accepted, only to find out later that my deal was more expensive than what Virgin offers new customers – so much for rewarding loyalty. The image quality of the TV service wasn’t very good either: several digital channels, including BBC, have pixellation issues, especially when compared to Freeview.

As the issue did not improve I called Virgin, went through a series of tests on the phone and was promised that network tests would resolve the issue. When that did not happen I called again, went through the various tests again and was promised Virgin would call me back. There was no call and so I had to phone and repeat the process again, to be promised an engineer would visit to fix the issue. These visits are on weekdays, of course, so I had to arrange being at home. On 12th June an engineer arrived, blamed bad signal quality – which his colleague who did the installation had told me was normal on a refurbished box such as mine -, replaced a part and left me - with the pixellation issue essentially the same, so I had to phone Virgin Media again.

This started a process that was repeated again and again over the following weeks: I call Virgin Media to enquire about the status of my issue. The agents on the phone cannot access any case files, so I am forced to explain the background story and run through the same tests again, to be then promised an engineer would fix the issue. Pointing out that this had failed previously is countered with the argument that *now* a senior engineer would be dispatched who would ‘definitely’ fix the issue – a promise that gets even better after the second, third, fourth etc. visit of a senior engineer. Running through this process takes around an hour, which makes these calls even more fun. Three times I was told engineers would bring a TV set to run some tests, but only one engineer actually had a TV set with him. With or without TV set, the engineer is never briefed, runs various tests, acknowledges the problem and says Virgin need to check the network and that I will be called back, which usually does not happen. Shuffle. Repeat.
Apart from the installation on 27th April and the first visit on 12th June I also had senior engineers visit my property on 29th June, 16th July, 28th July and 4th August; an engineer whose visit was promised for 30th July did not show up at all. On 9th August a supervisor for the area arrived, checked the issue and then explained that on several digital channels such as BBC Virgin could not match the quality of Freeview – an issue that was normal, could not be addressed and that I would have to switch to Freeview if it bothered me.

So basically it took many hours on the phone and making arrangements for eight visits to my property to end up with the time honoured ‘it is not a bug, it is a feature’.

This was not a pleasant experience and certainly is no example for professional customer service. Let me make this more concrete with one example. The engineer who visited on 21st July promised Virgin would call me no later than the morning of 24th. When I called Virgin Media late on 25th July to enquire after the status the agent insisted to go through the whole process of tests again to ‘help’ me. After playing along for half an hour I eventually refused to repeat the process and was put through to a manager. The manager could actually access my file but told me that the engineer had left a note  my TV was at fault – however, the engineer had told me that Virgin Media would need to bring along a TV set to test whether there was an issue with my TV. The manager explained that unless I accepted another visit nothing could be done – and threatened that if that engineer found my TV set at fault I would have to cover the cost. When that visit happened, the engineer who showed up had not been fully briefed and also brought no test TV. So the only thing he could do is to promise another visit for the evening of Monday 30th July. This should include a test with a TiVo box as that was on another frequency – apparently Virgin boxes supply frequencies that do  not sync with some TVs. Needless to say the next engineer visiting my property had no TiVo box and also told me that if they were to test a TiVo box I would have to pay a year’s subscription to this service even if it did not work.

The way Virgin has dealt with this was utterly unprofessional, from not returning calls to agents being unable to access files, broken promises, contradictory information, faulty service and comments that could be seen as threats. I spent hours on the phone, often on hold and had to change work or personal schedules and take time off work. The amount of time I have wasted alone is worth more than my annual service charge to Virgin, and that does not even count the stress and discomfort this situation has caused me. Obviously, I am now also left with a TV service that offers quality worse than Freeview on the channels I most care about.

And all of that was a special thank you from Virgin to a loyal customer of almost five years.

Issues can always happen. There will always be faults with technology. It is how companies address these issues that counts, and Virgin has done badly with me. If you are at all interested in at least partly restoring my faith I would suggest that an appropriate compensation for money and time wasted as well as my trouble with this is in order. I would also suggest you change your procedures so that call centre agents can access case files, that promises are kept and that customers are in advance  informed that the quality of at least some digital channels provided by you will be worse than Freeview.

From a loyal customer who is considering whether being loyal to Virgin was a mistake.

Update 24th August: It has been two weeks since I published this, and no response from Virgin Media. I tweeted them, which was picked up by several others on Twitter. Just in case they managed to miss all these tweets I also sent an email. They may have missed that too, but then I am also still waiting for the call I was supposed to receive shortly after 9th August, a call to make sure I was happy with everything and that the issue has been addressed. What I have received though was a new Virgin Media bill - with a glorious £7 reduction for issues with quality of the service.

Update 28th August: I have now had a call from Virgin's complaints department; this is the department that I had demanded to speak to earlier but could not as Virgin staff categorically stated it would not exist. They apologised for Virgin Media not having been able so far to deliver the expected quality of service. When asked why it took them so long to get back to me I was told that Virgin Media had tried to contact me several times and that staff had left messages on my voice mail - which is interesting as I don't have voice mail. Anyway, they said they were going to look into the issue and see whether it might be possible to find a solution.

Update 18th September: Still waiting to hear from Virgin Media. Maybe time to take action again, because:

So, I phoned Virgin Media again. Again it started with the agent on the phone suggesting to send an engineer; then suggesting a senior engineer; eventually passing me on to the complaints department (which, as we remember, other Virgin Media people claim does not exist) - and the complaints team telling me my case was closed. Why? No idea. So they offered to reopen it again and said that I would receive a return call within 7-10 days. In response I told them that if I did not receive a satisfactory response to my complaint within a week I would take this to the regulator. We will see what happens.

Update 05th October: Finally some progress; and an end to this story. When I did not receive a call back from Virgin Media, again, I called them again and insisted on speaking to the customer service department after I had been offered another technician visit (and then a senior technician visit, same old story). Finally I got through to someone who was willing to listen and looked into the matter. I just received a call back and Virgin Media have confirmed that the quality of service I receive is below their standard and that they are unable to fix it. They have agreed to refund past service charges and give me a reduction of the current charge until the contract ends in a few months. They hope network upgrades will by then have addressed the issue. While this sounds good in some ways the £55 I have been promised do not in the slightest make up for many hours on the phone, for being ignored, lied to, misinformed and having had to arrange working from home or taking time off. Virgin Media are unwilling to compensate their customers for this as they argue if they had to compensate customers with faulty service for their time it would force them to raise their prices massively. I am sure you will draw your own conclusion from that statement and from this case. As will I when my contract comes up for renewal.

Submitted by Jen Friday, 10/08/2012

Many years ago, I found myself having an after-dinner conversation with someone who used to work in the teleservices industry. I remember that she told me that calls are in fact always recorded and that it can be helpful if you let it be known that you are aware of this and are logging the time and duration of each call so that the conversations can later be pulled up on the turret system, which is the general name for the system used to record calls.

I have used this tactic several times and I always find it brings about a marked change of tone and improvement in customer services. Worth a try, if nothing else. And keep a log of calls, names, etc. Threatening to cancel your subscription and insisting on escalating the call also works a treat. Good luck!

Submitted by torsten Saturday, 11/08/2012

In reply to by Jen

Thanks, Jen. Good record keeping is indeed important. The longer this story went on the longer my notes got on content and duration of calls and visits. Dealing with the Virgin Media call centre is really difficult though. They are polite, but unable to do anything not covered by their script, so you are forced through the same procedure every single time. I got the impression they are not authorised to do anything else. I have also repeatedly asked for this to be escalated to the complaints team - but been told that they don't have such a team. The only approach that worked is refusing to cooperate, which is when they pass you on to a manager.

Anyway, I tweeted Virgin Media yesterday (no response so far) and also sent an email. We will see what they come up with. Assuming the information I have been given at the last visit they should really tell customers that the image quality supplied is inferior to Freeview -- and they should also tell their technicians; six of them apparently were not aware of this, only the last, most senior one was...

Submitted by Melissa Saturday, 11/08/2012

What a story! Sadly this confirms what I've heard for Virgin Media customer service. Good luck with this, they owe you big time.