Iain Graham writes:
Vodafone’s admission last week that ‘some customers’ may have been experiencing issues with mobile services came three weeks late for me. I’ve been having my own ongoing battle with the network since the beginning of the month.
So I’m recounting my story here as an example of what can go wrong when computer systems and customer service rules conspire against the humble customer. And against me, too.
On Saturday 1st February my trusty Apple iPhone 4s decided it wouldn’t make or receive any calls. Strangely, text and internet functionality remained unaffected. I discovered that moving anywhere outside a radius of about 3 miles from the village where I lived caused the phone to return to full service. This suggested to me that the local cellsite was down.
This may come as a surprise to some, but I have another job besides hosting one of the internet’s leading mobile-related podcasts. In fact, I am the sales director of a small company which is particularly busy at weekends… and my mobile number is my business contact number.
Fortunately, I had a plan. Having had no message from Vodafone about the apparent problem, on Monday 3rd February I drove to a layby outside the problem area. I made some essential calls on my mobile, including one to Vodafone customer services. They explained that they were very sorry but, as I’d thought, the local cellsite was causing problems. Unfortunately they could not give me any information when it would be fixed but they were working on it. This gave me little comfort. However, I was pleased to discover that normal service was resumed on Tuesday morning.
In fact, I was so pleased that I paid my bill the next day by using my debit card on the Vodafone web site. Call me fussy, but I don’t like direct debits. Paying online works for me and works for Vodafone, too.
A week later, exactly the same thing has happened. This meant I’d had just four days of service in eleven days. But that was only half my problem.
I called customer service to try to find out what was wrong. Instead of driving down the road to demonstrate how mobile my phone was, I called from a landline at home. After having been told that the call may be recorded for training purposes - I really hope it was - I was introduced to a member of the customer service team. Time for a security check.
“Name”, ok, I knew that. “Mobile number”, again fine with that. I even managed to give my correct address and date of birth, so far so good. Then things stared to deteriorate. “How many numbers on your account?” she said. I also knew the answer to this one. One phone for each child. “Not so”, she said. I’ve not changed the number of handsets on my account for several years, so I know how many mobile numbers I’m paying for. Still, the customer service representative was happy to give me another chance.
“Let’s try something else”, she suggested. I was still concerned that I may have more children than I’d previously thought, so I agreed to continue. “How do you pay your account?” was next up for discussion. “I go on line and pay with my debit card” I replied, confidently as I had only done so a few days before. “How much was the bill” was the next question. Pleasingly, I remembered the amount I’d paid to within a few pence.
This, sadly, wasn’t good enough. I needed to know the exact amount off the top of my head.
“Who is your account manager” was next on her list. I’ve never needed to talk to him or her, so I couldn’t help with that one. The next question was quite extraordinary. “What is the sort code number of the bank that you pay from?”
Well, I didn’t think my sort code was kept by Vodafone if I paid online by debit card. Still, I gave it to her. “No” she responded, “we don’t have that number on our records”. I have paid at least the last 30 monthly bills with that card; Vodafone does not seem to have had a problem with taking the money from it. It’s also notable that I only have one debit card and no credit cards, so this isn’t my mistake.
Let’s take a break for a moment. At this point it’s worth remembering that I’m just trying to get through security and find out why my mobile phone isn’t working. “Can I speak to your manager?”, I asked. The reply was “no”, not until I have passed security. “Could someone ring me back?” I enquired, because I was paying to call from a BT phone. “No” was the reply, not until I had passed security.
At this point I gave up, having been on the phone for 31 minutes.
In desperation, I drove to my local Vodafone shop the next day for help. The difference was stunning. They seemed to value my custom, they treated me as a real customer and they may well have persuaded me not to move my phones to another network. After a couple of security questions they logged onto my account, found a whole load of ‘out of date’ information that wasn’t correct, changed this and also made a note of my queries. They couldn’t fix everything but they did their very best.
And so to my point. When I spoke on the phone to customer services, they referred me to the terms and conditions of my contract. This says something like “it’s impossible to provide a fault-free mobile phone service”. Very true - but coverage for 4 out of 11 days is unreasonable and morally (if not legally) indefensible.
I have a contract with Vodafone. As far as I’m concerned, it is a two-way contract. I will pay Vodafone money; in return, Vodafone will allow me to use their network to make telephone calls. Vodafone has not carried out its side of the bargain and has given me no reassurance so that this will not continue or re-occur next weekend.
Problems take time to fix. But at no time did any member of customer service staff make me feel I was being treated as a valued customer, nor was I given any information that helped me, nor at any time was I offered any form of compensation for lack of service or trouble I was being caused.
Subsequently I’ve called customer services again, when they as good as said the problem was not high on the priority list as not enough people had complained. Still no information, no offer of compensation and no indication of when we will again be able to use our phones.
Meanwhile, my local layby is beginning to get quite busy.