This is something that Karen and I have actually argued about. We both dug in stubbornly, in the manner only attainable by individuals with no facts available to support their thesis.
I still say I’m right, even if I can’t remember exactly which side I was on.
Image found at Sober in a Nightclub
A month ago, the last straw was reached with my current mobile provider, O2. I had long been paying a premium for O2. They genuinely have the best customer service team I have experienced in the UK, and the cost felt worthwhile.
Still, I had started to feel a little troubled about it. They were, quite literally, 30% more expensive than their closest rival (from what I could tell), with less network coverage. The internet went from “unlimited” to a 500 MB cap, which started to become a problem. But still, I kept on as a paying customer … until they started censoring the Internet.
So I began to search for a new mobile provider. And a month later, we’re moving to a whole new age.
Let me walk you through it.
When we look at plans, it all hinges on how I use my mobile service, naturally enough. Plans that work for me do so because they give me enough for my purposes, plus a little buffer. Were I to get 1,000 minutes a month, 900 of them would often go wasted. Not all these plans are necessarily good for you.
I tend to use …
In addition to my basic needs, there are a couple of principles.
A final piece of criteria is the attitude towards customers. Part of this is customer service — what O2 excels at. The second part is an approach to doing business which puts the customer at the centre of the puzzle. It is with this second piece that O2 has failed. The cap on internet usage and the censorship of certain sites shows me the path they have chosen for their customers is to limit us in ways that are convenient to O2. I would, if possible, like a company that tries to enable me to use their network as I please. One that wants me online with their service, rather than paying a bill but attempting to avoid using my phone where possible.
A search was performed, and candidates emerged.
The Plan: 350 minutes; 300 texts; 500 MB. £15.32
Good: It’s cheaper than O2.
Bad: Bad service. Too little internet. Coverage maps have gaps near my home.
The first place we looked was T-Mobile. Their plan is basically the same as what I have from O2, more-or-less, for about £5 cheaper. Online reviews suggest that their customer service is terrible, even after taking into account that most people write about customer service online in order to complain about slights, real or perceived.
On top of that, their service map shows huge service gaps in my neighbourhood, which would be a pain in the ass.
The Plan: 350 minutes; unlimited texts; 1 GB internet. £15.32
Good: Customer service.
Bad: On the T-Mobile network.
I’m still not sure how this works. Virgin uses T-Mobile’s network. Gives twice as much internet, the same number of minutes, and better customer service. All for the exact same price. Anybody who buys the T-Mobile plan must be nuts.
Still, being on the T-Mobile network means large network gaps near my home, so while they appear to be an attractive option, not for folks in my part of town.
Plan 1: 2000 minutes; 5000 texts; unlimited internet. £25.
Plan 2: 300 minutes; 3000 text; 1 GB. £15.
Good: Potential for unlimited internet.
Bad: Cost of unlimited internet; network coverage.
There were two plans from Three that were both intriguing. Of the major carriers, Three was the only one that provided an unlimited internet plan on a one month contract. At £25, however, it was also the only plan that would have me paying more than I pay right now. The other Three option that was interesting was one that looked just like Virgin, but with out the hole in the network around my house.
Three has two problems. The first is a negative perception of its customer service. It had very mixed reviews on this. Normally I would consider mixed reviews to mean good, but this time one of the bad ones came from somebody I trust.
Possibly an unusual bad experience, yes, but troublesome all the same.
The second was an across-the-board problem reported from all directions. Three seems to overstate the extent of their network coverage. While they purport to cover as much as anybody else, online reviews simply suggest otherwise.
Plan: 250 minutes; unlimited texts; unlimited internet. £10.
Good: Uses O2 network; customer centred; inexpensive; good customer service
Bad: Uses O2 network; pay-as-you-go
I actually looked at several smaller outfits, but Giffgaff impressed. They run on the O2 network, which is a bit of a pain given the reason for the change, and the fact that O2 can still censor my Internet. But Giffgaff is not run with that same philosophy, so it makes the problem easier to bear. (Also, it is less than half the price.)
On the other hand, my area of town seems to have coverage issues with several providers, but my mobile signal with O2 has never been a problem. O2 also has the fastest 3G connections in the country, which is not a bad thing.
The only thing that’s strange about Giffgaff is that it is an exclusively pay-as-you-go network. You can “top up” with a contract-like deal, however — the £10 one above being a good fit for me. Between that and auto top-ups, it isn’t as bad as my previous experience with pay-as-you-go would lead me to believe.
It should be obvious from reading the above, I think.
I’ve gone Giffgaff.
If you’d care to follow me to Giffgaff, you can do so by ordering a free SIM here. Full disclosure, if you order a SIM through that link (and activate it), I get £5 free credit. But so do you, so everybody wins.
And how did O2 take my departure?
Like champs, I must say. Another awesome customer service representative took my cancellation call, and was classy and polite about the whole thing. She was so nice, I couldn’t even bear to rant about the whole internet censorship thing.
Which is almost too bad, really.
On Friday afternoon, I clicked on a link on my mobile phone. Rather than being forwarded to the expected website I was instead surprised to find the site had been blocked. There was a warning, purportedly from my mobile services provider.
This website contains potentially offensive material, said the warning. You may only pass if you give us credit card details. To confirm your age, you know.
(I’m paraphrasing; the actual message had been parsed through multiple boards of lawyers and marketeers.)
My initial reaction was that my connection had been hijacked, and I had been redirected to a credit-card-number harvesting operation. I mean, if I ran a credit card harvesting operation, that’s exactly the sort of thing that I would write on my website. Besides which, I have viewed material that was in a similar category of “objectionable” on my phone before. And my phone company knows my birth date, hence my age. Why would they need my credit card number to confirm it?
Totally a scam.
But when I attempted to confirm that it was actually a scam, I was shocked that O2′s own support page describes exactly what happened:
To protect children and young people, some types of content are classified by the mobile industry as suitable only for people aged 18 or over. You will need to verify your age in order to gain access to such content.
If ‘Parental Control’ is activated on your mobile and you don’t want it anymore, you’ll need your PIN to remove it. If you don’t have the PIN that you set-up on activation, you’ll need to verify that you’re over 18. You can do this either via WAP/WEB, by visiting an O2 store or by contacting Customer Service using the ‘Email us’ or ‘Call us’ link below.
This is necessary to ensure that children and young people are only allowed to access WAP/WEB content, which is suitable for all ages.
To verify your age at an O2 store, you’ll require official documentation such as a passport or a photocard driving licence. To verify your age remotely, you’ll be asked to enter the following details:
Credit card details
We need to confirm that your card is valid and that you are who you say you are and, for this reason, £1 will be debited in order to process this. This can be paid for with a credit card that is registered to yourself. Once this transaction is complete we will reimburse you with £2.50 on your Pay Monthly account or to your Pay & Go credit.
I also confirmed that they do, in fact, know my date of birth. Assuming they can do basic maths, or own a computer, they can presumably make the determination that I am over 18.
While the possibility of a quick and easy £1.50 are obviously tantalizing to the average adult during these days of austerity, I am nevertheless aggrieved.
First, that somebody else is deciding what I can and cannot view through my own internet connection. Once my ISP starts saying “sorry, we do not want you visiting that website”, where does that end? Will negative reviews of the company be off limits? Can Bob’s Boot Boutique pay O2 money to place Buck’s Boot Bonanza on the block list?
And who is this person deciding that the page I was visiting contained material flagged as inappropriate? Is there something particularly grievous about visiting a comic about an owl? Is Dilbert blocked too?
Even should I be visiting pages about breasts and the women who expose them — such pages are also blocked, it’s not all about owls — the person making these calls does not share my values. Otherwise the restrictions would be limited pretty much to child pornography and photos of Yaks. Which, I suppose, would also include Yak Porn. Which is not blocked.
Second, having decided that only customers above a certain age are permitted to view these pages, O2 then completely ignores the birth date that they have had on file for the last three years, and instead ask me for credit card details. At this point, rather than being a service they provide (unasked) for parents, it instead becomes an extra chore for me … and I am apparently paying them to force me to do it.
Finally, the manner in which they set up this gateway makes it look like a scam. Much like banks that cold call you, then ask you for your confirming details (what’s your secret word?) before they will talk to you.
O2 possesses sufficient detail about me to debit money from my bank account and send me bills, and a good deal of other personal information about me besides. Things that I wouldn’t necessarily want to share with hackers or identity thieves. And they are training their customer base to see this sort of interaction — oh look, a webpage I didn’t intend to go to. They want my credit card details! — as something that is normal and OK.
Fuck that. Fuck them.
O2, you’re fired.
I have long hated that you took away my limitless 3G data plan, though I never really butted against the new cap. In principle, I will sooner-or-later really like some sort of bandwidth-heavy phone application, and you will have screwed me over.
But that was OK. I only have to give you a thirty-day warning that I am leaving.
Now you have piled on — censoring my connection, too? Encouraging your customers to play fast-and-loose with their credit card information online? Not realizing that you already have every pay monthly customer’s age on file?
It’s too much. I refuse to be your customer any longer.
With O2 out the door, the question becomes — who will I choose as my next provider?
Cost and coverage will play into the calculation, of course, and here at the Big Bad Blog, we are quite comfortable making these kinds of comparisons. But what we really want from our mobile phone company is decent customer service.
Things go wrong. We understand this. We want a phone company where you can call somebody about it; a person who will listen to your problem and has the authority to take corrective action.
Foreign readers may be unaware exactly how rare this is here in the UK. BT’s customer service will not listen to what you say, and claim that you that you need to pay a £175 fee because the phone you are calling them on is not connected to the grid. Sky’s customer service will listen and say “that sucks. We should fix it. But we can’t. I’ll get fired if I pass your complaint along to somebody who can actually fix a problem.” Orange’s customer service will listen, say “that’s awful, I’ll fix it for you,” and then not fix it.
But O2 is different — this is why I have been with O2 for so long. Each and every time I called customer service, I got an actual person. That person listened to my problem, and either fixed the problem while I waited or told me “I’ll take care of it. This will fixed by Tuesday.”*
But O2 cannot be the only ones with good customer service, and good customer service doesn’t matter if the service itself is disappointing. Your blogger has already been unimpressed by Orange, and has been told that Vodafone has similar issues with censorship. What mobile phone provider would you recommend? Why would you recommend them?
*Or some other day in the near future.
… I’m just trying to figure out if you’re out yet.
Your Big Bad Blogger is not a particularly “brand loyal” person.
Sure, he likes good stuff, good value, and good customer service — so if you provide these three things (or even just two of them), he might appear brand loyal. But unless your actual brand statement is “good stuff, good value, and good customer service”, chances are that this might just be coincidental.
That said, mistreating me can lose you a customer for life. Here are some examples:
BT, as anybody who has had to deal with them knows, has arguably the worst customer service in the world. We have had to wait months for engineering appointments to have basic telephony turned on. Not set up — turned on.
But the worst that BT has managed (with us) was to claim that a flat we had moved into had no telephone line set up, and had never had a telephone line set up. For this reason, they were going to have to charge us a few hundred pounds when we moved in.
The property in question had been built in the 1980s. We had to speak to our landlord, and communicate to BT a list of telephone numbers that had previously been at the property. After having spent over fifteen hours on the phone to alleged “customer service representatives”, they miraculously started our phone service without an engineer having to set foot in our home.
But outright lying and abusing a monopoly position in an attempt to force us to pay outrageous (and unwarranted) charges? That’s enough to be blacklisted …
… but that “monopoly position” is a problem. We have managed to erect a layer between us and BT — our current service provider rents the hardware from BT — but a true alternative does not exist in our area. If one ever appears, BT is losing what little of our business they still possess.
I used to have an Orange mobile phone back in the days before I got my iPhone.
I had found that I was starting to use the Internet on my mobile phone, and was thinking that my next phone should be a smartphone — the choices at the time were, pretty much, Blackberry or iPhone, this being in the days before other mobile manufacturers had had an opportunity to create proper commercial competitors to the iPhone.
There were still a couple of months remaining on my contract with Orange when I received a phone call from them.
“Your contract is almost up,” says the rep, “I’d like to make you an offer on your next phone.”
“Awesome,” say I, “I’ve been thinking about that. My next phone will be a smartphone – what are your deals?”
The agent goes through some deals.
“Sounds pretty good right now,” I say. “Call me back next weekend, and I’ll tell you what I want.”
“No,” says the agent. “Tell me right now or the deal is off the table.”
Your blogger was flabbergasted. He was actually drunk — so in no condition to be agreeing to a legally binding contract. Moreover, he had not had a chance to research or test drive any of the phones. The agent said I could send the phone he suggested back for a different model, if I didn’t like it.
I hung up on him, called an alternative Orange number, and told them I was terminating our agreement at the end of our contract.
Luckily for us, Karen has written a wonderful letter of complaint to the company, saving me the need to write a summary of the situation. Here is it, word for word:
Dear Customer Services Team at John Lewis,
I have noticed that you are now following me on Twitter, and I would like to take this opportunity to provide some feedback.
My partner and I regularly shop on your website for our baby, ourselves and our house. We are very fond of John Lewis because it is our one-stop shop for a great variety of high quality products, and have therefore, in the recent years, spent a significant amount of money either in your shops or online, from sewing machines to baby bibs, from frying pans to jumpers, from cosmetics to stationery.
Yet over the past 5 months we experienced some very disappointing customer service for products ordered online.
It started when we ordered a cotbed on your gift list for our baby shower. I can’t recall how many phone calls we placed to various people in both the gift list department and the online service team to understand if and when we would eventually receive a bed in which our newborn could sleep. We received our bed three months later.
But, because nothing like that had happened before and we understood that this was an exceptional glitch caused by a number of factors (Boori suppliers based in Australia, different stock control processes between gift list and online, etc.), we gave John Lewis the benefit of the doubt and carried on using your excellent website regularly.
Until one day, we decided to order a playpen online. It arrived promptly, but unfortunately, broken. Now, in our minds, good customer service here would have entailed apologising, delivering a new playpen before the end of the initial 5 delivery days, and collecting the broken item.
Yet that is not what happened. On our first attempt to contact you using the email form online for exchanges, the response was a template email stating that we should include the RMA when sending the item back, and that we would get a refund. Not what we requested.
We therefore had to email again, repeating that we didn’t want a refund, but an exchange and collection. At this point the response was that a new playpen would be delivered ten days (!) later and that the broken item would be collected on the same day.
Indeed the broken item got collected as scheduled, but no new playpen was delivered. We waited a whole day for nothing.
So, quoting the email that informed us of the supposed delivery date, we emailed you again to ask when we would finally get what we ordered. This request was ignored, and instead you asked *us* to tell *you* if the broken item had been collected.
Putting aside the fact that you should know this yourselves, I should like to point out that we had not been made aware initially that delivery of the new item would be subject to collection of the old one. Why should it be, anyway? We are your (regular) customers – as such we would appreciate being trusted, rather than suspected of wanting to get a new playpen whilst also keeping a broken one for ourselves.
So, my partner had to call to resolve the matter, once again. We were given an apology, and a new date for delivery. The playpen has now been delivered (although after 10:30, which was the time you indicated as the latest), and I dread to open the packaging for fear of finding a broken one…
To top it all up, it appears that some competitors have been selling the same model (albeit a different colour) £25 cheaper and with next day delivery. You will understand that with this in mind, the inconvenience of having to look around for products in various sites beats the inconvenience of a one-stop shop which delivers faulty items or does not deliver at all!
Finally, as I was tweeting my frustrations over the past three weeks, I received several times a tweet from you apologising for the poor experience and asking me to email you for resolution. When I pointed out that most issues arose from the incompetence of agents responding to emails, you pointed out that the email address given out on Twitter is a different one, a headoffice email where queries get processed within the hour. Does this mean that you have two email customer service teams – one efficient, and one useless?
Really this has been such a dire, disappointing experience.
John Lewis, to their credit, responded quickly:
Thank you so much for getting in contact and providing us with feedback on your experience with JL.com. As a loyal customer of John Lewis I can quite understand how the situation with the damaged playpen has dented your faith in John Lewis as a company. For this I’m really sorry.
When issues occur that need resolution, in this case a broken item, I would expect the simplest route be taken to rectify the situation. A delivery of a replacement should have occured at the same time as a pick up to minimise inconvenience to you. Why this didn’t happen I’m unsure, but I will certainly be passing through your comments to the management team at JL.com as a case in point where inefficiency has led to a customer complaint.
I understand that it will have been frustrating to see a similar product at competitors with next day delivery. On exactly the same products (colour, model number) you will be aware of our Never Knowingly Undersold policy whereby we are happy to price match. In terms of another company being able to offer delivery next day, it’s difficult to comment as specialists or online retailers using different distribution methods to John Lewis may well be able to fulfill some orders quicker than us. That said, it is still an example that can be used towards improving our offer.
Finally, JL.com have an email address for customers, in a similar way that each JL branch has a customer service email. High volumes of traffic due to Christmas and Clearance Peak trading have meant that response times to emails have been slower than usual, and I apologise that this has simply compounded an already frustrating experience for you. I sit in the Head Office customer service department, and whilst each branch (including JL.com) has their own avenues for dealing with customer issues, we exist here to faciliate resoltuons to those complaints that have become escalated. It is not our intention to offer a tiered customer service function in terms of effectiveness, although we are better placed here to deal with urgent cases where customers have not been able to reach a resolution with the branch with which they placed their order.
I hope I have been able to respond to some extent to your concerns, but I would also like to apologise for the delays and lack of communciation you have experienced from JL.com. I’d really like to examine your order details, although I can’t track these under your name alone. If you have an order number relating to the playpen I’d appreciate you forwarding it to me. Please be reassured that should you open the playpen and it is damaged, I will organise a courier delivery and pick up locally, at a time to suit you. However, I do hope that this isn’t necessary.
If I can be of any further assistance, please don’t hesitate to come back to me.
Quick and polite though the response might be, it is infuriating.
It begins properly – apologizing for our negative experience. That is a correct step one.
However, step two — doing something to make things right — is absent. Instead, they give a breakdown of the structure of John Lewis’s customer service department.
So, John Lewis — if you are reading this — please be aware that we do not care particularly about the structure of your team, merely its effectiveness. Though both Karen and I are actually quite good at structuring teams and processes to deliver good customer service, we were not offering our services pro bono, and asking to know how you do things so we might offer improvements.
What we expect from a place with good customer service is “we are sorry – here is how we will make it up to you”.
What we expect from a place with acceptable customer service is “we are sorry – thank you for providing feedback”.
What we expect from a place with poor customer service is excuses.
It is hard to read anything into your digressions about John Lewis policy and structure, other than excuses.
We look forward to being proved wrong. Absent that, we cannot help but note that you do not sell anything that we cannot find somewhere else.
John Lewis support left a comment below, which was followed by a couple more e-mails with Karen … and yesterday we found resolution, in the form of a return of half the money that was spent on the playpen.
Thanks for your patience whilst I’ve looked over the order numbers you provided me with. The order notes clearly enforce your negative experience with the quality of email communication and the delays you have experienced.
- e-mail from John Lewis, 8/2/11
As aggravating as having to repeatedly contact customer service has been, John Lewis deserves retrospective props for owning up to their bad behaviour rather than trying to defend it, and taking action to repair the situation where many other companies would have circled the wagons and waved goodbye to a customer.
So in answer to the original question at the top of this article … still not out.