Remember when the Virgin brand used to be all about putting the customer first? There is a very successful man, an inspiring role model to many entrepreneurs, at the head of this brand; Richard Branson. Unfortunately, it seems like the brand is not the man. As much as I admire and respect Sir Branson for all he has achieved, my recent experience with Virgin Media leaves me wondering how he must feel when he no longer directs the values his brand is known for.
The right to consolidate under the Virgin brand by Telewest and NTL was struck back in February 2007. At this time, Richard received some cash and a little over 10% of the company. Today Virgin Media is owned by Liberty Global.
The Branson Risk Factor!
I particularly like this quote in the Risk Section of their 2013 Annual Report:
The “Virgin” brand is not under our control and the activities of the Virgin Group and other licensees could have a material adverse effect on the goodwill of customers towards us as a licensee. The “Virgin” brand is integral to our corporate identity. We are reliant on the general goodwill of consumers towards the Virgin brand. Consequently, adverse publicity in relation to the Virgin Group or its principals, particularly Sir Richard Branson who is closely associated with the brand, or in relation to another licensee of the “Virgin” name and logo (particularly in the U.K.) could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, business and results of operations.
I hardly think the risk of Richard and the successful Virgin brands are their key problem – their ability to deliver and provide customer services is a far greater risk to their business success in my experience.
The Virgin Brand is the main reason I decided to try the service… and that’s when it all went shit.
You can have Virgin, er.. no you can’t
To give BT their dues, I’ve had a pretty good run with them. The only reason I went shopping was due to the general trend towards looking for a better deal annually across all utilities and services. The monthly cost of my BT package – broadband and telephone – seemed to have crept up and Virgin were offering some interesting deals.
I picked one – the Big Kahuna, I think – and put my order in, deciding to keep my landline number as well. It all went very smoothly and I had an email saying what day I’d be cut over to the new service. Shortly thereafter I had a letter from BT confirming when the service would cut over and telling me I had to pay £30 for the privilege of moving to Virgin (the only provider that they make a charge for).
Fair enough, them’s the breaks.
However 2 days before the scheduled cut over, I had a call from Virgin saying that the installation wouldn’t happen for 6 to 8 weeks as our postal area hadn’t been set up for Virgin Media yet… I did have a bit of a tantrum, as the internet is pretty central to our entertainment and communication with family abroad, not to mention the fact that I run an online business…
The reality was that they couldn’t really do anything, so I agreed to stay with BT until they could make the installation.
Okay you can have it… just not properly
The installation date rolled around some 6 weeks later and we agreed a date for the engineers to visit. Two days before the agreed date, someone from Virgin knocked on the door to ask if they could dig up our driveway – the first time this had been discussed. I said no, and they wondered off… We heard a lot of noise outside, but the driveway remained untouched so that was fine.
Installation day arrived, and with it two engineers from Virgin. They were early, but my wife let them in to start and I spoke to them on the phone to give them directions on where I wanted the broadband in the house.
I got home as the engineer was finishing the TV set up which he assured me would take about 24-hours to fully index and said it would also take about that long for the number to port across from BT to Virgin. He then hurried out the door to his next appointment.
At this point my wife emerged saying what a hassle that had been. Apparently the engineer was not happy that we had asked for the cabling to an interior room (better for everyone to get WiFi in the house) and on inspection the way he had done the cabling bore out his frustrations. Both interior plates were put on at badly aligned angles, cabling for the phone and the broadband had been tacked via two different routes to the same point, where that end point simply hadn’t even been fixed to the wall.
It was a crappy job, but at least it was all fitted and working – well, except the phone, the TV and the broadband was only hitting about 27Mbps (not the lofty speeds of 100Mbp promised) – so actually nothing was really working.
Customer service – promise one
The Virgin customer service person was pretty good on this occasion. We had a momentary issue when he said that they had forgotten to tell BT that we wanted to keep our number, but because they hadn’t actually told BT we were moving nothing was happening anyway – he agreed to credit us a months worth of BT’s charges whilst they advised BT.
He wasn’t sure why the broadband wasn’t performing as expected and agreed to have an engineer come out. He also said that the engineer would be able to tidy up the cabling – saying that often contractors were used for the install but then their engineers sorted out any small issues. The TV had indexed by this time, so that seemed okay.
A date was agreed for the engineer to come out and have a look at the speeds and cabling.
About two days later the engineer arrived. He looked at the cabling and said it was the worst install he’d ever seen… but it wasn’t his problem. He wasn’t the man to fix that. No, apparently Virgin use contractors to do the install and it’s up to the contractors to sort it out.
On the issue of the broadband speed, he showed me how he was getting 91.7Mbps on his new company issued iPhone 6… so no problem there. Well, except that it was a problem – none of our hardware (a 4 month old Lenovo laptop and desktop, a brand new Kindle Fire, a 2-year old Samsung laptop, a 6 month old Android phone and an older iPhone 4S and iPad) were getting anything better than about 30Mbps download speeds (and only 1.9Mbps upload).
Yeah, the problem is you need to use 5Ghz to get higher speeds, he helpfully advised. Or you can plug-in via LAN cable (although how we’d do this with the phones, tablets and multiple computers didn’t seem to bother him). I told him it was nuts that Virgin were offering a speed that only the very newest hardware could access, without telling people – he agreed, saying he’d be as upset if he was in my shoes… and then left.
Sorry, we’ll take it all out
30 minutes later I was on the phone to Virgin again. I told them that our hardware meant that the speeds promised were totally useless. The person in customer care didn’t understand why, so I explained that most devices were compatible with 2.4Ghz not the new 5Ghz. She said nobody had told her about that and it seemed really weird that you had to have brand new hardware.
I told her that the whole experience was a bitter one and I just wanted to leave the service – after only 5 days. She was very apologetic on Virgin’s behalf and agreed that there would be no charge and that she’d have the contractors come out and remove the cabling.
I got on the phone to BT and agreed a new package with them.
On the following Saturday, I had Dave call. He was the contractor and wanted to know if he could come over on Tuesday to remove the cables. I said that was fine, and he agreed to call on Monday to confirm. Monday and Tuesday came and went, no Dave.
I called him on the following Monday, only to have him say that he was in Essex for the week but he’d told his manager – John Woodward – who would call to arrange the work. A week went by, no Dave, no John.
I then had a bill through for the Virgin service…!
I immediately called Virgin’s customer service who initially confirmed that the cost was a bit higher for the first month. When I pointed out that I had cancelled the service after only 5-days, I was told that it was a computer error that I had been sent a bill.
I asked to talk to a manager. Sam – the person helping – seemed very reluctant to pass me through to one, so I told him I was going to record the call (which I then did). I went through the list of issues and why I wanted to talk to a manager. Eventually I was put through to the most unhelpful person so far – although I guess at least there was an honesty about her desire to be as obstructive as possible.
She told me that the cancellation had not been put through to the cancellation department. When I pointed out that I never spoke to anyone other than customer services, she seemed happy that I had therefore not cancelled the service in the right way.
On the subject of the cabling, she said that no cabling would be removed.
I told her how happy I was that I had recorded the call at which point she flipped out saying that I was not allowed to record her, and I did not have her permission to share the call. She finished by saying that she was calling the police to report me for recording her…
So I went social
I decided to raise my concerns via the Twitter-verse. Let’s get it out there and see if @VirginMedia would be more helpful.
They weren’t. Instead this is the helpful reply I’ve had back from them:
Thanks for contacting the Social Media Team. As good as it is to hear from you it’s a shame that you have had to resort to contacting us. I’m really sorry to hear about the problems you have had since we installed you.
I had a chat with the installers Line Manager about your request to remove the cabling. Unfortunately we are not going to remove this cabling as it is something you agreed to have done during installation. We can come back out and tidy the cables if you need them to be tidied this will be done free of charge
Instances like this are very few and far between and as a company you have given us permission on the day to place the cables where they are. However should you wish to remove them yourself this will not be an issue for us.
Regarding the Speed over Wifi on your devices. We do advertise up to and Wifi does tend to be a tad slower due to obstacles in the home, Devices not capable of accepting high speeds. Our engineer demonstrated that the service was running at just under 92Mbps on his personal equipment. Whilst I can appreciate your frustrations this is something we can only advise on. It may be best to have a look at this handy help link.
I can see that you have decided to leave us and the service is due to be cut off tomorrow 24/07/2015. If you can reply back to this email once you receive your final bill, what I will do as a goodwill gesture is make sure you are not charged for the services since we installed you.
I hope this email answers your questions, if you need my help in the future with your account, equipment or services then please keep a copy of this email and just drop me a response and I’ll be happy to help you to the best of my ability. Alternatively you can contact us by twitter (@virginmedia) or contact us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/virginmedia) with any future queries.
They’re all nuts.
My next step is this post, letting people know about Virgin Media’s approach to customer service and then to approach Ofcom.
I don’t think what I want is unreasonable… just take the mess out my house and don’t bill me for a service I never used… which you agreed to anyway.
My closing message is to you Sir Branson – this is your brand. Nevermind the damage that you might do to their business, look at the damage they are doing to your brand.
4-Aug Update: Another bill…
So I had another bill through from Virgin Media today – after they confirmed the service had been cancelled twice by phone and once by email. David in the call centre promised me that this time it really would be cancelled… Anyone want to take a bet?