Categories
News

Malcolm Murphy and the worst service ever

My expectations in dealing with mobile operators and retailers are not high. I have come to terms with the fact that they are geared up to deal with high volumes of users who just want minutes, texts and the latest shiny phone. Move off that brief, and they’re just not equipped to help you.

A particular highlight came a few years ago in an O2 shop. I went in with a very specific requirement: mobile email. My question was essentially whether a Blackberry or an XDA was the better solution – QWERTY keyboard was a must. What did the assistant suggest? An i-mode handset. I eventually got a Blackberry… from T-Mobile.

But I digress. My requirements are pretty simple, at least I think so. I travel between 6 and 10 days a month in Europe, and I call internationally a lot from the UK. I’m also a frequent data user. After more to-ing and fro-ing than I would have liked, I settled on what I thought was the best provider for me – Three.

There are some nice things about Three. Data is 5 pounds a month. I get a lot of minutes for 20 quid a month. Go to a country where they have a network (Italy, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland – all countries I am likely to go to) and your inclusive minutes are valid, as well as the data bundle. But the kicker was their roaming rates: 10p a minute to receive, 25p a minute to call the EU from the EU. The European Commission has set limits of 19p and 38p for receiving and sending; guess what T-Mobile’s rates are? EVEN WHEN I’M ROAMING ON ANOTHER T-MOBILE NETWORK!!! That’s just silly. And while Vodafone passport sounds good – most calls are actually quite short, so the 75p per call charge can look quite expensive. The less said about O2 and Orange the better.

It’s not all sweetness and light; coverage isn’t perfect, though not as bad as I had feared. And I knew that the retail shops and internet sales weren’t integrated, but I wasn’t expecting to need much contact with them. I was wrong.

It started when I hit my credit limit. No worries, I thought, I’ll give them a call and get it increased. Not that simple. The conversation went along the lines of:

M: “Hi – I was just on a call and I got cut off – you sent me a text saying I had reached my credit limit”
3: “Yes. We have a credit limit in place to protect you.”
M: “Wonderful. I don’t need protecting, so can you increase my limit?”
3: “No.”
M: “Eh?”
3: “You haven’t been with us long enough, so we can’t increase your credit limit.”

So it turns out that the credit limit is actually in place to protect them, not me. The only way to resolve things is to make a credit card payment. I’m not happy – if I wanted to mess about making card payments I’d have got a pre-pay phone. Still, nothing like making it hard for a customer to spend more money with you. It seems appropriate to mention at this point that my monthly bill is usually a couple of hundred quid, with the occasional 500 quid+ bill shock moment.

In my mind then, I’m quite an attractive customer – I know what I want, I’m prepared to pay for it, and I don’t plan on calling for help that often.

Turns out I’m wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I return to the UK on an early flight. I have a long day on the phone ahead of me. During the flight the MP3 player on the phone is playing up, so I do various resets, battery removal and so on. Nothing works. When I get back on terra firma, I find I can’t make calls either. Damn!

OK, so plan is to swing by a Three store on my way home, get this sorted. Very helpful chappie cheerfully tells me he can’t help, I have to call 333 from my phone. But my phone doesn’t work, so he lets me call from their phone. My request is simple – the phone is three months old, it’s gone wrong, send me a new one. “We don’t do that sir, we will collect it, repair it and send it back to you.” This will take five days. How do I make calls in the meantime? “You still have your SIM” Yes but I don’t have a phone – can you lend me one? “No”. How do I make calls in the meantime? “That’s not our problem”

The store manager was willing to lend me a phone if the call centre approved it. But they wouldn’t. By “they” I mean the four different people, including the disconnections department and a manager. I actually had to check they were taping the call at one point, when the guy at the other end of the phone suggested I buy a pay-as-you-go phone from them and then sell it on eBay! I tried to appeal to them on the grounds of how much I spend with them, with no joy.

This note goes out to all service providers, not just Three. What makes you think the Sale of Goods Act doesn’t apply to you? Under what circumstance is a three month old phone refusing to make calls fit for purpose? And if your customer is willing to accept a repair, what makes you think that depriving him of service for five days is a good move? How hard is it to provide a loan handset? What other piece of consumer electronics would I not get a replacement for if it failed after three months?

So, no joy at all. I leave the Three shop a very unhappy camper. At this point, I’m seething, and prepared to cancel my contract and go with someone else. I walk past CPW and into the Vodafone store. Astonishingly, they don’t seem to want my business. Some free advice for Vodafone retail employee trainers: smugness is not an attractive quality in in-store staff.

I get home and my blood pressure is still through the roof. First job, line up a replacement handset. That done, I think about how to respond to the quality of service I’ve just experienced.

Plan A – cancel contract and go with someone else didn’t work so well. I thought about trying a different Voda shop, but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm for another retail experience. Plus, when I thought about it some more, I didn’t like the idea of cancelling the contract and paying for something I wasn’t going to use. Plus, the Three deal is still good – 1100 minutes for 20 quid a month. So – more free advice for Voda: your time to capture my four grand spend over the next 18 months was that one time I walked into the shop. You screwed it up.

So, plan B. Find ways to reduce the other 180 quid a month I’m spending with them and/or spend it with someone else.

In the next article, I’ll let you know whether I was able to succeed with Plan B, or had to go back to Plan A.

Catch the second half of Malcolm’s article next week, stay tuned!

17 replies on “Malcolm Murphy and the worst service ever”

Hi Malcolm,

Q: why not just make the card payment?

You are quite right, the credit limit is there to protect the company. I don't see how this is any different to any other firm effectively extending you credit (in the form of minutes) and drawing the line somewhere. The MNO's are on to a looser here, as if they don't control credit limits they get it in the neck from both their investors and the public when phones are used by children or internationally (“Orange customer in

Not 100% sure, but I don't think the cheap Virgin handset with work with a 3UK USIM. I've kept older 3UK phones for just this reason (my wife's 6620c has been back twice), so it's no hassle just to fire up one of those for 3-4 days (3UK repair service is actually very easy and efficient).

I do tend to agree that it wouldn't kill operators to hang on to a few trade-in handsets and let people use them while theirs are being repaired. After all, give them an older unit and it's not like they're not going to bring it back for their shiny new(ish) one…

Ah yes, my bad – it's not 3G so correct, a 3 USIM wouldn't work. OK, pick any other dirt-cheap 3G handset. Or use the 'phone a friend' option 😉

/m

A couple of points.

If you think 3 has breached its obligations under sale of goods legislation (fit for purpose etc) then you could use the small claims court process which is fairly simple.

3 SIMs do work in at least some GSM handsets.

My assumption would be three months, as the MM1100 deal was only available to new customers and the credit limit couldn't be increased…

As stated previously by Mike42, I would have just made a payment via credit/debit card. Yes it is annoying but I think that negative is very much outweighed by many the positives of being with 3.

I agree that it would make sense for operators to have a few handsets available to be used as replacements while others are being repaired. Operators want us all to feel that having a mobile is 'vital', yet they think it's okay for us to be without one for 5 days or more while they are repairing our handset.

I suppose one of the problems is that people might accidentally 'borrow' the loan device on a permanent basis. Surely the repaired device could go back to the store and then you swap the loan device for your original.

I'm with Malcolm.

Malcolm, if you were spending 20.00 per month exactly, I'd have said that's par for the course for an operator such as 3.

The fact that you routinely spend 100+ per month and on some occasions, a lot more, should have afforded some flexibility from the 3 call centre. Unfortunately that's not entirely how they seem to work. Remember it's a third party call centre managing your service on behalf of 3UK. They have to work with the policies they've been given.

There is, however, a reason they're able to provide you 1100 minutes at twenty quid a month.. their costs are strictly controlled — giving you a temporary 300 quid or 500 quid handset isn't an easy ask.

I think you'd find Vodafone a lot more flexible — but, a heck of a lot *more* expensive.

Hi Jonathan, I think that should read – “some 3 USIM's work in GSM handsets”.

There was a brief period when 3UK sold USIM's that weren't locked to handsets with a 3G radio in the USIM profile. If you've got one of these then yes, you can pop it into a non-3G handset and away you go.

/m

New SMSTN series: “My handset is broken, and you just don't care”

As Ewan says, covering every contingency costs real money. Every business – garages, bike shops, TV retailers – has to decide what level of replacement service to offer. As a consumer – and as Ewan rightly points out – you benefit from 3's reduced cost base 99.99% of the time. When the wheels fall off, you then have an element of self-care required.

I know someone who works at 3UK, and they take the returns/repair process very seriously. Every returned handset costs them a lot of money, as phone technicians and labs don't pay for themselves. With some 30% of returned handsets not exhibiting any real fault beyond end-user numptyness, it's a loss leader for MNO's.

/m

Mike, I don't have a problem that the credit limit is there to protect the service provider. But they shouldn't try and pretend they're protecting me. I was willing to assume the risk of losing the handset or (more likely) the enormous bills that turn up at the end of the month, but they wouldn't let me. And yes, I would hit the credit limit every month, if I hadn't embarked on my campaign to spend no extra money with Three.

I did pay via credit card there and then, not least since I had no option. I get the upside of cash back on my card, but it's still a pain. The bigger pain is when you hit that limit while you're travelling and/or actually scheduled to make a call. I asked if they could setup automatic CNP transactions for when I get close to my limt; again not an option.

So the upshot is that the operator makes it hard for someone who wants to spend a large amount of money with them. And when i'm spending that sort of money, that sort of service doesn't cut it for me.

And I don't care about the costs involved in them managing replacement handsets. As a consumer, I have a right to expect that when I buy something, it works. And it's up to the retailer, in this case Three, to manage their suppliers, in this case Nokia, correctly. And if they don't factor that into their costs, that is not my problem.

Mike, part of that is Three's fault.

I recently called them up with a coverage problem. The script the guys in India are following seems to mandate me sending the handset back to them. There was no way the symptoms I described could be related to the handset – “I've put them SIM in a different handset and it still has the same problem” – but they wouldn't listen.

Very amusing conversation followed a couple of days later with a chappy in the handset repair team in scotland along the lines of:

3: “We're very sorry, but we can't find anything wrong with your handset”
M: “I'm not surprised, I did tell the guy but he insisted I send it to you”
3: “What problem were you having?”
M: “no signal, dropped calls, that kind of thing”
3: ???

Mike, I don't have a problem that the credit limit is there to protect the service provider. But they shouldn't try and pretend they're protecting me. I was willing to assume the risk of losing the handset or (more likely) the enormous bills that turn up at the end of the month, but they wouldn't let me. And yes, I would hit the credit limit every month, if I hadn't embarked on my campaign to spend no extra money with Three.

I did pay via credit card there and then, not least since I had no option. I get the upside of cash back on my card, but it's still a pain. The bigger pain is when you hit that limit while you're travelling and/or actually scheduled to make a call. I asked if they could setup automatic CNP transactions for when I get close to my limt; again not an option.

So the upshot is that the operator makes it hard for someone who wants to spend a large amount of money with them. And when i'm spending that sort of money, that sort of service doesn't cut it for me.

And I don't care about the costs involved in them managing replacement handsets. As a consumer, I have a right to expect that when I buy something, it works. And it's up to the retailer, in this case Three, to manage their suppliers, in this case Nokia, correctly. And if they don't factor that into their costs, that is not my problem.

Mike, part of that is Three's fault.

I recently called them up with a coverage problem. The script the guys in India are following seems to mandate me sending the handset back to them. There was no way the symptoms I described could be related to the handset – “I've put them SIM in a different handset and it still has the same problem” – but they wouldn't listen.

Very amusing conversation followed a couple of days later with a chappy in the handset repair team in scotland along the lines of:

3: “We're very sorry, but we can't find anything wrong with your handset”
M: “I'm not surprised, I did tell the guy but he insisted I send it to you”
3: “What problem were you having?”
M: “no signal, dropped calls, that kind of thing”
3: ???

And while I get the element of self care thing, that doesn't absolve the operator of their responsibilities. It's (admittedly) worse for Three, because I can't stick their SIM in any old POS handset I might happen to have lying around. But that's their choice – if they didn't say things like “we might chuck you off if you persist in using a non 3G handset” then I might not be so keen to have an appropriate handset.

Mike, I don't have a problem that the credit limit is there to protect the service provider. But they shouldn't try and pretend they're protecting me. I was willing to assume the risk of losing the handset or (more likely) the enormous bills that turn up at the end of the month, but they wouldn't let me. And yes, I would hit the credit limit every month, if I hadn't embarked on my campaign to spend no extra money with Three.

I did pay via credit card there and then, not least since I had no option. I get the upside of cash back on my card, but it's still a pain. The bigger pain is when you hit that limit while you're travelling and/or actually scheduled to make a call. I asked if they could setup automatic CNP transactions for when I get close to my limt; again not an option.

So the upshot is that the operator makes it hard for someone who wants to spend a large amount of money with them. And when i'm spending that sort of money, that sort of service doesn't cut it for me.

And I don't care about the costs involved in them managing replacement handsets. As a consumer, I have a right to expect that when I buy something, it works. And it's up to the retailer, in this case Three, to manage their suppliers, in this case Nokia, correctly. And if they don't factor that into their costs, that is not my problem.

Mike, part of that is Three's fault.

I recently called them up with a coverage problem. The script the guys in India are following seems to mandate me sending the handset back to them. There was no way the symptoms I described could be related to the handset – “I've put them SIM in a different handset and it still has the same problem” – but they wouldn't listen.

Very amusing conversation followed a couple of days later with a chappy in the handset repair team in scotland along the lines of:

3: “We're very sorry, but we can't find anything wrong with your handset”
M: “I'm not surprised, I did tell the guy but he insisted I send it to you”
3: “What problem were you having?”
M: “no signal, dropped calls, that kind of thing”
3: ???

And while I get the element of self care thing, that doesn't absolve the operator of their responsibilities. It's (admittedly) worse for Three, because I can't stick their SIM in any old POS handset I might happen to have lying around. But that's their choice – if they didn't say things like “we might chuck you off if you persist in using a non 3G handset” then I might not be so keen to have an appropriate handset.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.