Well then. What a total waste of time that was. If you recall, I recently wrote that it was high time I visited a Vodafone shop.
I’ve got five lines on the account, all at crazy price plan levels. I don’t know which-is-which, apart from my main number. And Vodafone UK’s online account management is so dire that I decided I’d go into a shop and sort it out.
I liked the idea of perusing my account screen with the helpful Vodafone sales chaps. I didn’t like the idea of phoning up customer service because I couldn’t easily visualise the accounts. I figured it would take 3 times as long to go through the changes I needed to make via voice. I didn’t want to wind up the customer services agent and I reckoned, if I picked a Vodafone shop in London when they were reasonably empty, I could spend 10 minutes sorting things out in person.
That’s the beauty of Vodafone. It’s all connected. Setting aside the fact you can’t really *do* much with your online account management (i.e. change price plans — I always get errors), I liked the fact I could walk into any Vodafone shop, the length and breadth of the United Kingdom, and be able to discuss my account within seconds. It’s all so smart. All so connected.
Phone up and they can help you. Walk into any store and they can call up your account there and then and woosh, you can walk out with a new handset if you like. All you need to do is confirm your primary phone number, name/address or show some ID and bish, bash, bosh, you’re done.
It may not sound *that* amazing, but remember o2 stores can’t help you unless you can remember your account number. You literally have to stand in the shop phoning o2 customer service to retrieve your account number, THEN the chaps can help you.
And 3… don’t get me started on 3. They’re better now, but they used to be completely 100% unable to service existing customers. It was a dire experience if you were already a customer. You’d walk in, hoping to upgrade, then be told to phone customer service and do the deal via phone because their systems weren’t setup. Thankfully they’ve rectified that.
But something strange has happened to Vodafone recently, if today’s experience is accurate across the whole store network.
I walked into the Oxford Street (near Soho) branch this evening. They weren’t too busy and I was approached by a helpful chap within seconds.
“I’d like to make some changes to my price plans,” I said, “And possibly upgrade one of the lines — I’ve got five on my account.”
The chap did a ‘let me stop you there look’ before telling me, “Sorry sir, I’m afraid you have to call up for that.”
I looked at him.
In fact my look said: “YOU WHAT?”
“Yes,” he continued, “If we do it in-store, you’ll have to add an extra 6 months to your contract if you change price plans?”
I looked at him again.
“Er, well, can you tell me if any of my accounts are free of contract yet?” I asked, crestfallen.
“Sure!” he snapped with efficient politeness.
We headed to the back of the shop. I gave him my details. Within seconds he was telling me that one of my 12-month lines was out of contract.
“You can get a G2 for £90 on an 18-month contract,” he said.
Riight, I said, considering the 600 a month I’m spending. That’s a whopping 7,200 pounds a year. If you assume a G2 costs an arbitrary £400, I could buy 18 of them a year for what I’m blowing with Vodafone.
He came up with another option, “Or, if you’d like a 24-month contract on that line, the G2 would be just £5?”
I saw the manager — or a ’suit’ was standing nearby so I thought I’d try out the entrepreneurialism.
“So I’m spending at least 600 a month with you,” I prompted.
My sales guy looked at my recent bills.
“Er, yeah,” he said.
I glanced in the direction of the manager, standing next to him not paying any attention.
“So, you can’t change my price plans here…”
– “No sir,” he interrupted again, “You have to phone 191 [Customer Services]. Unless you’re upgrading, we can’t help [smile].”
“And despite the fact I’m paying 600 a month, you can’t just give me a G2, you need to charge me five pounds?”
“As I said,” he replied patiently, “You do need to talk to customer services.”
So it’s cookie-cutter time.
I’m exactly the same as someone paying Vodafone £15 per month. In fact given the amount of attention my brother gets on a month-to-month £25 contract (he’s getting how-are-you-doing-sir calls each month urging him to upgrade to a contract with special terms), I think he’s getting a better service level.
What’s the point of a branch network if you can’t service me and my £7,200 expenditure.
And at what point do I sit back and think seven grand is just a stupid, stupid amount to be paying.
That amount is a reflection of my relationship with Vodafone. I was hugely delighted. I didn’t mind the expenditure. It is certainly a business expense for the company — indeed, the Bold, the Dell Mini laptop, those weren’t entirely necessary for me personally but they were super-necessary for the business, to make sure I could deliver decent reviews and competent reporting.
But now, well, I think I could get by on £20-30 per month. Give me 600 minutes, unlimited texts and ‘unlimited’ data and you know what, that’ll work.
And it just takes one experience to really change your perspective.
What the hell am I doing paying them that amount of cash?
Well, obviously, I was going into their shop to reduce that down — to remove and reduce the unnecessary 65, 80, 90 and 45 (or whatever) price plans that I’ve got running. Throw in some unnecessary (but previously useful) Blackberry service plans on a few of the lines. It all adds up. Plus VAT. Add in a bit of international roaming and before you know it, you’re at 600 quid.
It used to be blowing this kind of money on an operator, you’d be sent phones, devices, whatever in order to keep your head in the sand so that you didn’t actually do anything. Indeed if Vodafone had called me last week and offered me a G2 for free, along with something else, and something else… you know, ‘goodies’, I’d have reacted emotionally: Yes please and er, don’t worry about those price plan changes. That’d have been worth the cash to me. I understand the commercial realities that the operator has to face. But I also recognise that I’ve been giving them a heckuvalot of business and… well… it’s the age old customer issue isn’t it? I now think I’m paying a lot, lot more than I need to be and can’t see a reason to continue.
Tomorrow, Vodafone Customer Services and I have a date. A rather boring and extensive date where we go through each account in sequence and reduce them down to their (roughly) 15 quid/month minimums. And I need to cancel that 12-month one that’s already expired.
Like many of the UK’s contracted mobile customers, I’ll take note of the contract expiry dates on each line and start clock-watching.