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: “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 â€œtheyâ€ 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 â€“ 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, Iâ€™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!