I know: I said I would be reviewing Das Leben der Anderen next, as the final post in my linked series about The Politics of Fear. But my copy of that DVD has somehow corrupted (maybe it’s a sign, that THEY know I’m writing about them!?), so I’m currently awaiting a replacement.
In the meantime, let me return (with more than a little resignation) to a well-worn path: disjointed customer service. I realise that I’ve flogged this dead horse before, taking Clarks Shoes, Dunelm and Orange to task, but bear with me. This one is a shocker.
Most of my previous mishaps have been where corporate systems let down staff, forcing them into untenable positions that prevent them from serving the customer properly. That same dynamic repeats itself this time, but in this instance, a young man I’ll call Kevin, part of Vodafone’s Customer Service team in South Wales, plays an absolute blinder, but not in a good way.
In fact, this all happened to my wife, but as I was in the room during many of the phone calls and while she was grappling with the website, and was the sounding board for her frustrations afterwards, I feel qualified to relate the sorry tale.
Phones and communications technology are changing much faster than we can. Today the Apple iPad2 was launched in the UK, and hundreds of people queued for hours in central London in a way people used to queue to see their favourite groups or at film premieres.
Mobile phone companies, in their infinite wisdom, have recognised they’re at the whim of consumers wanting the newest gadget, and who are seemingly willing to change service provider. Despite years of their brand-building advertising and global sponsorships, we just don’t seem to get it. You can almost understand their disappointment, their resentment at our skittish behaviour, almost.
They aim to lock their customers into longer and longer contracts – usually at least 2 years if you want a decent deal on the handset. When you agree to these terms, they rest, satisfied their work is done. They go back to the fast-moving, exciting world of attracting new people with gazillions of minutes and unlimited texts. But they don’t seem to try and retain their customers, at least not until those customers make a massive fuss.
God help you if, before the end of your contract, you’d like an upgrade to a new phone – which almost certainly didn’t exist when you took out the contract, and unless you’re one of the uber-geeks who treats Apple like teenagers used to treat The Beatles, you couldn’t have forseen. If you want an upgrade, it seems almost impossible, even to a more expensive tariff. Am I the only person who thinks this is insane, and wouldn’t be tolerated in other areas of life?
Imagine having a season ticket for your favourite football team. It’s not a great seat, but it suits you fine. Halfway through the season there are some new, better, more expensive seats available, so you try to upgrade, but the club denies your request. It’s not possible, at least not before the end of this season…
After calling a few people, it becomes clear you can upgrade, but only online.You decide to go instore to review the choice of phones and tariffs, and you get excellent service. You choose a new phone and tariff which the staff assure you will be fine for you. It’s 65% more than you currently pay, but it’s got much better online access and the handset (an HTC Desire) is lightyears ahead of the virtually prehistoric Samsung you currently loathe.
Encouraged and enthused, you go online. The Vodafone Upgrade site states clearly that you will
get the same cracking phones, plans and prices as our new customers. Plus, all our best offers are only available online.
However, one hour and a very tortuous live-chat with someone in customer service later, and the promises are falling apart. Apparently the online service team can’t help existing customers, and the offer they’re offering is not as good as the one the staff in the shop said would be available.
So you resort to the telephone, and spend another fruitless hour getting nowhere. You try again later, you know, one last chance. This is where you speak to Kevin, who after a long, similarly painful series of exchanges, seems to lose it. You fall back on simple, common-sense arguments…
But your website declares that all your best offers are only available online…?
Well, that offer’s quite obviously not available to you, is it Rachel?
Sorry, but does Vodafone really care about keeping me as a customer?
That’s a silly question.
Actually, I don’t think it is. Your tone has been sarcastic and rude, and you’re not helping me to get what I have been promised. You called me silly.
Well, it was a pretty dull question…
Kevin then tells you that no, you can’t talk to a supervisor, but he could try to get someone to call you back within 48 hours.
A while later, after taping the phone back together and collecting the broken shards of glass from the floor, you try just one more time. You try to call the store, where you had received at least courtesy before. But you can’t call a specific store, only a central number. This time, you get through to Omar in Egypt: apparently many of the Customer Service staff are based in Egypt. It was just bad luck you had to speak to Kevin in South Wales. Omar is polite, efficiently sorts out the offer promised previously, and puts a note on file. He says that the store may not have any in stock now, but you can go pick it up and all will be sorted.
Indeed, the store team are great. They give you their card with a direct line on, and call you a few days later when the phone arrives. All is well. The phone is a thing of beauty and simplicity. You are at peace.
Until you sign the document to confirm receipt of the phone, and beneath your personal details you see the description:
Customer value: low/medium
Well, at least that’s answered the silly and dull question that Kevin tried to dodge.