Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Vodafone: A tale of woe, poor customer service and being on hold.

This is a parable about customer service.

I don’t do bills.

Not because I’m a Elizabethan cad, rogue or rascal. Quite the opposite. In fact they stress me out to a point approaching tears and send my anxiety into overdrive. I once cried after speaking to the water company for less than 10 minutes. I look after a few (my car insurance, car tax and phone bill), but any of the ones that are joint are now done by my partner. I am constantly grateful for this. Never so much so as this evening.

We moved to Vodafone from Plusnet in January 2020 for the unlimited super fast broadband that was promised. She wanted to watch Netflix without the loading symbol and I wanted to play Playstation 4 games with a better connection so I’d win occasionally. It worked and while I still never win, for a while all was well.

We then bought our first house in July so rang Vodafone to move our broadband with us. We were told that we couldn’t get broadband at the new property straight away (3 months as it happens) but we’d be sent a dongle so we could continue to get wifi throughout this time, and it’d be on the same unlimited basis the same as our contract – no extra charge. “Just ring every 30 days” they said “then you won’t get charged”. So we moved house in late August, stored our Broadband Box ready for when we’d be connected and started using the wifi dongle instead.

30 days pass and dutifully we rang up and renewed no problems, but then, later in the month we noticed we’d been charged for mobile data. So my partner rang up to find out why. “Not a problem” we were told, “it’s an error with the setup” and so the charges were removed and the account setup properly.

“Do we need to ring up again” she asked, “no, it’s all sorted, nothing to worry about” came the reply.

So we waited until last week, the start of November, when our broadband was installed and we stopped using the wifi dongle and started using our Broadband Box. Then my partner noticed the bill on our account, it wasn’t the £23 a month charge, but instead was £422.26. The dongle had been accumulating charges throughout that time.

So she rang support and was passed from person to person, team to team, each time explaining the problem and each time being told that she needed to talk to another person. It took a long time, over three hours, and eight people until, eventually, the ninth customer support person returned from another extended period of being on hold, couldn’t hear my partner anymore and hung up after 30 seconds of my partner begging her to hear her. 

She burst into tears out of frustration.
3 hours and 7 minutes to be back at square one.

I then thought I’d have a go. I tried to get the contact details of a manager and a phone number from the online chat and was told they couldn’t do that – in a painful interaction where I managed to feel both fobbed off and complimented for taking the fobbing off simultaneously.

But my other half is tough. So she tried ringing again, and again was passed between teams (adding another 90 minutes in the process) before she ended up talking to someone who told her that because she’d not rung up to query to charges she’d have to pay them – despite being told that “no, it’s all sorted, nothing to worry about”

Then she got passed on to someone else who read the file and finally, after over 4 hours, referred it to the team to investigate and listen back to the phone calls that were made and hopefully, actually sort it.

“We’ve got your back” he says, before then telling her that they’ll investigate fully, listen to the phone calls to hear exactly what was said and ring her back on Monday morning. In the meantime it affected credit scores and the debt has been passed to a collections department.

ALSO… And this is where it gets worse – the broadband and mobile internet teams are separate it would seem, so we got no notification about any of this – no e-mail, phone call, or text because we were temporarily put on mobile internet and because they’re separate and haven’t synchronised any postal address changes any post notifications will have probably gone to the wrong address.

The lesson in all this… Well there’s a few, first and foremost being that empowering front line staff and giving them time and space to read, respond and understand complex problems is really important.

Secondly that one bad customer experience can kill a relationship – we will now probably not renew our contract with them and we will probably advise people not to use them (and I will, invariably, blog about it).

Thirdly that support staff across complex multi-stranded businesses should be holistic and able to deal with any enquiry before escalation.

Finally that good front line staff are worth their weight in gold, they’re knowledgeable, can understand complex problems and using their insight into systems, practices and the customer journey, would probably be more valuable that all the consultancies in the world.

I’d be fascinated if anyone from Vodafone reads this – if you do then drop me a line, I’d love to add your thoughts at the bottom of here.