Saturday, August 14, 2010

Virgin Mobile - a case study in how not to serve your customers

Happy employees provide better customer service than unhappy employees, and employees working at companies like Zappos do an amazing job with their customer service.

Employees at Virgin Mobile Australia clearly don't work in an organisation that respects it's customers and aims to provide a high level of customer service, their customer service is atrocious.

Prior to going overseas I checked in with Virgin Mobile's global roaming guidelines to see how I'd be charged when using my phone overseas. Here's a screen shot from this page:

I specifically thought through the scenario of someone listening to my voicemail message and reasoned that given I've been told I'll be charged when someone leaves a voicemail, and when I retrieve voicemail message, I mustn't be charged when someone just listens to the voicemail message. So I left a voicemail message on my phone explaining that I was overseas and to contact me via email.

A couple of days ago I received my bill and I have $74.08 of charges where people have listened to my voice mail message but then hung up and didn't leave a voicemail.

I figured that was either a mistake on my bill, or a mistake with Virgin's roaming guidelines on their website so, while I've got more important things to do with my time, I called them up to explain this to them. I thought I'd get a credit for the charges and possibly even a "Thank you for pointing out this error on our website, we'll fix that immediately". After 3 calls with a staff member and two manager's (who I had to chase up multiple times this week to have them call me back, after bring promised returned calls within 24 hours that never came) I've been told all global roaming charges are undisputable and that even though the website doesn't explain I'll be charged for this, I should have known that when someone listens to my message this is a connection and I will be charged for it, and if I was unsure I should have called Virgin Mobile to check. Instead of admitting their mistake and thanking me for pointing it out I've been offered a 50% courtesy credit.

When I explained the unreasonableness of this situation the first Virgin staff member said she couldn't give me any more credit because it would have to be justified to more senior managers and she could get in trouble if she couldn't justify it properly. Talk about a culture of fear rather than empowering employees to provide great service to their customers!

When the manager's finally called me back I explained all of the above and:
  • I shouldn't be expected to call Virgin to ask if I'll be charged for every imaginable scenario that's not listed as a charge on their website.
  • It's not reasonable to list every global roaming charge except one, then expect me to pay for those charges.
  • You can't argue that a charge you don't explain I'll receive is 'undisputable'.
  • I'll take the credit but I'm very unhappy and if I can be bothered to I may decide to follow up with the telecommunications ombudsman.

On this last point I was told that if I plan to do this the 50% credit won't be applied, is that not a threat?

And this hasn't been our only bad experience with Virgin Mobile of late. Jodie organised to have her phone unlocked while we were overseas. She was explicitly told that she wouldn't be charged for this but lo and behold she received her bill and there's a $50 unlocking charge on it, which she then had to chase up and forward on the email correspondence she had with Virgin to have the charge removed. She had also been told she would be notified in a week's time when her phone had been unlocked, but she was never notified and had to follow that up herself.

A couple of days after we arrived home Jodie was calling in to retrieve 2 voice mail messages that had been left for her but couldn't retrieve them. She called Virgin to get this resolved. Instead of trying to resolve the issue and without checking with Jodie first, the Virgin staff member reset Jodie's voicemail and wiped the two messages that had been left by other businesses Jodie was waiting to hear back from that day.

Every few months I'm sent a marketing communication from Virgin Mobile saying that if I fill out a 5 minute survey I'll be given a credit toward my Virgin Mobile account. Twice I've followed the links and answered the first few questions of the survey only to be told that they don't need data from customers on my type of mobile contract so I won't be finishing the survey or getting the credit. Virgin, you know my details and what plan I'm on, please don't waste my time making me read these messages and having me start the survey if you actually don't need information from me.

And my final complaint with Virgin Mobile is that it's not possible to put a limit on your mobile data usage, and their fees for going over the limit are exorbitant. I have a 1gb data plan and a few months ago I went 20mb over, which is not much. I was charged $40. If that happens again I would prefer that my data plan just stops, or at the very least I would receive an email telling me I've reached my data limit but Virgin don't do either of those things. Instead I have to manually keep checking whether I'm approaching my limit. The logical explanation for this is that Virgin Mobile are attempting to make money from their customers who accidentally go over their data usage limits, 1gb excess usage would be a nice $2,000 pay day for Virgin.

If it wasn't for the fact that there are not a lot of options in mobile providers, that I've also had bad experiences with Telstra and Optus in the past, and Virgin is the only mobile provider to include international calls within their caps, which I use a lot, I would be switching mobile providers immediately after these experiences and if a new one happens to launch with even just a reasonable approach to customer service, and international calls included in the cap I'll change tomorrow. I'd love to see iiNet enter the space, they've been fantastic as an internet service provider.

This is also an issue for a company like Virgin that lends it's brand to lots of different operators. While Virgin Blue, Virgin Money and the other worldwide Virgin brands aren't actually associated with Virgin Mobile and may provide completely different customer service experiences, when one of them screws up like this it reflects poorly on their businesses for most people.

Two lessons come out of this for us at Shoes of Prey:

1. We must ensure that Carmen, Vanessa and Qun enjoy their jobs and are empowered to make decisions to make customers happy. We should applaud their efforts to make customers happy rather than have them working in an environment where they fear providing great service to a customer might get them in trouble. I think we do a good job of this already, but we need to keep it at the forefront of our minds so we don't even vaguely start going in the direction of Virgin Mobile's customer service.

2. When we launch with international partners we need to ensure they take a similar approach to customers service as we do so our brand isn't negatively effected in other markets, as is happening with the Virgin brand. Again, I'm very happy with how this is going at the moment, but it's something to keep in mind.


  1. I tried to change my Virgin Mobile phone number online, that was a mistake. After I changed the phone number and confirmed it online, I tried to make a call and I got the message that they could not verify my account. Three days later I still cannot make a call. I cannot even call Virgin Mobile support without getting the "cannot verify account message." I tried calling from another phone and cannot get through to a live person. I emailed and they sent a message back saying they would contact me after they looked into it. Now 3 days later the new phone number does not show up online and I cannot log into my account which is in good standing.

  2. I completely agree wih you. I face similar issues mentioned above in the article. It is the worst customer service in Australian mobile companies

  3. How ironic. Almost 3 years on, and virgin mobile customer services are hauntingly similar. Promises of call backs, customer service staff unable to resolve issues (but are wonderfully good at saying they understand your frustration)without involving their manager, multiple phone calls before issues are resolved (sometimes seemingly rather than actually!). And complaints to telecommunications ombudsman seems to make little difference.. yet as this author has commented.. who of their competitors are any better?