Thursday, June 16, 2011

Final lessons on how not to treat your customers from Virgin Mobile: Part 1 - The experience

Last week was a great week, it was my last on Virgin Mobile, providers of 4 of my top 10 worst customer experiences I've ever received from any company and providers of numerous lessons and warnings for other businesses on exactly how not to treat customers. I've written about Virgin Mobile before but I've been reflecting on how much I don't want Shoes of Prey to by anything like this company and it's inspired a 2 part post. This post will summarise the worst of my Virgin Mobile experiences. Part 2 will focus on what I think might be happening internally at Optus (owners of Virgin Mobile) to cause this and the lessons we're taking for Shoes of Prey.

If you've read my previous Virgin Mobile posts, skip to lesson 4 for my latest and thankfully last Virgin Mobile experience.

Lesson 1: How not to survey your customers
Step 1. Email your customers with the promise of a $10 credit if they complete a 5 minute survey.
Step 2. After a page of questions tell them you actually don't need data on the particular plan they're on and don't give them the credit.
Step 3. Offer no explanation as to why you spammed this customer in the first place given you should know what mobile phone plan they're on before you waste their time for absolutely no reason.

Lesson 2: How to make customers angry with global roaming charges
Step 1. Don't explain anywhere that calls forwarded to voice mail while overseas are charged at global roaming rates. Instead ensure contracts are so poorly worded that a reasonable person could interpret them to mean the opposite.
Step 2. Have ridiculous unexplainable charges on customer bills like 3x 0:00 length calls in Japan costing a total of $5, that all occur at the exact same time.
Step 3. Make your customer spend hours on the phone explaining that points 1 and 2 are ridiculous. Have staff acknowledge that this is ridiculous, but tell you they aren't empowered to offer any credits in this case, instead they promise a manager will call you back.
Step 4. Have no managers call back
Step 5. Instead have a random customer survey team call back asking how you would rate your latest customer service experience on a scale of 1-10.
Step 6. When given a rating of minus infinity promise another manager call back which doesn't happen.

Lesson 3: How to make screwing your customers part of your financial/business model
Step 1. Have outrageous charges if customers exceed their allocated data allowance, to the tune of charging $2000 if they go over by 1gb.
Step 2. Even though no one in their right mind would want to spend this sort of money, and even though you track data usage if customers go to the effort of logging in online to check it, don't offer customers the ability to turn off data access if they hit their limit, or even an SMS service to tell customers they're approaching or reaching their limit.
Step 3. Leave customers fuming about the fact that in your sales plan you probably budget a certain percentage of customers to go over their data cap each month and be exposed to your outrageous charges.

Lesson 4: How not to deal with customers put out by the fact your national telecommunications product doesn't work 1km from Sydney's CBD
Step 1. Have a hole in your coverage at 12/285A Crown St. Surry Hills, Shoes of Prey's new office which is located 1km from the CBD of the largest city in the country. Ensure calls sometimes half work but then frustratingly drop out at random times. Ensure those random times include during interviews with journalists.
Step 2. Even though you're a mobile phone provider, not a landline provider, when the customer calls you about this problem tell them you only guarantee coverage at their home address.
Step 3. Even though you're having trouble hearing the customer because reception is dropping in and out at this very moment on this very call, tell the customer your system says reception at their address is fine.
Step 4. When you finally agree there might be a problem, instead of sending a technician, force your customer to waste 2 hours of their time troubleshooting different sim cards in different phones to confirm for you that it's not a phone issue.
Step 5. During a 30 minute call, where your customer has wasted 30 minutes of their life trying to explain why points 1, 2 and 3 are unreasonable and why they should be let out of their contract, have your service drop the call completely. Have this happen multiple times during the miserable process you force your customer to go through when your service doesn't work.
Step 6. Don't bother calling the customer back on any occasion where a 30 minute call drops out. Instead make your customer call you back and spend 30 minutes going through all the exact same points with a new customer service person.
Step 7. Tell the customer it's completely reasonable that they should have to pay $500 to exit their contract and don't budge on this.
Step 8. Force your customer to complain to the telecommunications industry ombudsman, wasting both your customer's time and taxpayer's money.
Step 9. Instead of resolving the above issues in a reasonable, ethical way, actually have a formal process in place with a separate team to deal with telecommunications industry ombudsman complaints. The process is so formalised you immediately offer to let the customer out of their contract for $100 instead of the $500 you spent hours not budging on previously. You clearly structure your processes in this way so you can continue to screw any customers who don't happen to know there is a telecommunications industry ombudsman.

The above are 4 of my top 10 worst customer experiences ever. I've been giving a lot of thought to how one company can provide such awful customer experiences so I'll share those thoughts and how to ideally prevent this happening in your organisation in a follow up post tomorrow.


  1. Haha, wow! That is a lot of beef!
    You have to wonder, though, are the other options really much better? You'd be paying more for Telstra, so there would be a higher expectation for customer service and experience. But, I'm not so sure. It's sad to say, but I think it's become a bit of an industry standard to operate with so little care for the individuals who are actually paying.

  2. Agreed, I've had bad experiences with all the major mobile carriers. That's one of the challenges with an industry that has such high capital costs / barriers to entry and therefore few competitors. Few competitors = no great need for them to differentiate on things like service. Telstra's customer service may not be great either, but at least their network is good so I should be able to actually use my phone for the purpose I have it for. :P

  3. Reception issue seems to be enough to demand contract termination via the Office of Fair Trading.
    As for the other choices - I'm waiting for my amaysim to arrive. At least they won't spam me with marketing rubbish, don't charge $2000 per gb and have no contract termination fee. Optus coverage is good enough. Don't yet know/care how their roaming works.

  4. I haven't regretted switching to Telstra 2 years ago.

    Whilst their phone customer service is still a bit flaky, their team on twitter are switched on and every time i've had an issue, they've been able to help me get it resolved, quickly!

    It's a shame though that this only happens via Twitter however I suspect its for 2 reasons- 1. Most of the interactions on Twitter are for all to see, whereas when you call the call center it's just you and them speaking and 2. They are a new area and as a result are getting a lot of attention/focus (probably a bit as a result of 1.).

    That being said, they do a great job and as a result, I always try them first when trying to sort something out.