Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Customer Service - not if Vodafone can help it

Customer service is a job that I, personally, would no longer do. Having spent my time on the IT support desk I know just how unreasonable customers can be and how easily they lie about their problems, especially when it becomes evident that they are the cause.

As a result, I do everything I can before ringing support desks including, at the risk of losing my geek status - reading the manual and looking through the FAQ on the website. However, it occasionally reaches the point where there is a need to make a phone call and speak, hopefully, to someone rather than an automated system.

This week, while completing a VAT return I realised that for some reason I had not seen a Vodafone bill for a few months. In fact, it turns out that the last bill I received was 3 months ago, just in time for the completion of the previous return. Having exhausted all possibilities such as misfiling, sitting in a pile of unopened post or trapped underneath a pile of books, I soon realised that this wasn't a problem at my end but at Vodafone's end.

I duly called Vodafone and was politely informed by a helpful customer service agent that for some reason I had been put on electronic only billing and under my wife's name not mine. There was no information as to who or why this had occurred and neither my wife nor I would have asked for it to happen. More importantly, the phone account and payments are all in my name from my bank account so for Vodafone to have attempted to setup an online account in my wife's name made no sense at all.

Thinking this would be a quick fix I asked for the outstanding bills to be sent to me by email. Apparently Vodafone doesn't do email. I asked why not and was told, that they just don't. The best they could do was send them in the post. With a VAT return due within a couple of days, I didn't have several weeks for the Post Office to cope with the Christmas backlog and deliver my bills but asked for that to happen anyway. I also asked if we could sort out the online system and that's when the problems started.

Vodafone uses an online system that sends you a security code by SMS when you want to register online. The code is valid for 20 minutes which is a reasonable security feature but something that only works if your network can deliver in that time. The first code arrived quickly enough and everything was fine until it decided that it didn't like my customer number. After entering it three times I was told that I would have to start again and that meant a new code.

The code arrived promptly but now the system had decided that there was a "temporary error" and I should try later. A couple of hours later, a few trys later and nothing so I called back. This time I was faced with someone who decided that no matter what I thought the problem was, she was going to answer a different problem. After a while I requested to speak to a manager.

It turns out that you cannot speak to a manager at Vodafone. Instead, you are told that within 48 hours, depending on their appointment schedule, someone will call you. There is no way around this. You might be the customer but you have to fit in with what they want to do, not expect them to talk to you - end of story.

A few hours pass and I still cannot get into the system - temporary clearly isn't temporary. Another call, another customer service person who even went to the extent of calling the web support team and this time, a possible solution. The web team would set up the account and email me within 20 minutes with a temporary password.

20 hours later I called back. Email can be slow but not that slow. I get told that Vodafone has been having these problems for over 2 months and they are not temporary at all. Customers cannot register for online accounts, a computer bug is randomly moving people from paper to electronic statements and if I hold, they might help me. Instead, I get transferred to Online Sales who promptly disconnect me as I'm not looking to buy anything.

Eventually I get through to someone who also went the extra mile and tried to get a solution but instead, just saved me one step on the registration process which still came back with the temporary error. By now, there is another problem in that the SMS messages are taking over 30 minutes which means that the code is invalid before you receive it.

After all of this, I tried to call the Press Office because if this is a long term problem it would be helpful to get a formal statement of what they are doing about it. No answer. Maybe they were all out or maybe the network was down.

But what of the promised callback from a manager. Ha ha ha. More chance of Santa's Elves being caught shopping at the local car boot fair. Having waited the obligitory 48 hours I called back and surprise, surprise, no-one knew why I had not received the call. The best I could get was a promise of a call in the next three hours on my landline. Will just have to wait and see but I'm not holding my breath.

UPDATE: 90 minutes after this post I received a call from a Customer Service manager who immediately put me back on itemised billing without any problems whatsoever. This removes my frustration with the online billing and registration system but not anyone else's. Apparently this could have been done at any point over the last few days. The outstanding bills have been sent to me although they will have to go into my next set of accounts.

The issue of no emailing was also explained to me. Apparently, Vodafone has taken the view that sometimes customers service agents and customers can become too friendly on telephone calls so to prevent any unexpected escalation using work computers, email is disabled. However, any supervisor or manager can send email so all that was required was a simple escalation asking for the outstanding bills to be sent to me via email and that would have quickly happened.