Virgin Media: Incompetent, hypocritical and downright rude

by Suw on December 6, 2007

I’ve just got off the phone with Garlands Debt Collection and Credit Management Services, and am pretty much spitting feathers with anger.

The story goes like this. Unbeknownst to me, the card from which Virgin Media are taking monthly payments runs out. It wasn’t my card – my Mum is my Company Secretary, and we used her card for this – so I didn’t notice. I am later told that Virgin emailed me, on a seven year old address (even though it is – or should be – fed through to my Gmail account), on 1 October and 30 October, to ask for payment. I get neither of these emails. I’ve done an exhaustive search through spam and trash, but I can’t find hide nor hair of them.

On 29 November, then finally send me a letter which arrives on 30 November and says:

“… we have recently been advised that the payment details you have provided us have been cancelled.

“As we have no valid payment details, your Virgin Media ADSL account has now been suspended. If you do not provide payment details within the next 5 days your account may be cancelled.”

I am, as Kevin can attest, livid, and I call up the first opportunity, the next day. I speak to Ashley, who takes payment for the £35.98 arrears by debit card, and sets up a direct debit so we’re not put in this position again. This is all annoying, but it’s not a big deal.

On the Sunday, our connection dies. I call Virgin Media again, and speak to Wayne, who tells me that whilst Ashley set up the direct debit, he forgot to unflag our account for disconnection. He reconnects us, and tells us that everything is fine.

Today, I get a letter from Garlands, threatening me with legal action over the arrears, dated 3 December. I am, as you can imagine, not happy. I ring up, and decide to record the call. For the sake of fairness, I tell them I am recording the call. The guy I speak to says that he has to check with a supervisor about that, so he puts me on hold. He comes back and says that they don’t accept calls being recorded. I tell him I’m going to record it anyway and can we just get on with it.

The hypocrisy here is that the very first thing you hear when you ring Virgin is that they might record the call, and I see no reason why a corporation should be able to refuse to have a call recorded. If they have the right to record me, I have the right to record them. But more importantly than that, they are threatening me with legal action. The fastest way to resolve this is by phone, and there is no way I’m going to have a phone call about a legal matter and not record it in some manner, especially given that Virgin Media’s customer service procedures are so deeply flawed. That’s just basic self-protection.

Anyway, I tell the chap from Garlands exactly what’s happened and he goes off to get his supervisor again, who’s called Julie. Julie gets off on the wrong foot entirely, forcing me to repeat my story. I am not happy. Julie’s attitude stinks: She refuses to listen to me, interrupts me continually, and then gets haughty when I get cross. She then checks the account and says that everything is in order. I ask her if she’s going to send me a letter confirming that fact. She says she won’t until the first direct debit has gone through, which will also be the point at which my arrears are paid off, despite me trying to pay them off last week by debit card. She says they don’t normally send letters out, but if I’m “demanding one” then they will. I tell them that yes, I am asking them to send me a letter. I may not get it until January, as it takes them that long to get their act together.

So all’s well that ends well. Except it’s not. There are so many things wrong with this whole affair.

I’ve been a Virgin customer for seven years, and I’ve never defaulted on a single payment, but that counts for nothing with them. Whilst the Virgin Customer Services guys, Ashley and Wayne were polite and friendly, even when I was cross, Julie was probably one of the rudest, most arrogant and obnoxious people I’ve had to deal with in a long time. She needs to learn to be quiet whilst people are talking, to stop interrupting and stop being an arse.

But really the problems here are at a fundamental, procedural level. Virgin Media simply should not be sending emails out to years-old email addresses about something like a missed payment. Email just isn’t that reliable, and unless you have an ongoing email relationship with someone – which they don’t – you simply can’t tell if they are getting your message. The first thing they should have done was send me a letter when the first payment was missed which politely explained the situation and told me how to remedy it, including giving me Customer Services number and instructions on how to set up a direct debit or add a new debit/credit card to my account.

One the second missed payment, they should send another letter, mentioning the first, and politely explaining that this is rather important that it’s all fixed before the next payment due date, which should be included. After that deadline passes then yes, escalate to the “We’ll cut you off if you don’t respond” type of letter.

But the first I know of this problem is a stroppy letter from Virgin. Not good.

Further more, sending out a letter threatening legal action just a few days after the first letter telling me I might get cut off is ludicrous. Virgin should give me a chance to act upon the first letter before giving my details to Garlands, and should ensure that they do not put people into the legal willy-waving system who have actually paid off the arrears and made everything right.

Julie took great pains to tell me that Garlands are not responsible for any of this, that they just do as Virgin tell them, but I don’t buy that at all. If they are getting confused and angry phonecalls from people like me who have taken the appropriate action and made good, then they need to be telling Virgin that the procedure is flawed, that they are being asked to act on accounts that are no longer in arrears. Julie’s attempt to abdicate responsibility for this does not wash at all, although it does fit with her shitty attitude.

The absurd thing about this is that Virgin are wasting money by not thinking through this through more thoroughly. Yes, an early letter costs more than an email, but I would have sorted the problem out there and then, and all would have been well. Even if I hadn’t sorted it out and they’d still sent the Nov 29th letter, they should have given me more time to act before forwarding me on to Garlands. They pay Garlands for every account chased, I would imagine, and they just wasted money having me chased when I’d already fixed the problem.

Garlands clearly don’t give a shit – they’re getting paid and that’s all that matter to them. But even they could be saving money by not acting like pompous pricks on the phone. I’m not sure why I had to speak to Julie instead of the first – and more polite – chap who answered the phone. Perhaps it’s because I said I was recording the call. (But frankly, what goes around, comes around. Suck it up, Garlands.) But whatever the reason, if Julie learnt to keep quiet, let the customer talk, and then politely explain what’s going on, she could have cut that call time in more than half. Instead of a 12 minute call, it should have been a 2 minute call – me explaining, and them saying “It’s all fine, sorry for the inconvenience.”

You can get through a lot more calls a lot quicker if you’re just nice to the person who’s calling, no matter how cross they are. Start off by apologising, and stay pleasant the whole way through the call, and by the end of it the caller will be calm and may even apologise to you for being cross. (I’ve done that myself – ring up feeling livid, then end up apologising for being a bit cross because the person on the other end of the phone was so nice.)

But the bottom line is that Kevin and I are now going to look for another ISP. Virgin Media have done worse than waste money, they’ve pissed me off, and maybe even irreparably damaged a previously good relationship. Collection agencies almost by default are a bunch of assholes. They often deal with people who lie, cheat and/or are broke, and so they return shitty behaviour with more shitty behaviour. Virgin need to understand that when they escalate a situation to a collection agency that they most likely will lose that customer. No one likes to have financial attack dogs loosed on them and legal threats made.
I have Twittered liberally about my thoughts regarding Virgin Media, and I shall not hesitate to tell anyone who asks just how incompetent they are. Their accounts escalation procedure is broken, and if they go from zero to legal action in less than seven days, they can expect to lose a lot more customers. I’m not an “A-list” blogger, but who knows how many people will read this and decide against using them as an ISP. And all for what? A bit of common sense and politeness.

Neville Hobson December 6, 2007 at 4:18 pm

Wow, Suw! Makes my negative experiences with Virgin Media – about which I’ve commented a lot on my blog – look like a Sunday school picnic by comparison.

There is a huge disconnect at Virgin Media between what they trumpet as offering “amazing customer service” and what too many people actually experience.

Can their business model change in terms how they see customers and how they want to really engage with people? Of course it can if they want it to. Do they, though? Little evidence that they do.

David Phillips December 6, 2007 at 6:01 pm

Hi Suw.
I just love your post. Of course, Virgin now have a recording of your conversation which you can ask for and they are legally bound to provide. Which on the basis of ‘if you ruin my day – I will ruin yours is quite nice.
The interesting thing now is how fast the Virgin PR team get in on the act and start to react to the online reputation damage that is being done.
We shall see….

Michael Randall December 6, 2007 at 7:33 pm

I had similar experiences back in the ntl days – received a letter threatening legal action for three months of unpaid account. It turned out they’d just stopped taking the direct debit for one part of the account (we had phone, TV and Internet accounts). A while later, they did the same thing again.

It took quite a few phone calls to sort it out – at least a couple of people I spoke to never actually bothered to put the payments through or set up direct debits I was trying to set up – presumably they were just being pushed to get onto the next call, regardless of actually helping anyone.

Oh, and both times they claimed it was a one-off problem, and that this sort of thing never normally happens. Didn’t fool me, though – they did the same thing to my parents a couple of months before they did it to me.

Simon McGarr December 6, 2007 at 8:06 pm

I had a similar run in with a collection agency after a disagreement with O2 over the definition of a contract.
In the end the collection agency sent me a letter asking me never to phone them again.

I would suggest you print this off, enclose a covering letter explaining that this is the situation as you currently understand it and requesting that if there is any inaccuracy therein that they ought to get back to you within, say seven days.

There will be a further error.

Leisa Reichelt December 7, 2007 at 3:25 pm

so, did I tell you about the time when Virgin Media randomly showed up and said they needed to collect our set top box … then when I called them to ask why and when we’d be getting it back, claimed to have no record of having collected it, implied that it was stolen by a set top box scammer and told me that I’d have to go to the local police, report it stolen, and then claim back the £250 they were going to charge me from a new box from my home and contents insurance? that was a hoot.

I was with ntl before they were eaten by Virgin Media and had no problems then. Since then, have had nothing but problems… most of which are apparently due to the fact that they have about six separate customer databases, and quite a few different ‘customer teams’ and if you happen to move house and end up with records in more than one database… god help you.

but.. we don’t have a BT phone line, so as far as I know, we have pretty limited choice when it comes to alternative providers. *sigh*

Libby Davy December 13, 2007 at 9:43 am

As an ex-PR type I used to say I will be issuing a press statement with a summary of my concerns along with those of anyone else I can find unless my (reasonable) demand is met by 12pm the next day.

Hopefully the blogosphere and google alerts can ensure such heavy handed tactics are no longer so necessary. “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” – loving it!

I’m going to RSS this thread as I am a dying to know what happens. Wish I had recorded the conversation between myself and the secretary of the surgeon who was going to excavate my ear canal. When I asked for references and basic metrics for this rather important procedure, she spluttered with indignation and simply spat: “I can ASSURE you MR So-and-so’s work is of the highest standard.” Straight out of Jane Austen! Now THAT is an “industry” in need of reform. Wait until you have a baby. Then you’ll know all about it. Would really love to see some blogger-led action around birth, medicine and other such matters of relative importance.

Good luck Suw. My partner/husband Graeme Sutherland (early Electronic Frontier Foundation guy) has been telling me to look you up for years. Now I can see what all the fuss is about. Really keen to rap about the wider conceptual space of blogging and taking forward a positive agenda. Seeing Andy you-know-who and the Blog * Council emerging (jamming alerts there – hmm question to self about ethics) has got me a tad concerned, to say the least. More on our site (early days). Bestest – Libby

Suw December 18, 2007 at 4:43 pm

Thanks for all the comments. So far Virgin Media’s PR people have entirely failed to get in touch. But I think Kev and I have decided that as soon as Christmas is over, we’ll be looking for a new ISP. Suggestions welcome.

It’s sad, mostly because it doesn’t need to be like this. There’s no reason that their processes have to be so bad. *sigh*

Jem March 25, 2008 at 1:45 pm

Hi all me and my partner have had a fair few issues with Vigin ourselves, some relating to them taking payments that had either been made already, or in the case of my partner, he had payments tried to be taken for £70 odd twice and no such amount was due! Others being about customer service and how these idiots thatr are employed by Virgin either do not know the answers to questions, or, downright lie to us.
We even had an incident where irgin came to our new home to sort out our package, but the “DONKEY” that was doing it actually broke a peice of equiptment only for us to be sat waiting for a week for them to sort it out!
My latest issue is that they claim we owe from our last bill, but in fact my partner payed using the barcode at our local post paypoint! Shame Virgin are so S&*T!

Michael Turner April 18, 2008 at 8:37 pm

I have had cable TV for a few years now, since 25th October 1999, well it was Cable & Wireless then.
On my first ‘bill’ , I had ‘1 Digital Upgrade Paid’ on it, it was free, when we got digital TV in my area, I would get the upgrade for free, by the time my area got it, it was NTL & they wanted me to pay for it, which I refused, that was the first time I found out the bad side of NTL.

I canceled Analogue TV & phone latter & the direct debit (was still paying NTL Broadband by Direct Debit, the only service I had then), they still senting me a invoice for TV & phone, with only one thing, non direct debit charge each month ? every time I phone & they credit me the charge again ? that happen a few months, I then got 3 for £30 digital TV & phone service, with the broadband I had, since then, they stop senting me the invoice ?
For about year and half, I phoned, email and they have told me to contact Royal Mail, see my postman (who would steal a invoice ? but nothing else ? ), told me they fixed it, many times.
Last time, I emailed them I got this reply.

Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.
It appears your account was set not to print bills. I am sorry about
this, and have now corrected it. I have also ordered a copy of March’s
bill. This is normally £2.00 but I have applied that £2.00 credit back
onto your account so it is free of charge.

But I am still waiting for that invoice still, this email was sent on 11th April 2008, may be too soon ? I had phoned them about two weeks before, when they told me they fix it on the phone, but never said what was wrong ? he told me, they will sent me a copy of last month, nothing came.
It a pain to deal with Virgin NTL customer Service, as mostly it very bad & nothing has changed with the name change to virgin, or going with Telewest (I wonder if Telewest customer service has got as bad as Virgin NTL ? ).

Some of the thing about Virgin NTL I like, like Video on Demand, Penny Movies (not much choice, but not bad at the price), BBC 1 & Radio Ulster / Scotland / Wales, but the good things about NTL, are overshadow by Virgin NTL awful Customer Service.
The only reason I am still with them, is that I live in a Council flat, which is a listed building, so can not have Sky or Freeview (aerial not very good, only can get two channel & that not very good picture or sound ? ), the only way I can watch TV, is with Virgin NTL.

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