Thursday, September 06, 2007

Appalling customer service

How can it be so difficult?

As I moved out of UK, I wanted to cancel my mobile contract. I had a pay monthly contract from Orange, and the easiest way to terminate the contract is to convert it to a pay as you go -contract. So you stop paying monthly for a bundle of calls and texts, and instead get an account that you need to top up in advance. This way, I thought, I could maintain a UK number and use it whenever in there, but not have to keep paying for services I wasn't using.

Unfortunately, this is where you sink to the bottomless hole that is Orange customer service. I've seen stories in the Finnish newspapers complaining how it takes up to 15 minutes to reach the customer service of mobile companies or digital tv helplines. Shock horror. It has now taken me and my girlfriend L a combined effort of THREE hours, and although we've occasionally managed to reach some customer service agents, the issue still hasn't been solved.

They have made leaving your contract criminally difficult. I'm going to make a formal complaint, as this is simply ridiculous...

OK, while I was writing this, I finally managed to bring this ludicrous saga to an end.

I had notified Orange at the end of JULY that I wish to terminate my contract. They said they'd send me a new pay as you go SIM card in a month, and then I'd need to call them again to activate the new card and that would terminate my contract.

As I'm already in Finland, L promised to take care of it, so I left my UK phone with her, with all the passwords etc. She got the new card, then tried to call Orange to activate it, and this is where it all started to go wrong. The first number didn't answer, the second said they were too busy to do these things (!), the third wasn't working at all. Finally, after a lot of queuing, she got through but they made a fuss about keeping my old number and it all got complicated. And finally they said they couldn't do it because she isn't me, and knowing all my security codes, birth dates, addresses and post codes, calling from my phone having unlocked it with my PIN wasn't enough. They take security very seriously... They told her that the best thing is to get me to call them and give my permission for her to act on my behalf and terminate the contract.

OK, this is when I started calling them. The first call was on hold for 20 minutes, and then the person was too stupid (sorry, just a fact) to understand what was going on, but finally I managed to explain what I wanted. He clearly hadn't done anything like this before, and after feverishly consulting his manuals he told me that the best thing for me to do would be to get the codes from L and call them again and terminate the contract myself. I objected, as queuing for yet another 20 minutes using an international call didn't sound like the "best thing" to me, but he practically refused to help me anymore, said that he'd have to transfer my call to another department to get this permission-thingy even started blah blah.

So I called L again, got the SIM card number and phone IMEI code and got back to the queue... And this is what really cracked me up. After navigating through the menus I thought I was queuing to "follow through a disconnection request". But as soon as I had told him what I wanted to do, the guy asks me to hold the line while he transfers me to someone who can disconnect me. WTF?! And you guessed, there was more queuing...

Finally, the person who took my call knew what he was doing. I gave the codes, he disconnected my contract and activated the pay as you go SIM. In about a minute. And keeping the old number was not an issue, that was the default option. He was efficient, quick, helpful and polite. Excellent service. Mate, you're seriously wasting your talent in that rubbish company.

In all, customer service in Orange is shit. Sorry for cursing, there are other words I could have used but they are worse. In July, I actually walked in to their store to disconnect my phone, thinking somehow that they could do the paperwork there, and that I could reach a customer service agent directly, without queuing. Of course this is not how it works. They just told me they can't do that and told me to call the customer services.

I don't know what these guys in their cheap and badly fitting suits do for work, then, as when I was trying to buy the phone in the first place, they couldn't sell one to me, either. They made me stand and wait there while they were calling their boss asking for permission to sign a contract. And, with all their fuss about security etc., they were faxing my credit card details back and forth, so that "they" could check that it was "OK"...

I don't know if the other phone companies are any better. I've heard stories that suggest they aren't. But what I can't understand is, why in that highly competitive British market, the companies get away with such horrible service? Perhaps it is that displeased customers wanting to switch providers can't, because they can't get through to the customer service...


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