This wonderful letter was sent to DCR by Gryff Rhys-Moans. That’s not his real name of course . The names of all the UK-based Virgin Media protagonists have also been changed, especially Big Mike who, as his pseudonym suggests is somewhat larger than our hero Gryff and is likely to be rather pissed off if he recognises his part in this tale of woe. None of us want to see Gryff tied to a nearby lamppost with a fibre-optic cable! Even the village name has been changed though the events described did indeed come to pass in Lancashire.
Sadly, and to the eternal shame of Virgin Media, the rest of the tale is completely true! Sir Richard, you have some explaining to do.
Nether Handle, Lancashire.
By Email to Virgin Media Complaints Department
Dear Customer Relations,
I initially ordered Virgin Media on the 27th July 2012. I feel it is important I include the year when I am dating things in this letter, it has dragged on longer than the average footballer’s racism tribunal.
Upon purchasing a new home, I ordered Virgin over competitors such as Sky and BT Vision. This was because although I wanted phone, broadband and satellite television services (which each provider offered), Virgin offered by far the fastest internet at the most competitive price. As someone who works a lot from home due to my wife’s illness, internet installed quickly was a necessity. However, our shared love of both internet gaming and streaming films from Netflix/Lovefilm et al meant that Virgin was realistically the only choice. This was given that the broadband speed was approximately 6 times faster than the others even with the basic package.
In addition to this, both the TiVo system and the broadband itself came highly recommended to me by the people with whom I am in business with. Indeed, the reason we went with another provider for internet at our business premises is simply because the fibre optic service was not available in our location.
At the initial installation date of the 16th August 2012, I received only a text message at 1.00pm stating “cant do install today because the cable will have to be pulled in at night because the pit is in the middle of the road. Sorry mate.” How on earth does it come to pass that an engineer can be sent out to do a job where the prerequisite component has not been completed, when this is something the same company should have done? I could understand if Virgin subcontracted to a company who had made a mistake with the night pull, but there was literally no mention of this. The engineer himself was named Steve, and provided me with a phone number for customer services so that I could resolve my query. Steve, bless him clearly has more faith in the support staff than I now do.
Given that I am from the North, I am reasonably forgiving with people who struggle with my accent. Mancunian is not the easiest thing to pick up in the space of ten minutes. That however, does not excuse the conduct of an individual who’s name so far as I could deduce was ‘Sohn’. The gentleman was certainly not of British origin, and did not understand the question ‘Precisely in which location is your call centre based?’. I asked to speak to a manager, as this gentleman clearly did not sympathise with how annoyed I was at the time. Whilst maintaining what I assume to be an absolute straight face, Sohn informed me ‘we don’t have managers’. I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that the hierarchy at Virgin does not consist of Mr Branson himself, and then a free-for-all for underlings. Sadly, Sohn did not appreciate my humour, and again repeated that he was not subject to any kind of power struggle in his place of work, wherever that may be. I can only pray that the rest of Sohn’s co-workers are as fantastically autonomous as his good self.
It was finally stumbled upon that Sohn has a supervisor – what luck! This person was far too busy to take my call, and could not call me back at any time soon. I am also suspicious that he/she is a figment of Sohn’s imagination. Either way, I hope you have recorded that particular call to demonstrate how to annoy someone in 3 easy steps.
Since then, the whole process has been an absolute nightmare. I have taken two half days off work (unpaid), once for a crew to turn up and tell me the ‘night-pull’ hasn’t been done yet. Another, for a crew to just not turn up at all.
I eventually (after persistent complaints), managed to get in touch with Mike Prince.1 Mike is the Regional Installation Manager for our area. On the phone this man is as helpful and compliant as it is possible to be. However, too many times I have been left without a courtesy call, text message or any form of communication from him, after promises of immediate action. I am aware that sometimes unforeseen obstacles are thrust into our path. I am also aware that plenty of the things I am complaining about were way beyond the scope of his control. However, what annoys me most in all this is that a simple 3 minute phone call would have put me immediately in the picture. I am under no illusions that the problem would be solved on the spot, but while I am losing money on my unpaid days off I would at least like to be kept in the loop. Do you think this is unreasonable?
At this point Mike explained the problem to me in some detail. Although the night pull had now been done there was a blockage underneath the pavement, approximately 10 metres from our house. This meant that the engineers had not been able to get the cable anywhere near our house, thus meaning the installation team had nothing to work with.
A work order was put out (this is the terminology I was given) to dig up this section of the pavement,2 and to remove the blockage hindering the install. Once Mike returned from yet more time underground, I was greeted with the announcement that while he had disappeared off the face of the earth once more, the order had been cancelled. Mike explained to me upon his return from the abyss that this was due simply to the costs involved. Owing to the fact that we did not have any Virgin property yet in the house, the team thought it not cost-effective to spend such a large amount of money digging up the road to service one potential new customer. I am assuming that this is their job, and the costs involved are not significant to them? Otherwise, I think teachers might start to consider it quite within their rights to refuse to teach delinquents, on account of the fact they will never amount to anything and thus not pay enough tax to recover the teacher’s wages. Perhaps I am a cynic though.
My most recent aborted installations were attempted Weds 19th Sept, when Mike himself came down to oversee things. Again the installation didn’t happen. Quite what went wrong that time was explained to me with the usual amount of shoulder-shrugging and industry specific jargon I am of course not familiar with.
On that Wednesday, Mike resolved to bring the ‘Head of Civils’ down with him to inspect the problem. I am not sure who this mythical creature is, or quite what he in charge of. El Head Honcho of Civils duly arrived Friday 21st to hopefully understand the complexities of the install. It was in this meeting that he and Mike formulated a plan to remove the problem of the blockage. Apparently, there was another ‘box’ situated on the other side of the road to us that could service our needs adequately, whilst eliminating the need to go through the line where the blockage was – hurrah!
Monday 24th – massive surprise, nobody turned up. Called Mike, who’s phone at first just rang out. I texted him, so that I would receive a reply once he saw this. Imagine my shock when I called again later on and his phone was switched off. It was as if he knew why I was calling!
I then spoke to an insanely helpful Welsh gentleman on the customer service line, who got in touch with the installation team – they knew nothing of what was supposed to happen that morning. They sent a team out, who obviously could do nothing because the cable had not been pulled. They then sent out a ‘civils’ team who were not from the area (closer to Liverpool if I’m not mistaken).3 These lads immediately surmised what every other team had – blockage, and a dig needed. I explained that Mike had assured me that a dig was not needed, because another box has been found to get around the blockage – an absolute mystery to these lads. They were pretty certain this was not possible. I am inclined not to call their judgement into question, as they lacked even entry-level shoulder-shrugging, and were the very definition of proactivity. Refusing even my shameless bribe of a brew, they searched repeatedly for the phantom ‘solve-all’ that I spoke of. Sadly, due to lack of evidence they seemed to conclude that I had been smoking something untrustworthy.
I myself work for a company tasked with the installation of gas and electric smart-meters. I am of the opinion that our industries are not too dissimilar. In my position within the senior management, this scenario has NEVER once happened. Engineers are encouraged to photograph a failed install, and annotate the photo with details of why completion could not be achieved. Customer service is a skill in which all engineers are assessed, to make sure sales are not lost based on the character of an individual. I realise that with a team of 10 engineers this is a significantly easier process than what you must encounter within your organisation! I cannot understand though how we have got to such a position as this, given that Virgin (to be worth so much) must be systemised to the hilt. We have been trading since October 2011, and as long as I am on this earth, we will never ever make such a hash of an installation as this.
Tuesday 25th – The morning started traditionally with a phone call to Mike’s voicemail, just to check if his phone was on. By this time, he had received several phone calls, a voicemail, and two texts from me. I would have thought that given the tone of these last two communications, he would have been able to get the vibe that I was less than impressed. This would mean that to be assured he was doing his job responsibly; he would of course ring me back and try to sort out my grievance.
I think you can see where this is going?
Mike was again unavailable for comment the whole day. I took the liberty of ringing the name mentioned in his voicemail (Lou Branning). This guy was part of the installation team who turned up on the Monday afternoon for a good shoulder-shrug. Anyway, he would “definitely ring me back that and let me know what’s going on”. Naturally, I both expected and received no further communication from him. The irony in all this is that Virgin Media are a communications company, who seem to have an internal system roughly equivalent to a piece of string with a yoghurt pot attached at each end. I can only hope the airline section of this business is better managed, otherwise next year’s tour of Asia may need to be reconsidered.
Wednesday 26th – Called Mike’s voicemail, which is now as much ingrained into my routine as the morning pee. Sent a bleating text message asking him to ring me. Debated threatening going to Sky again, but realised he wouldn’t be give a damn.
Got nothing back, which is now as common as the morning voicemail call. Decided to take a chance on what Virgin affectionately refer to as ‘customer services’. Spoke to a genuinely helpful North Amercian chap called Peter Avon. Peter understood the problem, and said he would make it his business to ensure a rescheduled appointment was made. I reiterated that this was not satisfactory,
as I needed internet quickly, and was not happy to let him leave after giving me vague promises of possible future installation. Peter eventually managed to unseal the phone from his ear and toddled off presumably to facilitate my request.
Wednesday 26th – 12.12pm – Was thrilled to receive correspondence via telephone from Julie Escavito. My elation quickly turned to displeasure when it became clear Julie was not exactly ‘switched on’. She claimed to have spoken to Peter, but then informed me that my order had been cancelled on 12th September. That however, was no problem whatsoever as she could rebook it for me right that second. It’s fair to say there were probably only 3 things she could have said at that exact moment which would have resulted in me being in a worse mood. All involved the death of a loved one, and so this genuinely was the worst thing lovely Julie could have said to me. Furthermore, when I enquired as to who had cancelled my order and why, this information was not immediately available. I was placed on hold for 8 minutes of my life that I will never retrieve, and then finally Julie admitted defeat and asked if it was ok to ring me back after further investigation.
Wednesday 26th – Texted Mike again for a bit of a laugh. Had mini-stroke upon receipt of a reply. Apparently the day was being spent doing interviews, and so he would have to contact me whilst ‘on a break’. I ponder this for a second and realise that one of two things has just happened:
1. If Mike is able to text, then surely he is in some kind of break? In which case, why not ring me?
2. Mike, rebel that he is, is texting me DURING an interview. Given that this is about as professional as urinating in the water fountain, I conclude it is the former and continue to grumble about Mike to myself and my sleeping wife.
Another concern begins to eat at me, awakening the part of me that feels like it’s being lied to. I remember that the week before, Mike’s previous excuse for not coming back to me in what one would deem a ‘timely manner’ was, “I’ve had such a difficult all day meeting talking about us making redundancies”. Am I therefore seriously meant to believe that over the course of what may be 3 to 4 weeks, the fortunes of Virgin’s installation team have changed so drastically from ‘redundancy headache’ to ‘hardcore all-day recruitment drive?’
Wednesday 26th – 2.01pm – Peter Avon calls, to ask if everything has been resolved now I have spoken to Julie. I tell him I would have got further to a solution for this problem had I not spent the time talking to Julie but instead had attempted to coerce my dog into a handstand for the entertainment of my now awake wife.
Peter was sympathetic once again, which was nice. I get some butterflies, and then remember that I am both married and sober. Peter tells me that he will contact the installation team directly. He assures me that he will sort it ‘real quick now’, which I presume means ‘hastily’. Forgive my cynicism once more, but I have met the majority of the installation team he is mentioning. My hopes are certainly not high.
I decide that there is only one logical course of action in this situation. I will speak to the 6 friends I know have a chronic gambling addiction, and take bets on whether Virgin will:
a) Send an installation team to come and shoulder-shrug and head scratch outside my gate, true to form, or
b) Inform me that the nearest installation date for a place like mine is 2.30am December 27th 2013.
With the money raised by this venture, I will ring Virgin and ask them to send an installation crew then bribe the engineer to dig up the pavement, with no regard for prams4 or wheelchair access. Although this sounds fool proof, it may not work. In that instance, I will use the money generated to fund the purchase of the more expensive Sky package.
Wednesday 26th – 2.34 – The delightful Julie called again to ruin my day. I learn mid-conversation that the reason we may be struggling to understand each other, is because she is based in the Philippines and cannot paint an accurate picture in her head of Nether Handle, despite my best efforts to conjure some suitable imagery.
Julie goes on to inform me that the reason my installation has been cancelled is…. wait for it… ‘no contact’.
I am at this moment speechless, and sweating like a Prince Harry lookalike in downtown Basra.
On this occasion only, I am prepared to admit that I lost the plot on an absolutely biblical scale. I have phoned, texted, emailed, bled and sweated every day since August 16th, just for this halfwit to now tell me that I have had my order cancelled. I asked to speak to Julie’s supervisor, which she assumed meant I wanted to be transferred to another department. After much toing and froing, I eventually managed to get across that I wanted ‘THE GUY WHO DISHES OUT YOUR ORDERS’. This was a gentleman by the name of ‘Gerry Octavio’. After this, I calmed my pulse which I noticed was beating at roughly the pace of a standard pneumatic drill. I sat down to wait for my glorious phone call from Gerry, whom I just knew would surely be in a position (although not geographically) to sort this problem out for me.
Gerry never called.
I did however speak to Peter again this afternoon. I think we may become best friends, although I’m not sure how Peter will feel about this. Plus, given the various locations of the other call centres I have come up against, I feel it is only a matter of time before Peter drops the bombshell that he is calling me from his igloo in northern Alaska via his 120Mb fibre optic broadband. Peter had no real information to impart, and seemed to just want to apologise.
Today is obviously a good day. After the shock of a text this morning from Mike, I text him again at 3.30pm to receive an almost instant reply. I got chest pains again, and so decided not to read too much into it, but Mike assured me that he finished at 4.00pm and would call me immediately after he had done so.
Wednesday 26th – 4pm – I am unable to contain my excitement as 4.00pm both comes and goes faster than a Bill Clinton booty call.5 I resist my incapacitated wife’s calls and moans of, “Please, I need help to the bathroom” as I am sure that despite previous misdemeanours, Mike will come good for me this time.
4.12pm – with the wife settled safely back into the ‘sleep mode’ I so wisely requested the hospital give her tablets for, I sit down to maintain my vigil for Mike. I light some candles and start humming a song I later name ‘An ode to Mike’.
4.25pm – I began to feel like Mark had forgotten our wedding anniversary.
4.38pm – The Nokia tone begins to play. I am certain it cannot be any of my 7 friends. Yes, this is it – as ‘Mike Virgin’ flashes up on my screen I can not help but let out an involuntary squeal. I quickly revert back to miserable mode, and answer the phone.
During the call, Mike explains that he has called me before his own wife. I am dubious about this, but continue to blush regardless and so remind myself once again that I am both married and sober. Mike gives me the usual spiel about being away blah blah blah blah… He explains to me that the reason my installation was aborted is because the pavement lining the road on which we live is ‘too thin’. I have seen nowhere in the terms and conditions (and yes, I have read them) that one has to adhere to a ‘minimum pavement width’ before placing an order. I can only assume that this has been dreamt up by whoever came to do the pull.
Mike informs me that he will come down personally with some minions on Thursday 27th in the morning and make sure the work is done. Apparently, it is necessary to meet each other now. I hope Mike is familiar with the term ‘Nemesis’.
Nonetheless I am excited by this, as I have never met somebody who’s tragic fatality I have imagined in so many different ways before. I decide to make sure I get an early night, so that I can get up early and buy some milk that is past it’s ‘use-by’ date should Mike accept my forked offer of a brew while he waits.
I am curious as to who the regulator of your industry is, as I would like to speak to them regarding this matter. I do not think this level of customer service (should it be considered so high as to feature on that chart) can go unreported. I am not only attempting to pay money for a service, I am losing money as a result of not being able to use it. Please provide me with details of your regulatory body so that I may contact them. I would be grateful if you could provide a postal address, as Virgin Media have not installed my broadband yet so I am able to email from the comfort of my own home. You may notice I have mentioned this above once or twice. It is my opinion (and only that), that despite Ghandi’s logic ‘an eye for an eye’ is often the most logical course of action. I have been inconvenienced seriously through the previous 2 months, and am out of pocket to the tune of roughly £780 pounds. Therefore, I feel you yourselves should be both inconvenienced and charged in the same manner.
Firstly, I would like to bring a formal complaint against Mike Prince. Quite simply, the man has no right to promise things that he is aware already that he cannot deliver within the given timescale. I am all for perseverance and banter, which is what the man is all about. However, I resent being lied to with callousness akin to that of talking to a child.
Secondly, I would like to bring a formal complaint against Lou Branning. The man simply nods and grins, shoulder-shrugs like a king, and achieves precisely nothing. Quite how he has maintained the façade of a profitable employee over this period of time is beyond me.
Lastly, if you can find my good friend Sohn, I would like to bring a complaint against him too. His ignorant attitude and general lack of respect are of paramount concern to me. The ‘customer is always right’ mentality has perhaps escaped him. He is perhaps the least helpful individual I have ever had the misfortune of coming across. I would recommend a more severe punishment jokingly, but I fear that the jurisdiction by which he lives his life would fail to see the humour in it, and may very possibly carry it out.
The intention of this is not to gain access to services unpaid for, although that would be as we say up North, ‘grand’.6 The intention is to highlight that there are systems within Virgin which are simply not working. I am not sure if this is localised to the berth of our ‘Regional Installation Manager’ (who’s title makes a subtle acronym), or if this is a widespread problem. However, I think this is something wholly unacceptable that needs addressing.
I am available permanently on my mobile phone if somebody of the relevant level wishes to discuss this on the phone. If you leave me a voicemail, I will do a ‘reversemikeprince’ and actually return your call should I miss it.
If you text, I will throw you a curveball and reply to it of all the things!
I look forward to some sort of data communication/carrier pigeon from you to acknowledge receipt of this and also to discuss the error in service levels expected. If I do not receive what I deem to be an adequate response, make no mistake – I will continue.
Despite the considerable effort that Gryff invested in his email, Virgin’s complaints department didn’t even dignify it with a response. He persevered however, and eventually, received 3 months credit on his bill – see left, though 5 different names have been redacted to protect the innocent (and the guilty).
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AKA Big Mike ↩
For American readers: Pavement is UK English for Sidewalk. In the UK, a sidewalk is something that you do when you’re really drunk such that when attempting to walk in a straight line, you actually travel at ninety degrees to your intended trajectory ↩
For American readers: People from Liverpool have a very distinct local accent, known as Scouse which is how you would talk if your nose had been cut off and someone had stapled your tongue to the roof of your mouth. That is how Gryff was able to surmise that they were not entirely local. Liverpool is in fact only 35 miles from Nether Handle but British accents are so localised that it is sometimes possible to tell which house someone lives in just by their accent! ↩
For American readers: ‘Pram’ is a short form of the term ‘perambulator’, also known as a pushchair or buggy. I believe you call it a stroller. In the UK, a stroller is someone who went for a walk, and probably didn’t come back ↩
For American readers: Apologies to all Democrats ↩
For American readers: “Up North” is a term used by inhabitants of London for anywhere in the UK that is too far North to be reached by Tube ↩