While a plethora of UK businesses have merrily slashed customer service and unapologetically tossed the blame onto COVID, the irony of their switch-hitting is not lost on the casual observer.
Resource and volume distribution challenges are nothing new. Back in the day, contact centre providers would largely differentiate themselves through their innovative use of technology and how this flattened peaks and returned prompt, quality turnarounds. Many of them continue that breathless bleat to this day.
They do however over-ponce it with evangelical yarns of customer-centric, omnichannel services, which are largely a wholesale exercise in channel-switching to divert hapless chumps down the contact journey that is cheapest for the business goons to stomach themselves.
Now, COVID has taken us into a new dimension – the Contact Us Loop – and Virgin Media are flying the flag with a gusto. They own that space like a boss.
We are all doubtless au fait with the soul-destroying self-care links that pop up every time we deign to click Contact Us on a website. This is where the companies concerned reveal themselves to recognise only 15 or so possible service issues as feasible. Or at least, the ready conclusion is that these are the only issues they can be half-arsed to address. Either way, they scuttle the well-sculpted fictions of their tan-brogued marketing worms.
Now, I do get the logic of providing FAQs in order to deflect some needless contact; teach a man to fish and all that guff. But not when these limited, ungrammatical scrawls replace direct contact altogether while still gaslighting us that the customer door is always open.
And Virgin Media are filling their boots on that score. In the main, contacting them means finding an answer in the existing knowledge base. If you cannot find your answer – let’s say that you have a billing query – a further punt at Contact Us sees you pinged back to the same old shizzle.
It’s like passive-aggressive snakes and ladders.
Call them, and if you do get through, you are firstly directed back to your online account. After all, COVID has led to staff shortages and longer waiting times, which of course, you have to swallow as inevitable. Hang up at that point, and you teleport your sorry arse back to the faux Contact Us and, you’ve guessed it, the shoddy FAQs. The bonus for Virgin is that then you might just give up and piss off, and many of course do.
Hang on the line long enough, and you will reach the offshored facility of their outsourcing providers.
And what a treat that is.
You then have to repeat this process multiple times until you are blessed by the goddess of chance (or fat chance) in reaching a below-moderately competent advisor who speaks the Queen’s well enough to understand your query and who has been sufficiently trained to know where your big bag of woes needs to be diverted.
Because you aren’t going to get a resolution at that point. Your chances are slim and none. And Slim just left town.
Typically, it will take in the region of five calls, and therefore embuggerance cycles, to actually chalk up your concern on the big board of hope.
You then have to start praying that you will get your fabled callback and ultimately fall into the lap of an in-house staff member. Through that heady, intoxicating haze, do not get your hopes up too high. Even then, such a person will have to be one of the few who has a spare toss to give and that is like looking for a piece of hay in a stack of pins.
It is truly bonkers, though, that dirt-grade telephony appears to be Virgin’s favoured solution in a situation where – even if you accepted the COVID-heavy whitewash – flattening demand would clearly scream out for the greater deployment of effective messaging services.
As it stands, it appears that while Virgin are lamenting the volume peaks necessitated by covidity, their solution of choice is a first resort to the peakiest channel, namely telephony.
If you had not already guessed, I am a Virgin customer with every last gruntle dissed out of me.
My online account offered no broadband upgrade opportunity at all, and my recent 8% price-hike letter hurriedly directed me to a telephone call with the fluffy promise of new-deal salvation. Self-defeatingly, the same missive simultaneously advised that I could get the same deal 33% cheaper with a different supplier. Who knows what the aim of that was? It did not appear to be conducive to customer retention.
As it stood – the online capability had for some time thwarted my attempts to add TV services, so I had no other option but to inject myself into the hellish, 5-loop, 0345 odyssey.
I would have been better off injecting myself with ket.
At the end of the woeful helix that ensued, I was bluntly rebuffed by an advisor – for me, there would be no possible fairytale ending beyond my current deal. He could however add TV and, ‘send the box now’, but could not provide the details of the services on offer so that I could compare with other suppliers before I signed on the dotted line.
That cockwomble renewal letter had therefore wasted my time, their time & money, had blocked a telephone line for another surely needly customer, and had guaranteed my exit. I kicked them to the very next day.
And then they subsequently attempted to bill me for a whole month beyond the end of my deal for a period when they know that I will not be receiving contracted services. That’s the good old interest-free capital loan gig that customers are pulled into on the back of the ‘it’s our process’ rationale.
I fell back on the ‘I’ll cancel my direct debit and transfer over what covers the contracted period’.
Otherwise known as contract law.
Perhaps Virgin Media bosses should upgrade their managers’ company cars to DeLoreans and zap them back to 1997, or perhaps even earlier, when call centre managers had joyously incorporated email into their repertoires and had started to slice off the debilitating volume peaks that had long since provided the rocket fuel for brand loathing.
It seems like they have lost the plot, but have they? Right now, where is the incentive for service? All of this pseudo-care, coupled with outsourcing lunacy, and regular-as-clockwork price hikes roll into monster profit.
With a near-monopoly on fast fibre to the door and captive audiences, ever-more reliant on broadband, who are shit-scared that challenging COVID excuse-blankets equates to unpatriotic treachery, Virgin are sitting pretty. Perhaps a small amount of customer attraction trades off well against an investment in customer service that they clearly no longer make?
What a shame. I used to love Virgin. The broadband remains great even if the routers are mid-range, but the market-leading customer culture is long gone. Their service model now seems rudderless and powered by dimwittedness, apathy, and metaphorical middle fingers.
They can bang on about superfast fibre all they like, but from the service turds in the pan, it appears they have massively overdone the high-fibre diet on customer experience.
I’ll now wipe them from my consciousness.
Flypaper for Freaks: The Odious World of the UK’s Outsourced Contact Centres is available on Amazon today.