Saturday, September 13, 2008

Virgin Mobile South Africa -- incompetence exemplified

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1. I've been a Virgin Mobile customer for two years. (Was with Vodacom for 12 years prior.)

2. I want a new phone. A Nokia N95, to be precise.

3. Virgin REQUIRES me to purchase my new handset through their call centre, if I want to retain my phone number.

4. So, I order one. From Creason. I go through the whole process, and he says it'll be with me in 5 working days.

5. The days pass. I call to find out where my phone is.

6. Whoops. Creason didn't PLACE the order for some reason.

7. Noone can help me. They can't explain why it happened. They refuse to escalate my problem.

8. Eventually, I'm told that the head of Customer Complaints, Mark Jackson will call me at 8am the next morning (Thursday September 11).

9. Mark Jackson calls me mid-morning of Thursday, while I'm doing a visual facilitation. So I can't take his call.

10. I call back at 1pm, but he's at a function. So I speak to Na'eem.

11. Na'eem apologises for the mess-up, and asks me to speak to Eugene, a sales rep. I tell Na'eem that I want the phone the next day. He says he'll sort it out with the courier company they use, and that they'll expedite the delivery.

12. Eugene processes my NEW order, and tells me that it'll take 5 working days to get the phone to me.

13. I say that Na'eem is arranging to have it expedited. Eugene says that he'll just confirm that, and will get back to me within two minutes.

14. Thirty minutes later, I call back. I ask to speak to Eugene. He's on lunch. I ask to speak to Na'eem.

15. Na'eem apologises, confirms that the order has been placed, confirms that the delivery will be expedited, and assures me that he will call me first thing in the morning on Friday morning to confirm that delivery will take place that day.

16. At 11:30 on Friday 12 Sept, I call Na'eem. Whooops. He's waiting for confirmation from the courier company and will get back to me within half an hour.

17. Na'eem doesn't get back to me within half an hour. I call back. He's not there.

18. I speak to Mark Jackson. Mark tells me that Na'eem has gone on a team building exercise. He apologises for the fact that Na'eem has dropped the ball, and promises to deal with the situation.

The N95 8GB19. I tell Mark that I would like to have the phone by close of play that day, as promised. He tells me that it's in the hands of the courier company, and that he'll follow up with them, and come back to me before close of play on Friday with confirmation from them that I'll have my phone. He promises to follow it up on Monday if he can't get it sorted on Friday.

20. I say that Monday is too late, and that I'll be terminating my dealings with Virgin if he can't sort something out. He understands, and reiterates that he'll call me back on Friday afternoon with an answer.

21. Mark Jackson doesn't call me back. He's dropped the ball.

22. Saturday morning, 8:50am, I phone the call centre. I speak to Zizi. She's not authorised to make a decision. So she puts me through to Jacob Lesufi, her supervisor at the call centre.

23. I ask Jacob if he's in a position to make a decision about how to retain me as a customer. He asks me for details of my question before he can answer. Good call on his part. I explain the situation to him. I say this: 'Jacob, the only way Virgin can retain my business is for me to have a Nokia N95 in my hands by 12 noon today. I don't mind going to the Sandton store to pick it up. Can you make a decision to make this happen?'

24. Jacob loses the plot completely. He starts explaining to me that the courier has the phone, that he can't do anything about it, that I'll have to wait till Monday.

25. I tell him that he doesn't need to explain anything to me. That he just needs to put me through to someone who CAN make it happen.

26. He tells me that there's noone in the office today, that it's a Saturday, that he's the most senior person there, that I'll have to wait till Monday.

27. I ask him who his boss is. It's Mark Jackson. I ask him to put me on hold, phone Mark Jackson, and patch me through to Mark.

28. He tells me it's impossible to do. I ask him why. He tells me it's because I refuse to listen to him. And I eventually give him a count of ten to put me on hold. Which he doesn't do. I end the call.

29. I phone the call centre again. And I speak to a call centre operative with a garbled name. I say, 'Please can you call Mark Jackson on his cellphone, and ask him to call me back within ten minutes.' She says, 'Who is Mark Jackson? Does he work here?' I say, 'He's your boss.' She says, 'Oh. Mark Jackson.' She agrees to give him my message. I say, 'It's now 9:11. Please ask Mark to call me back by 9:21.'

30. At 9:30, I call the call centre. My call is dropped three times in a row.

31. I get through on the fourth attempt. It's Zizi on the other end of the line. I ask her if Mark Jackson has been given my message. 'No,' she says, 'Jacob decided not to phone him.' I say, 'Well then Jacob is responsible for Virgin losing my business if I don't get my phone in my hands by 12 noon today.' She says, 'No, he's not responsible--' I say, 'That's fine. I'm blogging about this as we speak. And it's all going online. Please do the following... put me on hold, and have a discussion amongst yourselves... and all you have to do is decide whether or not you will phone Mark Jackson and let him have my message. That's all you have to do. So... put me on hold, have your discussion, make your decision, and come back to me with your answer. I'll wait.'

32. I'm on hold for ten minutes.

33. Zizi comes back to me. 'Thank you for your patience. Mark says he will be phoning you back.'

34. I say, 'When will Mark phone me back?'

35. Zizi says, 'I can't give you a time frame.' I say, 'It's now 9:40am. Please ask Mark to phone me back by 10.' She says, 'I can't give you a timeframe.' I say, 'Zizi, you don't have to give me a timeframe. I'm asking you to give Mark MY timeframe. Please ask Mark to call me back by 10.' She says, 'Okay. I'll give him that message.'

36. It's now 10am. No word from Mark Jackson. I wonder if he thought I meant 10 tonight?


  1. Holy moly! It's Tony Lankaster! He's alive!!!!!!!!!!! Yay!!!!

    How ya doing, dude? What are you up to?

    I'm on television in a few weeks. A regular Saturday night slot, doing live visual facilitations for CNBC Africa's 'Kaleidoscope' magazine programme. How awesome is that?

    Blue skies

  2. You think you'll have your phone by the time you're on CNBC ? :)

    Were they recording your calls? Ask for a copy!!

  3. Dude! Rock and roll idea! I'm absolutely positive they were recording my calls! Who would I ask in order to get these details?

    Dude... are you in touch with Peter Boyd, the CEO of Virgin Mobile? I've sent him a friend request on Facebook, along with a link to this story.

    My guess is that I won't have my phone by the time the CNBC gig starts. Well... not from Virgin, anyway. Which is an astounding pity. Cos I shoot our promo on Monday. And it woulda been great to have my phone for that.

    Are you on Twitter, dude? If not, why not? If so, what's ya name? I'm (otherwise known as @royblumenthal).

  4. I often wonder who'd get whipped and ditched if , say, Richard Branson got to hear about stuff like this. cos you know for damn-sure, this is not how he want's customers treated.

    You go, dude!

  5. Remember I told you when you were switching to Virgin that a friend of mine has had countless hassles with the simplest things with them? The same things over and over again. I'll put you in touch with her so you can pool resources, so to speak - she might have managed to find at least one person there who understands the words "call", "me" and "back".

    Why not see if you can contact someone at the UK head office - they'll tear there hair out at how their South African staff are systematically destroying their brand at every opportunity they get!

    I just read an article on a financial site where Peter Boyd vehemently denies that Virgin SA is in trouble - ha ha ha! Guess he's paid to put on a brave face.

  6. Why not take a flyer - call Simon Dornan - Head of Consumer PR
    Mobile: +44 (0) 7847 279666

    Perhaps he can ring some alarm bells with the UK head office of Virgin.

    Probably doesn't have any direct sway over the South African mob, but at least he's more likely to understand the importance of good customer relations than the idiots over here.

  7. Oh, and here's more...
    Virgin press honchos:

    Jo Baker, 07941 233300 or

    Simon Dornan, 07847 279666 or

  8. Hey Roy,
    You "sold" me on Virgin and I've been the proud owner of an N95 and a Virgin contract for the past 2 weeks. Who's feeling kinda disgruntled now? Hmph! Me! I gave up on Vodacom so that we could have cheaper calls to one another and free sms's. It's a complete cheek that a company that you have been completely loyal to have employed imbeciles who piss off their clientele. I had a great experience at the Sandton store where Vuyo was amazing! Pity that when they think they've hooked their customers, their attitude sucks. Kinda like shitty relationship behaviour AFTER marriage.

  9. Hi Roy,

    Ironically, I was phoned & asked to participate in a survey about perceptions & service in the telecommunications industry on Wednesday. Once I told the guy that I use Virgin Mobile, he proceeded to ask me questions about their service. I gave Virgin Mobile rave review : now I feel that my opinion needs to be adjusted a little.

    I've been a Virgin Mobile customer for almost 2 years now. This is after leaving Autopage for service that was even worse that this experience you're having now Roy - it's hard to believe but I got this run-around at Autopage every 4 months or so.

    After some initial problems setting up the GPRS, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I've saved about 50% on my cellphone bill with Virgin Mobile's rates (compared to Autopage/MTN) & have never had a problem. But I think this may be because I never need to call their service desk, or go into the store. Perhaps the problems start when you are no longer an 'automated' client & you demand something that needs someone's personal attention.

    I'm unlikely to move from Virgin Mobile: in fact, I like them so much, I recommend them to all my friends & family. The cost savings have been dramatic. Now I may have to think twice.

    Apparently, this type of service problem is part of the telecommunications industry's DNA: it has been said that it's a 'genetic' problem ever since the first telephone companies started since, back then, the industry was cut-throat.

    Roy, don't let them treat you badly. Insist on getting the service you deserve. Pray that Virgin Mobile's competition don't end up doing the same thing to you.

    Best wishes,
    - Marcel

    PS. And a SUPER congratulations to you on your co-anchor role! Wow,I have such professional jealousy right now. Love to meet up again when I'm in Jozi. Remember, if you ever need a special guest, you know where to get hold of me :)

  10. Soo much trouble for a N95?
    I'd get an iPhone. Unlock it and you can use it with any carrier.

    Don't ruin your weekend with this hassle.

    It's just how cell phone carriers are. EVERYWHERE in the world - all of them.

    None of them are Virgins;-)

  11. Heya Marcel...

    Yup! I have an identical story to yours.

    I was with Autopage Cellular (with Nokia) for about ten years, and with Autopage itself for about four years before that (yes... I had a pager!).

    And I found Autopage to be pretty much one of the worst customer experiences ever.

    I too have found Virgin to be awesome. And I've been a Virgin Mobile evangelist.

    My bill also decreased by between a third and half. And I've only ever experienced pleasant service from them.

    I have also been with them for two years. In fact, I chose to go with Virgin just before number portability was finalised here BECAUSE I didn't want to have to wait to use their services!

    Right now, I'm feeling VERY disappointed.

    A string of individuals in that company have pretty much ruined it for me. And I'm now feeling angry for having encouraged my girlfriend to go with them. We went into the shop TOGETHER to BOTH get new phones.

    She has hers. I'm probably going to have to go with one of the other three companies now. Cos these guys are simply not taking this seriously.

    One of the commenters here (Marc) actually sent an SMS to the London-based PR head. And even he hasn't responded. Un. Fricking. Be. Lievable.

    If I were on the receiving end of this saga, the very first thing I would do is take personal ownership of the situation.

    Cos it IS a situation. Twitter has exploded this thing into the public eye.

    And it's not just ANY public. It's Virgin customer public. It's early-adopter public. It's people who LIKE going with the underdog.

    And this bunch of people don't like being messed around.

    I certainly am not letting this drop. Some Virgin people have a LOT of explaining to do.

    Thanks for the comment, Marcel.

    Much appreciated.

    Blue skies

  12. Ah, Klaus...

    Thanks for the comment. Actually, I was rather hoping that my current phone would stay operational until the Nokia N96 came out here in South Africa.

    But my N91 is literally gasping its final breaths as we speak.

    I'm going for the N95 specifically for the features and functions it has. Specifically the video capabilities and camera.

    I'm sure it's going to resolve one way or another.

    This thing is way bigger than me. And I realllllly, truly thought Virgin was bigger than this too. But they're looking pretty damn shoddy to me.

    Not ruining my weekend, luckily. I'm busy prepping all of my stuff for shooting the promo for our tv show on Monday. So got lots to keep me busy.

    Blue skies

  13. Hi Roy,
    Its Peter Boyd here; thank you very much for pointing me to your blog via Facebook.
    I am not in the office right now, but will be heading in this afternoon to personally investigate.

    When reading other comments above, I note with alarm that our upgrades process needs revisiting urgently. As you will be aware, this is our first round of upgrades as we have just turned 2 years old, and there appear to be some decidedly 'un Virgin' snags from the consumer's perspective.

    If I could ask you and your fellow bloggers that have enjoyed our value (and hopefully service) difference over the last two years, to bear with us while we iron this out.

    I will get back to you on your blog over the course of next week, when i have progress of note.

    Regarding your urgent specific issue of the Nokia replacement, you will be hearing from my team as soon as i have an answer.

    Kind Regards,

  14. Hi Peter...

    All I can say is WOW!

    Your response here and in the comments section of the post on the email address is superb.

    You've literally turned this around for me.

    I was reluctantly in a Vodashop this morning investigating options. And I've been HATING the idea of leaving Virgin Mobile.

    Thanks very much for taking ownership of this. It really makes a huge difference knowing that I've been heard, and that you find it worthy of dealing with.

    Thanks Peter.

    Blue skies, love, Roy

  15. What amazes me is that you want the n95 when the n96 is just weeks away.

    Bad service is, sadly, to be expected...!

  16. The power of the web in action... Amazing what happens when you rattle a few cages...

  17. Roy, thank you so much for that.. that made me realise i'm not the only one thats having endless problems with Virgin's call centre.

    Its now been 2 weeks since i've been overcharged for GPRS. (R2 a meg) i've phoned the call centre about 20 times now, everytime i speak to a different person who promises me different things, but end up being more idiotic that the previous one. I'm also still waiting for a callback from 2 different seniors (since monday)

    I'm still being overcharged
    I still havent been refunded
    I still have internet connectivity problems (for the last 15 months)
    I still cant receive calls on my phone while i'm online
    I still dont receive sms's

  18. I honestly can't believe you WANTED to stay with Virgin after even going through half of this crap.

    Take your business and your money and go to a competitor, if everyone just did this then eventually those statistics filter down onto a report that Virgin management sees and people like Mark Jackson start losing their jobs.

  19. I have been dealing with Virgin Mobile for just under two years now and when it comes to my upgrade I will be not be going back to them. I can't tell you how many times I have been told that some one will get back to me only to find out they have forgotten to log my query, gone on "team building", gone "on lunch" or are mysteriously not in the office any more. As for the staff "higher-up" in the company they are just as rude and useless in my dealings, I have even been informed on numerous occasions that there are no supervisors that the call centre can put me through to as they don't have supervisors. What annoy's me the most is that they only seem to care about your business when it's posted somewhere in the public eye and here for example. Personally I am sick of this company and think it's a shame they treat their customers like this, they are still a new company and need the current subscribers to promote the company and convince friends and family to join them, this is not the way to go about it.

  20. Roy,

    I also ported as it was avail. Bill reduced by 1/3. Alas, no mobile service on small country roads, and last couple of months, no service to make calls for at least 3 hours on end. Whenever VODACOM-VIRGIN appears as NETWORK, I am unable to make calls an receive calls and LET ALONE DIAL into 121 to get messages.


    WE ARE GOING SAME WAY AS NIGERIAN NETWORKS, you need 5 sim cards to function on various networks according to who's who during the day.



  21. Here is a true story about the excelent service from Virgin Mobile
    after being a client for 6 years.

    I have 2 Virgin Prepaid phone numbers ,, lets call them no1 and no2.

    Virgin Mobile call centre called me around 3 months ago on no1 with
    the sales pitch as follows:
    Sir , we have a special where we deduct R100 of your bank and load
    the airtime on your prepaid phone by the 7 of the next month.

    I replied , that is fine , please load the airtime on phone no2.

    Now,, note that this is prepaid phones.

    Three months later Virgin Mobile allocated no2 to a contract phone.

    The story unfolds :

    After 3 weeks of endless trips and phone calls I was told the following.

    I now need to provide my bank statements that the R100 was deducted of my
    bank account and to prove that this PREPAID number was mine.
    I also need to pay the contract client back on his credit card or else
    Virgin Mobile will not return my number I had for for two years.

    Now I am being BLACKMAILED by Virgin Mobile to pay for a helpdesk
    incompetent clerks mistakes.

    Watch out for Virgin Mobile service delivery , YOU will pay for
    somebody elses mistakes.

    I give them 100% for Service Delivery Effort.


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