Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Too many examples.... Two more tales of woe for Virgin Mobile South Africa to be worried about. An open letter to Steve Bailey, CEO.

Hiya Steve....

This email is going to you, to Louis Stanford, Lynn McMaster, my Coffee-Shop Schmuck blog, and my Posterous blog.

There are now 23 comments on one of my blog posts about Virgin Mobile ( Some of those comments are mine. But many of them are from people who've had poor experiences with Virgin Mobile. Experiences which are not being sorted out or solved timeously, courteously, or with integrity.

As you know, I've been forwarding most of the comments to you. And you've sorted many of them out.

But I think it's time for this poor service to stop. It cannot keep going on like this.

The rumours about Virgin Mobile's pending demise continue to circulate on Twitter. No-one from Virgin comments on these rumours. Your PR agency seems not to even know about them. Nor do they seem to monitor the blogosphere.

At the same time, the South African internet-literate public seem to be very active in searching for examples of Virgin's poor service. And they seem to be finding my blog. And leaving comments on it. This is not good for Virgin Mobile. It's not good for the entire Virgin brand.

I really thought you guys would have taken some steps to fix things after the small debacle that led to my first post.

But you haven't fixed things. 

Are things at Virgin Mobile truly unfixable? Is it impossible for some person on the end of a telephone or email to actually take responsibility for the satisfaction of the customer at the other end?

You should not be in business if you are unable to address these issues. And you should not be in business if people have to resort to force to get their issues handled. When people leave a comment on my blog, they are resorting to force. And that should leave Virgin Mobile deeply ashamed and embarrassed. More than that, Virgin Mobile should be leaping into action to make things right. Even if you ARE going to be shutting your doors at some point.

Please read the comment I've quoted below. It's from Louis Stanford:

Louis Stanford April 7, 2009 at 1:21 pm


I'm having similar issues, I cancelled my account in October (no phone included in the contract) and money is still being deducted off my account, even more bizarrely, they've handed me over to TransUnion debt collections for an amount of R4784 (which I do not owe).

I have now phone the call center 8 times, and 8 times I've been told that the mythical billing department would investigate and get back to me.

No luck so far.

Tomorrow, I change tactic.


Now here's one from Lynn McMaster, responding to Louis's comment with a situation of her own:

Lynn McMaster August 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Hi Louis,

I have an identical problem.  I have been struggling with VM since June 2008, and eventually returned, in total frustration, the useless handset in December 2009.  I have written and phoned VM so many times, I have lost count.  They do not come back.  No success from Steve Bailey whom I also mailed a while back, using the address you gave.  I tried Virgin Mobile, UK.  They are not interested.  I have tried to contact Sir Richard.  No luck.    I was contacted by one Ivana Japhtha from VM SA, who undertook to sort the matter out and cancel the contract, remove any "debt" incurred by VM even when the phone was back with them.  They just quote their Force Majuer clause in thecontract (No 18).  read it. VM can do what they like, even if they do not offer any service.  Roll on the Consumer Rights Bill.

Then I get demands from Trans Union.  I go back to Ms Japhtha, who says not to worry.  I tell Trans Union I have declared a dispute.  Eventually Japhtha calls me on April 19 2009 to all resolved.  Contract cancelled and "debt" wiped out.  But guess what; she lied.  I kept getting accounts from VM and threats from Trans Union who have japtha's number.  I keep reversing the amounts taken from my account by VM.  Japhtha promises to sort it out.  Nothing happens.  I go away for a month in June and come back to find a company NAEDO NuDebt has removed money from my account by debit.  I don't know who they are; they have stolen the money.  I call them.  They say they were authorised by Cell C to remove the money.  Who is Cell C?  Guess what, Virgin.  I have never signed any permission for Nu Debt to take money from my accounts.  Trans Union say they know nothing  about the illegal removal of money from my account and that my account with them was closed.  I think, Hooray, Japhta sorted it.  But no, she never contacted them.  because the account was in dispute, and nothing was happening, it was closed and "migrated" elsewhere.  I try to get out of Japhtha what is going on.  She doesn't come back to me.    So I go to my Bank, Standard to find out how they can allow the removal of money from my account by an unauthorised company.  They tekll me there is so much fraud, they cannot control it!!!!!!They try to contact VM.  No reponse.  So, today (5/08), I go to Standard Bank by appointment to close the account from which money is being stolen.  We try to open a new account.  No Luck, I have been listed.  No-one has told me of this.  I do not know who has listed me, and since Japhtha has written to me re cancellation of my debt, I assumed she was writing the truth.  Stupid me.  I should know VM is completely incompetent and completely unethical.  I establish that Japhta has never contacted Trans Union as she claimed.  I am still receiving accounts each month from VM.  I write to Japhta and query response.  I phone Japhtha, and she promises to phone me before 5.30 pm on a day.  She does not.  Standard Bank phones her today (5 August 2009).  She tells them she is sick in bed.  She acknowleges I have been listed, as this happens "automatically"  What does she mean? She promises to fax through stuff to Standard Bank tomorrow.  Will it happen, I don't know.  Meantime, Standard is trying to get permission within their own company to open a  new cheque account.  They don't like it because of the listing.  They promise to phone me back this afternoon.  I have left three nessages with them this afternoon.  No return calls, and no information on the status of my "new" cheque account as faithfully promised by Standard.  Is it possible they are in league with VM?

Can someone recommend what I can do to sort this.  Is there an attorney whom I can use to hit VM big time for fraud?  And I mean big time.  ICASA was contacted by me, and they did nothing.  Advice is desparately needed.


Steve... are you still the CEO of Virgin Mobile? If not, please can you tell me who is? And can you forward this message to that person? If you ARE still the CEO, then please take action to make these issues stop. And please let me know what you're doing about it so that I can blog about it.

Also, please contact Louis and Lynn on the email addresses in the header field of this email. They deserve your speedy and decisive response.

Thanks Steve.

Blue skies


  1. Hello Roy,
    I am still here and as always will follow up these queries. Please be assured that we follow up all customer queries, sometimes we get it wrong, we are human after all, but we will always put things right.

    I personally spend at least an hour a day in our call centre and take a personal interest is all customer complaints. I am aware of the two complaints on your blog.

    Please remember that Virgin still offer the best deals in the market. With a Virgin contract you get 1000 free SMS's per month. This really is unbeatable value!

    I know you are a Virgin customer as well! hope all is well with your service, remember you can contact me any time.

    The rumours about Virgin's "pending demise"...NOT TRUE.

    I will provide detailed feedback on the two queries today.


  2. Hi Steve...

    Thanks for responding to this post so quickly and strongly.

    Yes indeed... I'm a Virgin customer. And my girlfriend Jennifer is too. And I must say that I've been happy with Virgin from day one, with one or two glitches. These glitches were solved.

    For me, it's pretty sad that people keep coming to my blog and commenting about extremely negative experiences with Virgin Mobile.

    I'm also aware that people commenting have had a negative experience, and that their negative feelings are heightened. And so they're leaving somewhat MORE negative comments than the average person.

    I'm also aware that people who've had positive experiences with Virgin Mobile leave no comments whatsoever. They're simply going about their daily lives. They probably don't even know about the existence of blog posts talking about negative stuff.

    So my blog isn't a great thermometer about people's feelings about Virgin Mobile in general.

    But whether we like it or not, customer service *is* measured by what people do with their negative experiences. That old bromide holds: 'Experience good service, and you'll tell ten friends. Experience bad service, and you'll tell a hundred.'

    And with the internet providing so many powerful 'telling' platforms, people aren't telling a hundred about their negative experiences. They're telling thousands.

    Companies need to recognise that social media and the internet are a presence in their businesses. And they *have to* behave as though their customers see and hear everything.

    Virgin Mobile would have a better chance of flourishing if you guys got yourselves onto Twitter, and started talking to the geeks.

    If you were tweeting us personally about these things, there'd be a heck of a lot more positive buzz about Virgin Mobile today.

    It's awesome to me that you spend an hour a day in the call centre. And I totally understand your point that you're human beings who sometimes get things wrong. This human contact gives me confidence that Virgin Mobile *can* pull through a tough period.

    Re the rumours of Virgin's demise being true or untrue... It's hard to squash a rumour by denying the rumour. Specially when sources like Engineering News print commentary like this:

    'If Cell C were acquired, said Delta Partners, it may become the catalyst to disband the operation of Virgin Mobile, a mobile virtual network operator (MVNo) using Cell C’s network, which has had a lackluster performance in terms of subscriber growth, with less than 1% of market share gained since launch in 2006.'
    ( -- 11 March 2009, Engineering News)

    Whoever 'Delta Partners' is, they're saying some hardhitting stuff. And I *do not* see *any* responses to these rumours from Virgin, in the press, nor on the social media sites. I've searched for HOURS on the web to find evidence that Virgin Mobile *isn't* going under. There's nothing. Virgin Mobile is not communicating. And this is very disturbing.

    What's more disturbing is that I know several journalists. I've not had *any* conversations where any of them have said, 'Nah... Virgin Mobile's gonna be around for a long time.' I hear the opposite: 'They're not going to be here next year.'

    So your assurance that Virgin Mobile isn't going under is big news. Cos it's the ONLY declaration I can find!

    To me, this indicates an opportunity for you to really go all out in the communications-realm. Get yourself a powerful team to TALK to the public. You should be on Twitter and Posterous writing accounts of your time in the call centres.

    I think you'll be surprised at how much goodwill is present for the underdog. Especially when the underdog has the guts to admit that stuff's going wrong.

    Steve... thanks for taking time to respond. I *know* this stuff is headache-material deluxe. And I wish that Virgin Mobile turns out to be one of the world's big success stories.

    All the best.

  3. I've been thinking about the two cases in the post above... Louis and Lynn.

    They're just two arbitrary people who left comments on a blog post of mine. I don't know them. I don't know their history with Virgin Mobile. And I don't know anything about the specifics of their cases beyond what they've chosen to write about.

    This puts me in a difficult position.

    I'm a faithful and loyal and happy Virgin Mobile customer. But I'm also an intellectual who believes in transparency and openness, and sound argument. For me, it's important to question everything.

    So, in these two cases, I have to question Virgin Mobile. But I *also* have to question Louis and Lynn.

    Is it possible that their versions of events are somewhat different to what they've stated? Of course it's possible!

    Is it possible that they're trying to wangle some sort of deal from Virgin Mobile, using my blog as a leverage device? It is indeed possible.

    Is it possible that they're deadbeats trying to get out of a legitimate debt? Definitely possible.

    But those possibilities belong to one realm... the realm of 'people wangling the system to their own advantage'.

    There is another realm at play. The realm of 'legitimate grievance'.

    Is it possible that -- even though they're wangling the system to their own benefit -- they're expressing a very real frustration at the way Virgin Mobile is communicating with them?

    I think it's LIKELY that Virgin Mobile has communicated with them in a way that's left them frustrated and angry.

    This *DOESN'T* mean that Louis and Lynn are 'in the right (or wrong)'. It also doesn't mean that Virgin Mobile is 'in the right (or wrong)'. It simply means that the COMMUNICATION is out of kilter.

    It makes me very happy to see Steve Bailey, the CEO of Virgin Mobile South Africa, posting a comment on my blog post. It shows that he has the humility to respond to communication concerns WITH COMMUNICATION.

    For me, Virgin Mobile is the huge underdog in the South African cellular phone market. And I want them to succeed. I *LOVE* the underdog. And I love my own experience of Virgin Mobile.

    However, when two (and many more) people comment on my blog about their negative experiences with a company, that puts those PEOPLE in the position of underdog against the company. And as someone who roots for the underdog, I want those PEOPLE to 'win'.

    But I don't wanna be duped. If those people are wangling the system, and effectively using my blog to 'steal' or 'wangle' or 'manipulate the facts', I want them stopped.

    It's a dilemma. No easy answers. Beyond transparency and openness of communication.

  4. To be honest I find Steve Bailey's reply to be non-commital and reeking of corporate spin. He responds to the two complaints by saying he knows about them, spends time in the call centre, and that you get 1000 free SMS's on Virgin accounts. What the hell?!?!

    Read carefully folks, his response is nothing more than spin. Still no solution and still no commitment.

  5. I have had NO account statements from Virgin Mobile since March. Since I have stopped the paper statements I have repeatedly asked them for e-mail statements, nut none has arrived. So I have NO idea what is going on? The pin number to get statements from the webpage do not work anymore. No-one has replied to my e-mails.

  6. My daughter has just applied for a new phone after two years with Virgin Mobile SA. They want to charge her R100 for the contract renewal. Is it normal for a service provider to charge for a contract renewal?

  7. Hi Roy
    I have been searching Google for others in a similar position of dissatisfaction with VMSA as I am, and stumbled upon these posts on your blog. I just KNEW it wasn't only happening to me!
    I noticed that Steve Bailey actually CONFIRMED the 1000 FREE sms's that we should be receiving!! (I took out a VM contract last year, 2009 around September which INCLUDED 1000 FREE sms's and R150-00 talktime on a certain deal).
    I had 6 months of fighting through call centres and "faceless" mystery people on the VM "helpline" to attempt to actually receive my FREE sms's, but was told that I was now on a contract that didn't "qualify" for the sms's!!
    I referred them to the recorded conversations that I had - NO JOY!
    I went to and started a complaint resolution procedure that took 6 months! they finally satisfied me with actual correct billing and giving me the 1000 sms's as promised in my deal.
    HOWEVER, yesterday it all started AGAIN: I couldn't send sms's, called the help centre, was informed that VM "forgot" to load my sms's (???) and was billing me R0.60 per sms (???). Breach of contract from their side. AGAIN!
    So, they have said it will take 24hrs to "load my FREE sms's". Do I believe them? What do you think?
    I went to immediately and set up a complaint thread there.
    THe runaround has started, again.
    Thank you for airing my grievance Roy, I'm prepared to try anything, hence this post. So, if you can assist in any way (By getting this message to te RIGHT person), you will have helped a complete stranger who's not having a great VIRGIN day.

  8. Hi Roy

    I'm VERY pleased to be able to post here, that within 24hrs, Virgin Mobile did indeed sort out my concerns!

    I have had my 1000 FREE sms's loaded (As per my contract) and my billing has apparently been reorganized to reflect a zero charge for outgoing sms's. (I will verify this at my next account).

    It helps a LOT when GOOD SERVICE arrives. It's so rare these days that it makes an immediate improvement in one's day when a supplier SUCCEEDS in satisfying a complainant.
    To this end, I am giving a BIG THUMBS UP to Virgin Mobile and a BIG THANK YOU for a prompt solution.

    Thanks for airing my comments Roy!

  9. It's a real pleasure, Kurt.

    I'm really impressed with Steve Bailey. He responds powerfully and decisively to almost every issue that comes across his desk.

    Thanks for posting your initial complaint on my post. And thanks for your follow-up praise-comment.

    I think when companies do something consistently wrong, they should be called on it.

    And when they do great work, they need acknowledgement.


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