Crap Things from Big Companies

On Vodafone

Vodafone UK still haven’t fixed the problem I grumbled about in my previous post. They’ve left me unable to use my primary mobile number for 7 weeks now.

The phone works and has the right number, but it has become detached from the billing account somehow and can’t be topped up, making it effectively useless.

After talking to the friendly folk on Vodafone’s support lines got me nowhere, I switched to dealing with the people in my local Vodafone store. They’ve also been as helpful as they can possibly be. Unfortunately, all that means is that they, rather than I, have been getting nowhere by trying to talk to the technical team.

I did get to see what my account looks like on Vodafone’s systems though. It’s blank. They can search for my mobile number, and the search succeeds, but the record that comes back has nothing in it—even the phone number field is empty.

I also finally managed to get a ticketing number for the problem with their technical team. The ticket has a “72-hour SLA”, but they haven’t managed to update it in over a fortnight despite several reminders from the store staff.

Vodafone’s customer accounts website has been down for most of this week. They had network outages in several areas, last week and this.

Their systems are looking pretty fragile.

(Other networks have their problems too: EE screwed up billing for many, many pay-as-you-go customers last week. But at least they fixed that one fairly quickly.)

Edit: Vodafone fixed this on the 27th January, just after I posted this and tweeted about it. The combination of social media pressure with an actual ticket number for an open technical ticket seems to have done the trick.


Crap Things from Big Companies

Vodafone’s fiction of customer service

A couple of weeks ago I switched my mobile number to Vodafone, because they have better signal coverage in my workplace than T-Mobile.

That was a mistake. Vodafone screwed up my account, and their support systems have only made it worse. And it’s strange, because Vodafone work hard at making their customer service look good. Let me explain.

I use a pay-as-you-go phone. Vodafone, like most UK networks, have a system by which topping up by £10 qualifies you for “free” texts and data for the month, with calls charged separately. I don’t make many calls, so that suits me.

cmJust before my main number was ported in, I topped up £10 expecting one of these text and data packs to appear. I got a weirdly-phrased text message in reply (see picture), but no pack.

There seems to be a problemSince then I’ve dealt with at least 15 Vodafone support staff to try to get this fixed. All they’ve managed to do is confuse their accounts system so that it no longer recognises my phone number. Now when I log in on their online system, I get a different number and an error message.

I can’t top up my phone, and I can’t query its balance. I know it’s about to run out of cash, though, because Vodafone have sucked all the money out of my account for text and data charges. Their charges for texts without an active pack are pretty high.

All in all, this is crappy service from Vodafone.

What is strange is that they obviously work quite hard to supply all the trappings of good customer support:

  • I’ve never had to wait ages for anyone to pick up the phone. Every time I’ve used their online support line or phone support, I’ve been put through to a real human in a minute or two.
  • I’ve never had to convince a rude and surly operator that there was a problem here. Always, the person I’ve spoken to has sounded friendly and helpful and prepared to try to sort it out for me.
  • I’ve been able to contact them easily through social media. I tweeted about this problem and got an immediate reply with a secret-looking contact URL, suggesting that if I got in touch, they’d get it sorted right away.

But every time I communicate with someone—including that super-secret contact URL from Twitter—they react as if this is the first they’ve ever heard of it. And although they promise things, those things never happen.

None of Vodafone’s customer support people has ever been able to do anything.

I’ve been told a lot of things. I’ve been told that my problem couldn’t be escalated, because it had already been escalated and so was already in a queue somewhere. I’ve had a support adviser submit a request to fix something, then put me through to another support adviser who told me the problem was that there were now too many outstanding requests.

I’ve been put through to a “technical team” member who told me she would walk over to the technicians on the other side of the office and try to persuade one of them to look at it. And I’ve been put through to another “technical team” member who told me the technicians were in a different part of the country and they only communicated with them by email.

None of the people who told me these have achieved a single thing.

Not only are the support people powerless to fix anything, they also appear to be powerless to find out anything. Every time I’ve asked for an estimate of how long I’d have to wait, I’ve had the same reply: “usually 24 to 48 hours, sometimes as long as 72.” (We’re over 370 hours so far.) The technicians who make the fixes just don’t seem to be answerable to anyone.

Vodafone have some of the friendliest, most accessible customer service people I’ve dealt with. But they’re maintaining a fiction. They can’t provide any service.

These good people seem to be employed solely to give the customer somebody to talk fruitlessly to. They’re a kind of customer anti-service, a customer placation department.

Crap Things from Big Companies

Video format failures

Michael Mulvey writes to object to Microsoft’s Windows Phone Summit video, which asks for the Silverlight plugin in order to play in his browser.

Normally I’d roll my eyes with him at Microsoft, but as it happens, the video plays fine for me even though I’m not running Windows and don’t have Silverlight. They appear to be using an HTML video element with mp4 video. Did they change it after he posted?

Meanwhile—just for snark’s sake, this is what I get when I try to view any of Apple’s WWDC videos:

I wonder what sound technical reason lies behind this.

Crap Things from Big Companies

SkyDrive: OK, let’s face it, it’s a bit pants

This is the second time I’ve been forestalled in writing a positive note about Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud storage and apps service, by going to the site and finding it isn’t actually working at all:

I hadn’t asked for Hotmail. This is just where the site redirected me when I tried to log in to SkyDrive on my phone.

I must say this is nicely fitting, in light of Microsoft’s recent attack on the unpredictability of Google Docs: “Different… better… completely gone…” Perhaps they decided it was time to get ahead in the race to “completely gone”.

It’s a pity, as I kind of liked SkyDrive. I evaluated Office365 for business purposes a year ago, but gave up on it when I found it included no way to download your files—perhaps that was intentional for purposes of corporate control, or perhaps it’s fixed now, but it doesn’t seem to have been an issue with the SkyDrive office apps. In many ways I prefer the interface to that of Google Docs, and I think of Microsoft as the underdog nowadays in a way that makes me (dangerously) more inclined to trust them. And in fact, I probably will continue to use SkyDrive for the odd thing.

But it’s clear now that Microsoft aren’t really all that great at keeping it running. I’m afraid, despite my liking for the service, that it does appear to be just a little bit pants.

Crap Things from Big Companies

No Refunds

Bogus Pokemon evolves into iTunes smash hit; 2012: The Year Scam Apps Killed the App Store — As someone who used the Android Market before either of Apple’s app stores, the thing I found most mind-boggling about Apple’s was the lack of any apparent way to get a refund if an application doesn’t work.

It fascinates me, although not in a good way, that the world’s most successful software store should be one in which normal consumer rights are effectively suspended. (It is possible to get a refund, from Apple rather than from the individual app developer, but by all accounts it isn’t easy.)

This really pains me as a developer, as well: if any of my customers are unhappy, I want them to get their money back immediately. It’s fair, and because it creates a better impression, it’s good business as well.

For developers, it’s both a logistical benefit and the curse of the App Store model that you generally have no contact with your customers. But not long ago I had an email from someone who had bought an app of mine from the Mac App Store and was disappointed with it—it didn’t do what they expected. What can I say? There’s nothing I can do to help you. That feels wrong: it is wrong.