Gadgetry and IT

Virgin Media “Customer Service” lives up to its reputation

Oh come on, you didn’t think it’d end happily, did you? If it had, maybe I wouldn’t be needing the therapy of writing this.

STOP PRESS: Since writing this, I was contacted by Virgin Media’s “Social Media Team” and by the company’s “Head of Customer Experience”, which is impressive. They all expressed disappointment with the situation and amazingly, everything was fixed within 24 hours. Credit where it’s due then, but why can’t customers get good service in the first place, without having to complain?

I love my TV and broadband, and I’m happy to pay whatever it takes to get the best service out there. A few years ago, after a long run of exclusively using Cambridge Cable and its successor ntl, I switched my TV service to Sky, simply because (at the time) it was so much better technologically. But I stayed with the wonderful broadband service from ntl (now Virgin Media), so for the past 5 years I’ve had both companies’ products. And I’ve been able to observe that while they compete with each other technologically, they’re at opposite ends of the scale when it comes to customer service.

In principle, because of its ownership and many other aspects of what it does, I don’t like Sky/BSkyB. However, it’s absolutely superb at what it does. Virgin Media’s customer service and administration is such a shambles that I can’t imagine there’s any chance of it ever bringing its service up to that sort of standard. Sadly for Virgin Media, it must be impossible in such a large organisation to “start again”, which appears to be what’s needed.

Now, normally customer service isn’t that important to me. After all, I watch TV and use the internet every day, and only need admin or tech support once or twice a year, if that. But when you have a choice of two organisations, one offering almost faultless customer service and the other making you want to scream, you do have to start factoring it into the equation.

Following a recent house move I had the chance to reassess what services I would have. The new house was pre-wired for Virgin Media, and it’s clear that with the new TiVo box, the TV service has comfortably caught up with Sky. With 100Mb broadband on the cards, there was no way I’d have been changing that service to any other provider. So I decided to switch the TV and go to the complete TV/broadband/telephone bundle from Virgin Media.

The result? Not unexpectedly, technologically fine, administratively disastrous. I arranged the transfer and upgrade of services a few weeks in advance. There were warning signs. The price I was quoted seemed ridiculously cheap, so I got the member of staff (some poor wage slave in an Indian call centre) to read back what I’d ordered, and “hmm, that’s odd sir, the system doesn’t seem to have registered everything we’ve just discussed, does it?” We eventually got it sorted. I also asked if I could take my telephone number with me, only to be told “I don’t know”. Well, it’s rather important. “Could you ring back just before the move and we’ll be able to confirm that?” Well, you’ve rather got me over a barrel, haven’t you?

Enter the Geordies
I rang back a few days before the move. I need to confirm that I can take my telephone number with me next week. “Hmm, I can’t really tell you sir”. Oh, I’m sure you can. How about finding someone who will? Ten minutes of listening to Tinie Tempah on hold, and a Geordie voice appears. This is clearly beyond the Indian Call Centre’s pay grade. “I’m just looking at your account Mr Rand”, says the very friendly voice, “and I don’t know what they’ve done, they’ve made a real hash of it, but you leave it with me, get on with your house move and your old number will be transferred with you. No problem!”

Four Days Later
So we’re in the new house, surrounded by boxes, and the installation crew turn up from Virgin Media. Nice guys. They love all the prewiring in the house; everything’s set up in a couple of hours. The TiVo boxes look a bit daunting, but I’m sure they’ll run me through the basics. “Sorry we can’t tell you anything about these new TiVo boxes sir, we don’t know anything about them, but if you need any help, you can call customer service”. We exchange glances. It’s quite obvious to both of us that it would be easier for me to just work it out myself. “By the way, the HD services don’t work on one of the boxes either, but I’m sure customer services can sort that out for you too.” He might well have added “(Good luck with that)”.

“And here’s your phone number”. It’s one I’d never seen before.

Stay calm.

I ring India, later that day. Very apologetic. “I don’t know what’s happened sir, but there’s no reason why you can’t have your old number. It’ll take 24 hours or so, but I’ve filled in the form and is there anything else I can help you with?” No, please, just make sure it’s done.

A quick aside. Virgin Media’s automated answering system. You know, the one where they say: “we’re now going to give you five options…”. None of them usually seem to apply to what I want, and there’s no “any other queries” option, so I’ve just taken to selecting something vaguely close. After a couple of banks of these, you’re then asked: “please key in characters from your password”. But I have no idea what my password is. Why should I? There’s no way of saying “I don’t know”. At this point, some people would just give up in despair. Maybe that’s the idea. Maybe it saves on the number of callers they get. It turns out – according to one customer service person I spoke to – that it’s irrelevant, you can just key in anything. So what’s the point? Or at least, why don’t they tell you it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your password?

Two Days Later
You guessed it. I dial my home phone number from my mobile, and still nothing. “We’re really sorry about this sir, I know the form has been filled in. You’ll have your number in 24 hours. Certainly if you don’t have it working in 48 hours, call us.” Well of course I will. But can you be sure it’ll work this time? After all, it’s the fourth time I’ve requested my number is transferred. “Absolutely sir! The form has been filled in!”. Blimey, this form must be magic.

One more aside. I called about the HD channels not appearing on one of my TiVo boxes. I explained it to the first person I got through to. They put me through to someone else. I’m beginning to get bored of Tinie Tempah, none of these transfers take less than two or three minutes on hold. The next person listens carefully to my problem (and don’t forget, every new person I speak to is asking for my customer reference, or password, or something). They say: “Ah, you’ll need TiVo support for that, I’ll pass you on”. Why couldn’t I have just hit a button at the beginning to choose TiVo support in the first place? But now I’m going “up a level” and I know what that means – India have declared. A pleasant Scots chap sorts me out (it takes 45 minutes of playing with the box, something the installers shouldn’t have left not working in the first place, but hey-ho). The Scots chap is clearly unhappy that I didn’t get a proper working system, or a proper demonstration of how the TiVo worked. You and me both, mate.

It reminds me of ten years ago when Virgin Media was still ntl, at a time when they didn’t acknowledge the existence of Apple Macs, but I had a problem with my Mac’s broadband connection. After being passed around, I was eventually put on to a specialist Mac support guy in Wales, who was just brilliant. What’s more, he acknowledged how hopeless ntl’s support was and said: “listen, here’s my direct line. Any problems, just come straight through”. Wow.

Three Days Later
Oh come on, you didn’t think it’d end happily, did you? If it had, maybe I wouldn’t be needing the therapy of writing this. Still no home phone number. Back on to India. Very apologetic. “The form has been filled in”. Ah, the magic form again. Look, a whole series of people have assured me it would happen the next day, can I speak to someone who can actually get something done? I’m transferred eventually to a supervisor called ‘Neil’. I’m sure some Indian people have English names, but I’m dubious that’s his real one, somehow. Anyway, he sounds confident enough to be a genuine supervisor. I never lose my temper with bottom-rung operatives, it’s rarely their fault. But I feel I can be a little more forthright here. “All I can say is that the transfer of your number is in progress”, he says, “I can’t really offer any more than that. And it’ll be done in ten working days”.

Oh you’ve got to be kidding me.

Ten. TEN? But it was going to be done when I moved in. The third time I asked, it was going to be done “within 24 hours” of that. A few days later, the fourth time I asked, it was going to be done “within 48 hours” of that. Several days further on, it’s now going to be done “in 10 days”. I tell Neil that this is just not acceptable. He has a ponder, and says: “I tell you what, I can get that reduced to 5 days”. I think I’m supposed to be grateful. But I’m powerless. And that’s the most frustrating thing of all.

Now, I appreciate that not having people being able to ring you for a few weeks isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s just that somehow, I knew this was going to happen. At almost every level, when you speak to Virgin Media customer support they’re apologetic. The operation clearly doesn’t work, from top to bottom. The foot soldiers in India are clearly hamstrung by the systems in front of them, and (being an overseas call centre) the problems they have in relating to their customers. When you get up a level, there are just constant sighs of exasperation with what’s going on elsewhere. It must be an awful place to work. But it’s just as bad for us as users. And it doesn’t have to be this way.

Later on, the phone rings, for the first time in days. Maybe a miracle has happened? Unfortunately not. “Hello, this is Virgin Media. If you join our mobile phone service, we can offer you a free Blackberry Curve…”

Most of this article was written while on hold to Virgin Media Customer Service. You still can’t call me on the number which I’ve had with them for years.

As mentioned in the update at the top, after writing this, I was contacted by the Virgin Media “Social Media Team” (via Twitter and email) and by the company’s “Head of Customer Experience” (see comment below). Impressively, the telephone number situation was sorted in 24 hours, and I’m very grateful for this. It seems slightly churlish to raise the following question – but I must – which is “Why couldn’t normal customer service make this happen?” Clearly the capabilities are in place to expedite matters. Ten days to transfer a phone number indeed.

“Dad”, comes the cry from downstairs, “Why is the telly not working?” I look at the screen. It says: “You have not subscribed to this channel”. Or indeed any channel, by the looks of things. Oh hang on, the broadband’s down too. Time for technical support. That’s one of the numbers I haven’t pressed on the menu over the past fortnight. “No problems reported in your area sir”, says Luke. “But it says here that you’ve been disconnected for non-payment of bills”.

I’m not sure how to explain speechlessness in print. They have my direct debit details. They’ve been taking money from me for years. Luke puts me through to a nice lady in accounts. “There’s nothing outstanding here”, she says. Indeed, that description could probably apply to most of your organisation, but thanks anyway. So what should I do? The nice lady offers to take the matter up with something called “Collections”. But we have to wait ten minutes to get put through to them. Mid-80s David Bowie to listen to today.

Apparently “Collections” says there was £3 outstanding, but couldn’t explain why it wasn’t “collected”. Clearly it’s easier to just switch customers off when there’s a glitch in the system. That always gets things moving. The nice lady says that it’ll all be sorted in a moment, “but it might take 24 hours to restore all of your services”. I refrain from losing my temper, reminding myself as always that it’s not her fault, it’s down to the lack of investment in systems which work, from people at board level. The trouble is, I’ll never have the chance to talk to one of them. I wish I could. It’d make me feel so much better.

So as I write, everything’s working. My advice to anyone using Virgin Media services, and whose systems are fine, is don’t move house. Indeed, don’t move a muscle. You might just get the service you want (as long as accounts doesn’t get involved).

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. A letter arrives, telling me that my services have been restricted (whatever that means) because of the unusual account expenditure taking place. I’m a bit concerned: many years ago, with ntl, I was sent a 10-page bill amounting to hundreds of pounds which was nothing to do with me – they actually had to send out an engineer to look at my set-top box to confirm it wasn’t. So I was worried that something like this had happened again, and immediately got on to accounts to find out what the unusual account expenditure was. “It’s only a standard letter”, I was informed, “and won’t affect your services; it’s just to let you know that we’ve noticed something out of the ordinary’s being charged to your account”. Sure, but I haven’t been spending anything unusual, so why the warning letter? The accounts lady peers into her screen (I have a nice mental image of Virgin Media’s call centres by now). “Well, there’s a couple of hundred pounds been spent from your account, which isn’t normal.”

I have a think. £200? We tried out an “On Demand” movie. That doesn’t account for the other £197 though. Oh hang on…

Is the “unusual expenditure” anything to do with the two TiVo boxes I’ve just had installed? “Ah yes, that’ll be it. Not sure why they sent you a letter in that case”. You don’t say. Does everyone upgrading their service get a letter warning them that they’ve been spending too much money, I wonder? Right, so that’s sorted. Are my services still “restricted” (whatever that means) then? “Would you like to talk to Collections about it?” No I blummin’ well wouldn’t. It’s been nice talking to you. Get your house in order (I add, silently).

UPDATE: I’ve closed comments on this article because I don’t want to become a clearing house for people with bad experiences of Virgin Media customer service, such as the examples below. Who knows, maybe by the time you read this, Virgin Media will have got the staff and system resources they need, and may be a paragon of customer service virtue.

14 replies on “Virgin Media “Customer Service” lives up to its reputation”

Ouch – that’s really not good and I’m sorry about that experience 🙁

I see you’ve contacted our social media ‘tweam’ who are on the case and we’ll get in touch direct to resolve, as well as pick up the feedback internally.

Sorry again, we’ll get this sorted.

Head of Customer Experience
Virgin Media

I feel your pain. Moved from Sky, BeUnlimited and BT to Virgin Media. Engineer left the house in a mess. Broadband didn’t work for four days. India call center hung up on me twice. Mis-sold services by the sales woman and our package is nothing like we had with Sky, although we were told that it would be.

We pay over £100 a month to VM. I’ve raised two complaints online over a week ago and haven’t heard anything since.


We recently (only last month depressingly) moved from Sky to Virgin Media and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt that it is the worst decision we have ever made.

Aside from our feeling that we have been mis-sold our package, we’ve since been threatened with disconnection and disconnection fees and a general “please go away” attitude pervades all phone calls. All we wanted was what we were promised in the original sales call (which is strangely unforthcoming).

We really should have known better, having been customers of NTL for years until the shambolic, terrible service made it impossible for us to continue with them. I had to eventually write to the CEO in order to stop the useless generic letters being sent from the faceless customer services team who refused to answer the phone (40 minutes on hold was the record) and when they did, failed completely to deal with the issues. We are now kicking ourselves on an hourly basis and grovelling at Sky’s corporate devil feet.

Virgin Media. Never, never again.

I signed up for 30Mb broadband in May 2011. So far I have never seen speed like it. Very few days I got between 20-24Mb. Most of the time it is about 10-14Mb. From 4.00pm to 9.00pm anything from 1/10Mb to 4Mb and it keeps dropping the connection or freezes up. Now they are charging me £5 for not paying by direct debit and also for late payment fee of £10 on top of £28 for 30Mb broadband. If it is OK for them to charge me this silly cost then surely I am entitled to make deduction for loss of speed. It looks like I am having an unfair contract and makes me wonder I can call it a breach of contract. Any help much welcomed.

I think I have spotted what the problem may be. It just might be that they have people in the organisation that use the word “tweam”, and the phrase “pick up the feedback internally” (It’s good to know you’re not the only one who’s been shafted)

The worst customer service I have had the pleasure to endure.
In the last month I have spent over 4 hours on the phone trying to sort out problems. Spent 45 minutes been passed from department to department only to be told “line has been disconnected.
Any query besides the norm and you start hitting your head against a brick wall. Been with Virgin since Telewest days but service deteriorating. Bitterly dissapointed

Came across this site as I’m moving into a Bryant Victoria tomorrow… and having to leave behind Virgin as they’re not at the new house.

Just wanted to say that we’ve had a great time with VM. Their customer service has been fine, and once you get chatting to any of their agents they are usually really helpful.

The only things I haven’t liked is this crazy direct debit system where (if you had a problem and they cancelled it) you can’t set up a new one until you have paid off the old one, and they charge you a fee for manually paying. Cheeky, as they won’t let you pay any other way.

They are expensive compared to others and the broadband is not that quick.

BUT they have been fairly reliable, and their TV services are excellent. Plus, as said, have found them really pleasant to deal with!

Whilst I will miss them, I’ll be happy to take the savings I’ll make with the new provider!

Experienced very slow speed (10Mb contract)
Two expensive phone calls (on a mobile phone) to “customer services” personnel who spoke very poor English and could only follow a script.

Solutions offered – don’t download anything for two days, re-boot PC and / or modem, (Like I hadn’t tried that) and other useless time consuming suggestions.

Promised to have a Manager call me – I’m still waiting months later. Cured the fault myself.

Recently intermittent slow speed (as low as 0.91Mb download on an Ethernet connection)

Sent an email no reply!.

No easy way to send email you have to follow the not a customer link to email Virginmedia.

On a scale of 1 to 10 for customer service Minus 5

i have to say i am not surprised i moved and was quoted a lovely price for a package i said yes as it was cheaper then what i was paying at the old address, but there was a few items on the packagae i didnt want . the sales agent said i could change that after 7 months but the package price would stay the same ,which i was happy with so after i moved the first bill come in for £30 more then the agreed price i had to send my contact in twice by recorded delievery to prove the price i was given for it to be finally charged the £46 i agreed on.. after 7 months though price jumped up again when i queried it i was told my contact offer was only for 7 months , doesnt state taht anywhere but they gave me the choice pay the new price or cancel the contract .. so again virgin media screws someone over as i cant have sky here

Im afraid the poor service from VM continues. I rather stupidly decided to keep my number & contract with VM & added broadband. The install was supposed to happen yesterday & of course no one arrived. Cue several hours of calls to 4 different people. One of the advisors told me with no hint of irony to ‘go on-line to log a complaint’.

Another less helpful assistant told me it was impossible to make a complaint. So here I am, after taking 1 day off from work with no services from VM & apparently no one who can explain why.

Staying with VM has made moving more stressful than it needs to be.

Ive been with virgin for years now but as the services have got more exspensive i thought about leaving,only to find my home phone number of 15 years that i took to virgin would not be released to me if i leave…

Exact same experience. When it was Telewest I used to have the ocassional issue but never an annoyance. In exasperation at 4 months of broadband widths of 3kb (yes you read that correctly) I wrote to Mr. Branson’s head office. The actual words in the reply were “Mr. Branson does not have time to deal with customer complaints so I have passed your comments to Virgin Media customer services”

There you are – back where you started.

Now I have had my phone cut off because next months bill hasn’t been paid

Virgin – you are rubbish at customer service and clueless at service provision. The only reason your broadband is better than everyone elses is because you bought an existing network that was already better than everyone elses..

Oh I’m so relieved I am not alone here. It beggars belief that any company could allow such appalling customer service – somebody said faceless, a great description – and the non communication between departments. I’m sure that customer services and accounts are working very successfully for competitors. I was with virgin (they do not warrant a capital V) for 3 years and now have moved to a non-cabled area, duly gave them their 30 days notice but I am still being hassled and harrassed for money I clearly don’t owe them and laughingly they tell me they have disconnected my service because of non-payment of bills. ALEX BROWN, head of virgin media customer experience – you really need to get a grip and get the experience of virgin to be positive and not to be causing so many people such misery. Life is hard enough!

i,m in my 70s, not quite my dotage ,+ been with telewest / virgin from the off, the wife bought new phones + i plugged them in months later the line went dead, got through to virgin + an “engineer ” came out told the missus off for not having an adsl filter fitted, he said it had knackered the connection box on the wall ( like we are telephone engineers ) i was an automobile engineer + if i had spoken to customers like he did i would have gone bust. we also have a tv in the front room on skye, a few months later we received a letter from skye saying they were going to charge us for not having a phone connection to the box when i looked he had diconnected the sky + did,nt have even the decency to tell us, my daughter rang up ( as i,m a bit deaf ) + i think she was treated as the joke of the day, as for two hours patiently talking to + getting cut of godknows how many times, accused once of raising her voice + getting cut off once more she gave up, + still no success, i would love for one of theire bosses to listen to all those calls (which are alll recorded) so after all these years i am being forced to go to skye , i will give them one more go + see if they think its worth it ONE REALY DISGUSTED SOON TO BE EX VIRGIN CUSTOMER!

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