Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dear Mr (Branson) Mockridge... about that poor broadband service again...

Open letter to Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, (draft originally addressed to Richard Branson before I remembered that Mr Branson sold the company to Liberty Global last year).

Dear Mr Mockridge,

Much though I appreciate the regular opportunity to navigate your Virgin Media broadband service telephone tag maze and engage your stressed call centre staff in friendly conversation, I'm rather busy with other personal and professional things in life at the moment.

Your broadband service which I subscribe to at home has provided a variable wireless connection to my collection of digital devices for several days and has been deteriorating for several months.  Though the connection to the computer directly wired to the Virgin Super Hub has been more or less ok, apart from the odd day or two or threes interruptions to service here and there, the wireless connection to other devices has been erratic and often slow with download speeds slipping below several tenths of a Mbps.

As when I wrote to Richard Branson in October 2012, I'd just like to point out, again, that this is disrupting my family’s work, education, social activities and access to public and commercial services.

Your “check service status” phone line “confirms” that Virgin Media believe/assert “there are no problems” in my area.

Your “check service status” facility on the web - says there is “Good service” in my area.

They are both wrong.

As I believe I explained previously, to Mr Branson when he owned the company, when there are problems it is somewhat irritating if Virgin Media declare/think/pretend there are none.
Your labyrinthine, do-it-yourself (DIY) ‘check and fix your own problems’ approach on the Virgin Media website is quite something.  It assumes customers have the capacity and the skill to hunt down and follow a series of Russian doll like instructions and articles about where you might find instructions which rarely fix anything. This does, however, generate significant angst. I'm at risk of repeating myself here but one of my least favourite activities, when I get home from work, is going through a series of convoluted, difficult to access (via your website or phone helplines) routine processes I know to be futile, in an effort to demonstrate to one of your difficult to access call centre folks that I’ve already tried the stuff on their crib sheet without success.

Your various “helplines” – out of which, these days, positively dance the effusively cheery young woman's recorded voice, seemingly nothing short of delighted to hear from me - are not very helpful. Incidentally the consultantsthat advised your people or your people's people that customers, reduced to having to engage in endless telephone tag about a fault, would have their disquietude quelled by an extravagantly high spirited recorded voicewere wrong.

“Press 1 for…” queuing, canned music, notes that staff are busy (me too) and I'll have to stay on hold for x minutes, opportunities to choose the type of canned music I'd like to hear (my kids thought that was hilarious), more of the excessively upbeat recorded female voice and eventually, at the end of a long wait, connect to a member of call centre staff who can’t help. Apparently I'd been routed to cable services instead of national services. So cable services' Jay therefore had to transfer me to another part of your operation which in its turn can't help because I've been misdirected; so will transfer me to someone who they guarantee, absolutely, this time, will be the right person. None of this is conducive to soothing already fragile customer relations. 

I spent about 40 minutes on the phone yesterday evening and after three false starts got through to a senior technician, Anjan, who seemed pretty stressed and worn out himself. I explained the wifi problem and Anjan declared Virgin could not guarantee a stable wifi connection. Not a promising start and something of a contrast to the response I got from a very helpful lady called Shambhavi when I had an equivalent wifi problem in August of 2013.*

In any case Anjan re-booted the super hub and changed the wireless channel. Neither activity helped. (They didn't the last time I tried them either.) So he said the best thing to do would be to send a technician round to physically relocate the super hub. Now given the super hub has not moved and we haven't acquired or run any extra digital technologies in the past week, I'm skeptical that the notion of physically moving the hub will make any appreciable difference to the erratic wifi connection. Nevertheless I accept that Anjan, as he said, was at the end of a telephone line and couldn't see the relative layout of where the wireless devices were in relation to the hub. 

So I await your technician to work his/her magic next Tuesday between 1 and 6pm . The restoration of my wireless connections to something in the realm consistent usability and the banishment particularly of that irritating video buffering circle to the annals of history will be most welcome, if it can be achieved. I will, by the way, have to miss an important meeting to be at home to accommodate this visit.

To any Virgin Media staff who trip across this open note - if you have, thanks for taking the time to read it thus far. To the Virgin Media call centre staff most of whom are doing your best in the face of problems outside your control - thank you for your efforts and your understanding, when you can muster it up, that I did not call to make your life miserable, merely to ask for an operational service.

To Mr Mockridge - as I said to Mr Branson, when there is a problem with my broadband service – it’s slow and/or down and/or erratic and/or there are power fluctuations on the line – I want Virgin Media to know about it, let me know about it in an accessible communiqué, work hard to fix it asap and deliver a reliable service. I don't want to play telephone tag for hours, days or weeks or go on endless, fruitless Virgin Media website mining expeditions, in an effort to find a temporary DIY patch for the prevailing problem to tide me over until the next disruption.

BT write regularly encouraging me to switch broadband provider.  The series of disruptions in Virgin Media services in the past year alone is causing me to wonder whether that alternative would be more consistently reliable, with the additional bonus of access to BT Sport.

Yours sincerely,
Ray Corrigan

* In August 2013 I was having lots of broadband problems including similar persistent wifi problems to those experienced in recent days. I gathered my energy to phone Virgin Media about it on the 31st of the month, one Saturday morning I didn't happen to be out and about on the Open University trail. After lots of phone tag including getting cut off with a promise to call back I had little confidence in, I actually got a very helpful lady called Shambhavi at the other end of the line. 

She listened to my problem carefully, took the time to understand specifically what the issue was and apologised for the disruptions.  She asked me to check connection speeds on each laptop and wireless device. She did some diagnostics and detected power fluctuations on the cable connecting my house and postcode. She had to go away and do some extra checking and system adjustments and also promised to phone me back within half and hour. 

Guess what? She phoned me back within half an hour!

During the time Shambhavi was off the line doing her system adjustments, one of the laptops acquired a usable wireless connection, presumably due to her remote work on the power fluctuations on the cable. The other laptop still had no connection. She asked me to connect that directly by cable to the Virgin Media super hub, took remote control and did some checks (most of which I had done previously but nevertheless kudos to Shambhavi for being thorough). She thought the laptop might need a wireless driver update but discovered it was already installed. Disconnected the cable to the laptop and wireless was still not working, though it could get a very slow intermittent connection to the BBC site but nowhere else. Connected the cable again. Shambhavi then rebooted the laptop in safe mode and did some more checks. This time when I disconnected the cable the machine did have a working wireless connection. A selection of broadband speedtests showed it running 20 - 40 Mbps, a massive improvement.

Shambhavi then asked that I systematically check the wireless performance of each device. All were in working order. I thanked her for a job well done. 1.5 hours after first calling, my wireless devices were now working and the Corrigan household was back online. 

I had intended to write a blogpost about it at the time to thank Shambhavi publicly and it was remiss of me to take so long about it and only now be prompted to record her professional supportive effective approach when running into a less successful attempt to have my latest Virgin Media troubles fixed. Well done and thank you for that particular morning's work on Saturday, August 31st, 2103, Shambhavi.

A final note to Mr Mockridge and/or any of your sharp suited minders who might stumble across this open letter or filter the associated email - easy access to real caring people in your organisation, like Shambhavi, with the capacity and willingness to listen, diagnose and fix service and technical issues, would do wonders for your customer relations. 

Update Friday 14/3/'13: I had a quick response to my email to Mr Mockridge from Marina, CEO Case Manager at Virgin Media's Chief Executive Office. My email went at 13.38 yesterday and the time stamp on the response is 14.42. I also had a very helpful phone call from Ian in the Virgin Media complaints office this morning (Friday). He suggested that instead of sending out a technician to physically relocate the Virgin Media super hub, since I was skeptical about the efficacy of such an action, that he arrange to send a new generation hub with a better wireless performance. I'll need to install it myself but he said it comes with straightforward instructions. Thanks to Marina for your rapid response and handing the case to Ian. Thanks to Ian for the care you've taken to read and understand my missive, investigate my Virgin Media problems and your all round helpful approach to date. Hopefully the new hub will connect seamlessly and cure the wifi issues we've been experiencing.

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