Mystery Caller – 383


Our Mystery Caller has been having many and varied problems with his toping up. The problems he came across varied, but hes looking for a sympathetic ear from all the CSA he calls. He also wants to know how much hes paying for his calls and texts and whether theres a simple way of finding out how much credit he has left.

Its a case of all information gratefully received. And the more enthusiasm and interest shown in the process, the better.

Virgin Mobile 6th
Time and day of call19:20 weekday
Duration of call8 minutes
Length of queue? 3 minutes
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner3
Able to identify and understand my needs3
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?2
Genuine interest in wanting to help3
Giving clear, easily understood explanations3
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3

I dialled the number. Thank you for calling Revenue and Customs, said a voice. The office is now closed. Our opening hours are.. I fell off my chair. I was calling Virgin Mobile, not the VAT man. Unless the scams had got so bad that The Revenue had taken over at the asylum. Surely not.

I checked my handset and saw Id made a mistake. Id rung 0845 6000 678. I should have called 0845 6000 789. Sweat stopped streaming down my brow — even though Id got nothing to hide. Honest, officer.

I was more than usually relieved when one of Virgin Mobiles cubicle monkeys picked up my call. Rachel drew the short straw. Her accent suggested her particular cubicle was closer to Durban than Trowbridge, but she greeted me pleasantly enough.

I told Rachel that Id topped up but that the lady behind the counter wasnt sure whether the card had registered the money, and I didnt know how to check how much was in my account. I told her I was a pre pay Virgin in more ways than one. Not known for its sense of humour, the South African nation. My quip fell on stony ground.

You dial 789 and the balance is read to you by a machine, commanded Rachel. Or, before you actually make a call, your balance is read out to you. Here, let me check your account. Whats your number?

Rachel checked and confirmed my swipe card had been fed £5 of hard-earned.

I wanted to know, in the light of my mobile innocence, what other ways were open to me to top up. Rachel gave me a three options before running out of inspiration. She was particularly keen I parted with credit card information and explained how simple and painless that system was.

What about bank machines? I asked.

Oh yes, she replied. Them too. Can I help you with anything else?

Just one thing. How much does al this cost?

1p. Thats all it costs. 1p. you can be on for one minute or twenty. Thats all youll get charged, Rachel replied.

I couldnt hide the surprise in my voice. One penny for all calls?

No, clarified Rachel. 1p for all calls to the customer service centre. Calls to other Virgin Mobile users cost 3p a minute. So do texts.

And calls to other networks?

They are 10p a minute and 10p a text, Rachel assured me.

She didnt appear in any mood to prolong our chat, so I said goodbye.

Rachel was almost abrupt at times, which made the conversation more arduous than it should have been. She also needed the odd prompt or two when conversation flagged.

Though she sorted out my swipe card competently enough, she made one massive and fundamental error. Virgin Mobiles pricing structure is predicated on 15p a minute for the first 3 minutes, then 5p a minute thereafter. Not knowing that is, simply, unforgivable. And Rachel didnt.

Time and day of call21:50 weekday
Duration of call10 minutes
Length of queue? none
Assistant introduced by name Yes

Polite and courteous manner4
Able to identify and understand my needs3
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?3
Genuine interest in wanting to help4
Giving clear, easily understood explanations2
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3

Oh joy. The lady in the machine asked if Id mind hanging on the line after the call to take part in a bit of market research. Would I leave feedback so that 3s customer service could be improved? Bring it on.

First though, I had to negotiate the call. And I decided to complain that the woman at the Post Office refused to give me a 3 swipe card. Instead all she planned to do was give me a bit of till roll for my £10 note. Hardly a fair exchange.

Shakar answered before the first ring. He was immediately wanting to know how he could help me. I explained the swipe card shortfall scenario.

Shakars use of the English language is quaint. He definitely subscribes to the why use 15 words when 60 will do school of communication. Certainly, he said. I believe the problem is that we do not have swipe cards available with us at this point. Instead you will be buying vouchers. Can I tell you about their details?

Without pausing for breath, Shakar launched into the oft-heard litany of 3 top up vouchers. Solving the maths behind nuclear fission is a simpler task than understanding how to pay for 3s services. Especially when the explaining is done by someone on the other side of the world, reading from a screen at breakneck speed, without the benefit of adequate punctuation..

There are £25 Talk and Text vouchers each has two options option 1 is 500 voice minutes and £1.50 cash option 2 is 500 texts, 50 voice minutes and £1.50 cash. You must use the credit within 30 days.

I asked for an action replay and clarification on the £1.50 cash. What was the point of that?

Shakar explained a little more slowly the second time round. He told me that the £1.50 cash credit could be used for sending texts from abroad or making international calls.

Then the record sped up. There are cash credit vouchers for £10, £15, and £20. They stay on the phone. Of course they do. Where else would I put them — on the mantelpiece next to the photo of Auntie Daisy?

Shakar apologised. He actually meant that the cash credit vouchers had no expiry date.

The final set of vouchers are called Add Ons, Shakar told me. They came in three flavours, and, after listening to his explanation a couple of times, I was relatively certain that I could buy a £5 add everything, a £10 add text 200 or a £5 add text 75 and that all these credits would self-destruct after 30 days. Furthermore they could only be added so long as there was pre-existing credit on the phone. Was there anything else Shakar could help me with?

How much does it cost to do video calls? I wanted to know. Shakar was stumped for a moment. Then he remembered. 50p a minute, he said. The irony of video calling apparently having been relegated to an also-ran service was lost in translation.

Shakar tried to distil the complexity of the 3 voucher system as best he could. Its not his fault that simplicity has never been 3s watchword. But thats really all he did. Shakar didnt, as those in the know would have it, add value. He just talked at me for 10 minutes, allowing me a word in edgeways from time to time. That said, he really tried to be helpful.

My biggest regret, however, is that I didnt get the opportunity to leave feedback. I got cut off.

Time and day of call11:50 weekday
Duration of callminutes
Length of queue? <5
Assistant introduced by name Yes

Polite and courteous manner3
Able to identify and understand my needs3
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?4
Genuine interest in wanting to help3
Giving clear, easily understood explanations3
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4

Kerry was quick on the draw. I was in the queue for less time than it takes to tell you. Kerrys greeting, however, lacked enthusiasm. Ecstatic, she was not.

I explained that Id never topped up before and that Id had a few problems down at the Post Office with the card machine. Initially it told me that the top up had failed, then been accepted. The lady behind the counter suggested I called to check.

Kerry asked for my number and password. The system shows youve topped up by £5.00 this morning, she told me. You can use that balance immediately.

Silence descended. How can I check whether theres a balance on my phone? I wanted to know, apologising for my pre pay ignorance.
150 send, replied Kerry. Not one of the worlds great conversationalists.
Im not certain how much its going to cost me to use the phone, I said.

Let me see, Kerry mused. Youre on the Everyone tariff.

Not unreasonably, I wanted to know more. That means you pay 12p a minute for all UK calls, 10p a text. You could go onto Mates Rates, but that only works if you call T-Mobile numbers a lot. Theres another tariff if you send a lot of texts, too. Kerry was in no mood to elaborate. I got the bargain basement tour.

Thats good to know, I replied in a desperate attempt to keep the conversation flowing. Do you reckon Id be better off staying where I am?

Unless your mates are on T-Mobile or you plan to text a lot, then yes. Its difficult to fault Kerrys logic.

Is there a simpler way to top up; perhaps on line? I wanted to know.

Kerry replied in what had become by now a familiar monotone. Go to and set up your account on line. Then youre able to see all the information we can see. Youll know when you last topped up, and you can top up by card online. Or, she added as an afterthought and with no conviction, you could register a credit card now.

I declined Kerrys half-hearted attempt to relieve me of my card details and, in so doing, bind me closer to the T-mobile ethos. An opportunity missed.

As we hung up I looked at the texts automatically generated when I topped up, and reflected on just how much Kerry hadnt bothered to tell me. One text offered £2.00 of promotional credit if I toped up by £10 or more. Another gave me details about how to switch plan, earn free credit and claim 5 free picture messages. If Id have been presented with that information, Id have ended the call a much happier customer.

A catalogue of missed opportunity characterises an otherwise adequate call. Presented with the blank slate of a new customer, Kerry could have done so much more to impress, and, crucially increased the likelihood of my using my phone to do more than chat and text.

As it was, she did the bare minimum to get by and very little to endear herself.

Time and day of call11:25 weekday
Duration of call9 minutes
Length of queue? 8 minutes
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner3
Able to identify and understand my needs3
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?4
Genuine interest in wanting to help4
Giving clear, easily understood explanations4
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3

The Orange scenario goes a bit like this. The machine at the Post Office refused my Orange swipe card. I paid over a fiver for a piece of till roll with a number on it. A number my phone refused to swallow.what do I do next and can I have a new swipe card, please?

But first, I had to make contact with the Mother Ship. And my attempts to do so nearly drove me to distraction. I tried the published number from my landline phone and got the unobtainable tone. I tried from another landline phone (just in case) with the same result. An attempt from my Orange handset came up against a brick wall. The same thing happened when I tried a contract Orange phone I had to hand.

Clearly, the whole of Orange had gone on one massive coffee break at the same time. I decided to do the same. When I came back half an hour later, all was well and I was through to the call minder immediately. How bizarre is that?

I was treated to the litany of excuses weve become all too familiar with over recent months as Orange explained how its customers were at fault for the delay I was experiencing. Nothing to do with having too few staff on duty to field the calls.

When came Heather came on the line, she sounded at the same time flustered and disinterested. When I explained why I was calling and the fact that the post office woman had refused my swipe card, she perked up a bit and explained Id have needed to link the card to the account. That hadnt been done.

Heather then went out of her way to help get the £5.00 credit from the till roll onto my account. She then showed me how dialling 453 would confirm the credit balance I had along with any other offers that had come my way.

After that, and completely off her own bat, Heather gave me a thorough tour of the various top up options open to me, including a detailed look at how I could use ATM machines. The great thing about using an ATM is that the security is already dealt with by the time you select the mobile option; just type in your mobile number and youre off.

Heather sensed I was not a pre pay expert and took me thought he various tariff options open to me including the one I was on; Bonus Top-Up. Its a good plan, this, revealed Heather. Spend £10 a month and get 10% back, £20 a month and get 20% back and so on.

Right, I said. Ill top up by £100 here and now, and get 100% back That means all my calls free doesnt it.

Much hilarity ensued (oh, what a sheltered life we both must lead) as Heather explained that the cashback offer was limited at £50 for 50%.

When I eventually got through to Heather, she was initially a little cool. But as the call progressed, it was evident that she was going out of her way to help me through the per pay maze. Her explanations were conversational and tailored to my needs, not read off a script.

The connection frustrations at the beginning of the call were soon forgotten.

Time and day of call11:00 weekday
Duration of call9 minutes
Length of queue? <5
Assistant introduced by name Yes

Polite and courteous manner4
Able to identify and understand my needs4
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?4
Genuine interest in wanting to help4
Giving clear, easily understood explanations4
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4

Shannon picked up the phone immediately I flashed up on her screen, if youll pardon the expression. She began, logically enough, by asking how she could help.

My top up card was refused by the machine and I was given another. The lady at the Post Office said I needed to call you, I said.

Shannon asked if Id activated the card. I used the opportunity to tell her Id never topped up before, always having had a contract phone previously.

Dont worry, Shannon told me. Its a simple process. Whats the phone number you want to top up? Ill link the card to the number now so that you dont have a problem in the future.

I think the number is.. Shannon stopped me.

Youll have to be absolutely certain, otherwise the credit will go onto another phone and Ill not be able to get it back, she warned.

She suggested I take the SIM card out of the phone and read the numbers back to her so that she could check Then she took the details of the top up card and linked the two.

Youve topped up by £10; thats on your account and it means youve qualified for some freebies. You can have free anytime minutes, free texts, or free off peak minutes, which would you like?

I asked for more details and plumped for an extra 50 free anytime minutes. Shannon took the opportunity to explain the top up loyalty scheme which could see me getting up to 1000 free texts, or 300 minutes of free talk time.

I asked if she could tell me a couple of things; how much I was paying and how I could find out what my balance was?
Youll get a text every time you top up, she told me. And right on cue, a text telling me I had £10 on my account appeared. Did Shannon have psychic powers? But you can always dial *10# send from your handset for an up to date balance, she told me, reassuringly.

A comprehensive rundown of the O2 price list followed which was easy to understand and presented in a way that made it seem good value, especially when Shannon linked it to the freebies I got every time I topped up.

I notice that youve not set a password, would you like to do that now? It prevents anyone tampering with your account, Shannon asked.

Perish the thought of anyone tampering with my account. I gave her the name of a recently deceased tortoise.

Finally, Shannon suggested I might like to register at which would enable me to top up without having to visit the Post Office.

Shannon did her job very well. She was pleasant and talkative throughout our chat, which was just that; a conversation. It was much more than just an exchange of information.

She went the extra mile to make certain that I was quoting the right mobile number, for instance.. She gave me a great deal of background information that Id not specifically requested. And she made me feel that nothing was too much trouble for her, no question too mundane.

Time and day of call16:35 weekday
Duration of call8 minutes
Length of queue? 3 minutes
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner4
Able to identify and understand my needs4
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?4
Genuine interest in wanting to help5
Giving clear, easily understood explanations4
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4

I neatly sidestepped the traps laid for the unwary thatll have you listening to a recorded message about PUK codes or some such nonsense before you know it, and navigated myself to the queue.

Once there, I got Vodafones new, improved, silent treatment. A strategy designed to make you wonder if youre still connected or, instead, holding a useless piece of plastic against your head. It works like this: 20 or so of silence is punctuated by a Brrr Brrr. After 3 minutes of this, a woman came on the line to tell me that she was sorry about the

I didnt find out exactly what she was sorry about, because at that point Shona cut in and said hello.

I began by excusing my general ignorance about matters mobile and particular ignorance when it came to top ups. I told her my questions were bound to sound pretty silly and naive.

Dont you call yourself silly, chided Shona. No ones explained topping up to you, so how can you be expected to know what its all about.

With that, I launched into a Post Office tale and recounted my recent experience. An experience that saw me putting £5.00 on a card, but not being able to get that £5.00 onto my phone.

Ive checked your phone and its been activated. What we need to do now is link the number with the swipe card. Read out the long number, if you will.

Before I knew it, card and number were linked and, according to Shona, I had a massive £6 balance on my account.

You can find out your balance by keying in 2345 call and listening to the voice read it out, or dial *#1345 to get it displayed on the phones screen, said Shona

There are a few other things you need to know, Shona continued, chattily. You may find it easier to top up at an ATM, or you can register a card with us and call when you want us to put money onto your account. Theres the swipe card weve just linked and something similar, a voucher. The idea here is that you type in a 16 digit number. That puts the credit on your account.

I was enjoying Shonas company. She was managing to make turgid information interesting. I was impressed.

A final question, I ventured. How much are the calls going to cost me? Shona could have read off a list and left it at that. Instead she gave me the Anynet headline call costs (30p and 10p) and, without pausing for breath, moved straight on to the offers and incentives. I got chapter and verse on Stop the Clock and Free Weekends.

Both initiatives were presented as being excellent and innovative and representing real value for money. And, what with Shona being so personable, who was I to disagree?

Its not so much about what is said, its about how its said. Shonas conversation was feature rich, but it was just that; conversation. Not only did she sort me out in the pre pay stakes, she managed to make Vodafone look munificent. And, come to think of it, 30p for an hour of chat at the weekend isnt bad at all. Without Shonas input that simply wouldnt have occurred to me.

We say
This kind of call\ should be bread and butter to any CSA worth their salt. But were disappointed with what we found. Theres no excuse for not scoring 24 or more on a simple test like this.

Apart from Virgin Mobiles Rachel not knowing the networks core offering, no one disgraced themselves. But no one other than Vodafones Shona really went out of their way to sell the network And, crucially, no one tried to extend the offering and stimulate ARPU. Picture messages didnt get a look in let alone any form of value added service or Internet based service.

Unless customers like Mystery caller are introduced to the raft of innovative services out there at every opportunity, make no mistake; ARPU will remain in the Doldrums.