Mystery Caller – 385


Time and day of call10:20 weekday
Duration of call3 minutes
Length of queue? 2 minutes
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner3
Able to identify and understand my needs2
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?1
Genuine interest in wanting to help2
Giving clear, easily understood explanations1
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome1

3 has a cunning new plan to discourage customers from clogging up its phone lines. Its obviously bought a CD compilation of the worlds most appallingly bad music that it plays down the line. Two minutes in the queue was more than enough for me. I was about to hang up and call NHS direct for advice on how to tackle abused eardrums when I was put through to someone who introduced herself.

Milali wasnted to know how she could help. I so wanted to suggest she arrange for something a trifle less distasteful to be pumped into delicate queuing eardrums. Instead, I wanted to know if Id be able to use my 3 phone in Basra.

Confidently, Milali told me shed look that up immediately, without a problem and shed like to tell me with certainty that shed be happy to do so. A short time later she came back to ask where, exactly, shed find Basra.

Then I had to spell the word Iraq.

A moment or so later Milali told me, without preamble or apology, that 3 prepay didnt work in Iraq. I wanted to know why. All my buddies phones worked out there.

There is no roaming on pre pay. We have a tie up with the opposite network in most countries, but not in Iraq.

From what you say, it sounds like I could roam in Iraq on contract though?

Oh yes, Milali agreed.

So why not prepay?

The reason is that you are using the opposite network differently with contract and the opposite network has not provided us with that contract. It is a different tie up. In future I am sure we will decide to put up a network for pre pay.

So, you heard it here, first. 3 is going to invest £millions building a whole new network in Iraq, specifically to carry UK non-contract traffic.

At least thats what I think Milali was trying to tell me. She wasnt in truth, making a great deal of sense.

I asked if she had any idea when the new system would be in place. When I could make those calls.

It is going to be soon, she promised. Within next year certainly.

So not only a new network, but a build, test and implementation programme that will beat all records!

Finally, seconds before the call ended, Milali told me she was sorry.

Milalis command of English just wasnt good enough to allow her to make her points in anything approaching a comprehensible way.

At times, the call was farcical. With me trying to make myself understood and Milali making statements and pronouncements on stuff she clearly didnt have a clue about. Still, its good to get the exclusive on 3s infrastructure plans in the Middle East.

If Id have been a regular punter, Im afraid Id have been inclined to hang up.

Time and day of call10:00 weekday
Duration of call6 minutes
Length of queue? 90 seconds
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 explanations1
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3

The nice lady on the tape did her best top dissuade me from talking to a human by doing all she could to point me in the direction of recorded messages. But I was having nothing of it and was soon waiting in line to talk to a Vodafonie. And I didnt have to wait too long.

Scott must be the most quietly spoken CSA in call centre land. Either that or he needs a new headset. Even after Id asked him to talk up, his voice was barely more than a whisper in my ear.

The first hurdle we had to overcome was the whereabouts of Basra. Despite the fact that the place regularly gets top billing during the News at 10, and Id told him I was going to be posted there. Paul thought Basra was a country> He couldnt understand why he couldnt find it on the dropdown somewhere between Bangladesh and Belarus.

With a bit of help from me, Paul discovered Basra. And a confusing can of worms.

We dont have a Vodafone supported network out in Iraq, he told me, rather too bluntly for my liking.

Not unnaturally, I wanted to know what that meant. It means, Scott repeated, that we dont have a network that supports Vodafone services.

Perplexed, I continued. So I cant use my phone?

What sort of phone do you have? Scott wanted to know.

I told him. All it means is that your phone will work. But that youll have to dial a prefix of #123+44 before the UK number. He didnt tell me about omitting the leading 0.

So I can use Vodafone, then?

You can use Vodafone, but its not supported, Scott told me. Im sure he wasnt trying to go all out to confuse me, it just sounded as if he was. Youll have to search for Mobile Nil. Thats going to be the best network for you. But its not a Vodafone supported network, he emphasised. We moved on. Lifes too short.

Calls are going to cost £1.59 to make, £1.25 to receive and texts will cost you 49p to send, Scott revealed in a tone of voice that suggested I was getting the deal of the century.

I wanted to know how I could top up.

You dial the international top up line, Paul told me. Doh, I should have known. Thats 2346. Then you can top up.

I wanted to know what with.

You have to register a credit card with us before you go, Paul conceded. Now, is there anything else I can help you with.?

I was about to venture that he might like to chip in a bit for the calls, but thought better of it. Scott hadnt to date, demonstrated any sign of a sense of humour.

This call left me confused. If there was no Vodafone supported network out in Basra, how come Id be able to make a call at all? Scotts choice of words meant I was left very much in the dark. Scott didnt really engage me as a customer. There was no conversation. Just an exchange of (scrambled) information.

Perhaps a recorded message would have done just as well and confused me less.

Time and day of call15:45 weekday
Duration of call8 minutes
Length of queue? See text
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner4
Able to identify and understand my needs2
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?3
Genuine interest in wanting to help4
Giving clear, easily understood explanations1
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome2

Orange did everything it could to dissuade me from talking to one of its representatives. I was into the 8th button pressing level before I managed to make it as far as the queue. The process was very frustrating and took around 3 minutes. I didnt want to text the word from and the country to 452 even if it was a free call. I didnt want to be fobbed off. I wanted to talk to a human.

Preferably one I could understand.

Unfortunately, Kalzi was not that person. From the start, I found his thick Indian accent all but impenetrable. I told him I wanted to know whether I could use my phone abroad, in Basra.

Absolutely, I will help you. Do I understand you are moving out of the country for some time?

Id spent a goodly amount of time complying with the Orange security dictat before being passed on to Kalzi. It was annoying, therefore, to be put thorough the motions again. When I asked why I was being quizzed or the second time, Kalzi had no idea. Though when I gave my date of birth, he congratulated me on getting it right. I felt like hitting him. It was six minutes since my call had been picked up and I was no nearer the answer I wanted.

Unsurprisingly, Kalzi was unable to find Basra on his country list. He had more success with Iraq.

This is not good news, he told me. For a moment I thought we were in for a bit of lively geopolitical debate. My hopes were dashed. You will not be able to use a Pay as you talk phone in Iraq. It is not possible.

Can I use any Orange phone in Iraq? I wanted to know.

Oh yes, Kalzi replied, cheerily. You can use any contract phone.

So why can I not use a pre pay phone.

I will be happy to explain that to you, Kalzi said. You can use Orange contract phones in 150 countries. You can only use pre pay in 96. That is why.

I spent some time trying to get Kalzi to see he hadnt given me a reason. Hed fobbed me off with a factoid. I failed to get through.

Here is my personal recommendation, he told me. You must wait until you get to Iraq then buy a SIM card locally. That will help you. It will mean you can call for less that £1.00 a minute and on Orange, if you could call, it would cost you at least £1.75 a minute.

This is a good way to save money. If your phone is unlocked that is the best way. To find out whether it is, you must try another SIM in it. Maybe from O2.

The only thing that saved Orange from an ignominious score was the good personal advice Kalzi gave me. Better for the network if hed suggested I switched to contract, but, hey.

The big problem was Kalzis accent. If Orange insists on exporting customer service jobs from this country, the very least it should do is make sure that the people on the other end of the line are easy to understand. With a great deal of concentration, Kalzi was intelligible. Just.

Time and day of call10:00 weekday
Duration of call7 minutes
Length of queue? None
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner4
Able to identify and understand my needs4
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?3
Genuine interest in wanting to help4
Giving clear, easily understood explanations3
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4

The queue was mercifully short. I scarcely had time to look forward to speaking to one of the team before I was doing just that.

Paul drew the short straw. But he was sweetness and light as I explained I was about to be sent on an overseas posting to Basra. Could he tell me if my mobile would work, how much Id be paying and how I went about topping up.

Hmm. Basra. Thats in Iraq, right? asked Paul, a trifle uncertainly. I gave him top marks for geographical prowess.

Er, he a bit perturbed. Im going to have to check something out. Theres going to be a pause. Its going to be about 3 minutes. No more. Is that OK. Are you sure? And with that, he was gone. And I was left wondering how he knew an enquiry about phones in Iraq was going to take around 3 minutes to research. Is it something Paul did on a regular basis, perhaps?

I was left to my own devices and desires whilst Paul headed off to round up the information I needed. No music, no platitudes. Just good old-fashioned silence with a T-Mobile twist.

90 seconds later, Paul was back. I was just checking something with my team leader, he confided. Thanks for holding.

He came back with news that calls would cost £1.40 a minute to make, and £1.30 to receive. A text back to Blighty would cost 40p, but a picture message just 20 of my English pennies.

If I were you, Paul said, Id send picture messages rather than texts. Just take a photo of yourself and add a message. Its ½ the price. I dont know why, but thats what I did to stay in touch with my other half when I was away on a football tour.

There may be a way of getting calls cheaper. Its called the International Option. It costs £2.50 a month on contract and I think its just been introduced to pay as you go. That cuts incoming calls to £1.00 a minute. Its still expensive though, Paul admitted.

What Ill do is find out about the International Option and leave a message on your mobile. My supervisor doesnt know the answer. Hes finding out what the score is.

Paul continued, Coverage is good round Basra. Youll get 3G, no trouble. And you should be OK with the mobile internet. Mind you, that depends what network you connect to. That sounded a bit contradictory, but I let Paul continue.

What sort of phone do you have?

I owned up to a Sony Ericsson W800i.

Thatll be fine, Paul confirmed. Job done.

No a bad call, but not a brilliant one, either. I didnt receive any top up advice, and the fact that Paul couldnt find out about the elusive International Option was disappointment as was uncertainly about the Mobile Internet.

On the plus side, I liked his advice to send a picture message rather than a text. And, yes, he did ring back to leave a message as promised.

Time and day of call13:00 weekday
Duration of call7 minutes
Length of queue? <10
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

For help with things like picture messaging, suggested the recorded message, dial..
Had I been cut off before we even got started? Was I already at the end of the O2 line? Had the network sussed out my number and barred me from contact with their galley slaves? Er, none of the above, it turns out.

I hung on for 30 seconds, the equipment rebooted and reeled off the full list of options. A bizarre start.
Things soon returned to an even keel with the appearance of Patty on the scene. She wanted to know how she could help.

I told her Id been posted to Basra and wanted to know about using my phone over there. Ill just bring up a map of the area. Ah, as I thought. Youre going to get good coverage round Basra itself, and Baghdad for that matter. But its a different story once you get out of the city. Coverage is patchy; but its the same for all networks, Patty told me. No geography lessons required.

Im just going to do a couple of things, Patty continued. Check your SIM is provisioned, and the call procedure. Your SIM is fine. And to make a call, all you have to do is dial *111* followed by the full UK number including the leading 0 and then, to confirm youve finished a #. After that, just press the call button and youre away.

Continued Patty, texts are a bit different. Dial +44 and drop the 0.

Then she gave me the bad news. I could tell by her voice she thought 99p per minute to make and receive calls was a bit steep. But she lightened the gloom as best she could. Texts are free to receive, she told me. And they cost the same amount to send from the UK. You might just as well be next door. Get people to text you rather than ring you up, she advised.

Patty was slightly less bullish when she told me that Id be charged 49p to send a text from Basra.

She wasnt completely certain whether there was any GPRS provision. The list says no, but that doesnt mean it hasnt changed in the past few months. All I can suggest is that you check when you are over there.

And Im sorry, but there are no Bolt-ons that I can offer. At least none that will do you much good. All of the foreign bundles are built around people travelling in Europe.

As far as topping up is concerned, I suggest you give the swipe card that came with your SIM to a family member. Far simpler than registering a credit card and calling in every time you run out.

When Patty signed off, she showed she appreciated the fact I was supposedly going to one of the least hospitable places on the planet for the British Army. Keep safe, she said.

Patty was good. She conversed fluently, thought on her feet and came up with all the answers without my having to repeat any of the questions. The icing on the cake was the fact that she knew where to find Basra. Even to the extent that its in the south of Iraq.

Patty was sympathetic over the costs involved in staying in touch and did the best she could to sweeten the bitter pill of roaming charges.

Virgin Mobile1st
Time and day of call16:20 weekday
Duration of call9 minutes
Length of queue? See text
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 explanations5
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4

Top marks to Virgin Mobile for answering the phone faster than a speeding bullet. Pete was on the other end of the line and he greeted me with a perfect blend of professionalism and approachability. How could he help?

I told him of my pending deployment to Basra. He wanted to know when Id be going. I explained, in all seriousness, that if I told him that, Id have to kill him. He saw the joke, laughed uproariously and told me of his pals currently serving with HM forces overseas. With a touch of envy, I thought. All of which I recount to make the point that we were already engaged in conversation — before the call proper started.

After Pete ha checked my security details, he told me hed be pulling up details of Iraq and my account on screen. Hed thus be able to answer any questions I might have.

Calls will cost you £1.70 to send and 80p a minute to receive. Are you happy with those prices?

Happy isnt quite the word that springs to mind, I told him.

I meant do you understand that youll be paying to receive calls as well as make them? ventured Pete, a trifle embarrassed.


Can I suggest you communicate by text when you can? They cost just 35p to send and nothing to receive. You could try picture messaging. I have checked your phone and it is GPRS enabled, so as far as we are concerned, so long as you have a camera phone, youll be able to send picture messages, Pete told me. They are just 30p a go.

There is a but, though, he warned. I cant tell from the information in front of me whether the networks over there support GPRS roaming. Im sorry. Its a case where youll just have to suck it and see.

I wanted to know if any bundles were available. Pete was suitably apologetic. The only text and talktime bundles we have are for use in the UK, he told me. And thats not much help to you, I know.
But Pete moved swiftly on before I could dwell on Virgin Mobiles roaming inadequacies. Youre not going to be able to pop into a local store to top up, so if I were you Id register a credit or debit card with us. You could also leave your details with a partner who could add credit over the counter or using an ATM machine. Failing that, if you have access to the Internet whilst you are in Basra, you can manage your account on line. You can dial 789 to check your balance at any time.

After Pete had checked there was nothing else he could help me with, I presumed that would be it. Not quite. Pete offered to send me a booklet containing all the information I could ever need about using Virgin Mobile abroad. It arrived a couple of days later.

This wasnt so much about the quality and quantity of information delivered. No. It was about the quality of conversation. The fact that my enquiry was welcome. That nothing appeared to be too much trouble.

Pete is an excellent ambassador for Virgin Mobile. Not only does he know his stuff and know his way round Virgin Mobiles IT, he sounds as if he gives a damn. The booklet was a nice touch, too.