Mystery Caller – 386


Time and day of call18:05, 18:45, 18:50 weekday
Duration of call2 minutes (eventually)
Length of queue? 10 mins+, 0 mins, 8 mins
Assistant introduced by nameAttempted to.

Polite and courteous manner4
Able to identify and understand my needs0
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?0
Genuine interest in wanting to help1
Giving clear, easily understood explanations2
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome0
Less 50% for two abortive calls3

I was full of the joys of spring when I picked up the phone to call Orange. It was not to last. Fortunately for the network, all the failings I experienced could be laid at the door of one person. Me.

Even before I was allowed to queue, Orange did its best to get me to seek solace in its website. Only then did it allow me to select the department I wanted to talk to — after inputting my number and four digit security code.

As I waited for my first attempt to connect — ten whole minutes of wait — the Orange propaganda machine repeatedly told me first that We are currently very busy and hope to have a representative available shortly.

The message then shifted to We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause. Subtly, the blame is laid at the customers doors. Without their calls, runs the subliminal Orange argument, there would be no queue.

I endured variations on the theme for a full ten minutes before I hung up.

The next time, I called, I fell at the first hurdle. After youve keyed your mobile number, Orange insists you press the # key. I did as the network demanded and what did I get by way of reward?

Cut off, thats what. Yup Orange terminated my call.

I was, by now, beginning to see red. Over ten minutes wasted and I was no nearer the Holy Grail; a conversation with someone who could help me. Orange was failing to impress, big time. Goodness knows how thrilled a real customer would feel under the same circumstances.

But the best (or worst) was yet to come.

I redialled. I keyed in my mobile number and security code. I selected the department I needed to speak with about a broken phone. I spent eight minutes in a queue. I got through to someone whose name sounded like Daljiit.

How would you like to top up? He asked.

I dont want to top up,. I have a fualty phone.

But you dialled option 2 followed by option 2

I didnt.

But you must have done so to be put through to me.

I wasnt happy and let Daljiit know. I had keyed the right selection. I had waited in a queue for nearly 10 minutes and I was fed up. But I would forgive every one of these transgressions if he would either help me or put me through to someone who could.

Daljiit told me that was impossible. No apology, no reason, just no can do.

Eventually Daljiit came up with an excuse. The department you need to speak with, you see, has not got an internal phone number.

Id had enough. 25 minutes wasted. Fortunately, the network is not to blame. Clearly in the Orange lexicon, the customer is NEVER right.

If this call is representative, Orange seems to have abandoned any pretence of customer service. I didnt key in the wrong option; Ive been doing this too long to make such an elementary mistake. And even if I had, not being able to transfer me or at the very least put me back at the head of the queue is inexcusable.

If Orange wants to be taken seriously by its customers, less time spent on blue sky thinking and more attention to the basics would reap rich rewards

Time and day of call09:35 weekday
Duration of call5 minutes
Length of queue? 1 minute
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner2
Able to identify and understand my needs2
Knowledge to provide a good level of service?2
Genuine interest in wanting to help2
Giving clear, easily understood explanations2
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome2

The queue was mercifully short and, for once, I wasnt passed from pillar to telephonic post as Vodafones switching passed my call all round its empire until it found a free agent.

Jamie picked up the call and, to my ears at least, sounded as if hed rather not have done so. His voice lacked even a spark of enthusiasm. He was playing the part of the dour Scot to perfection as he asked me for my number — despite the fact that Id only just put it into the CRM software.

He asked how he could help. Sounding less like an undertakers apprentice and more like the customer service interface between network and customer, with the emphasis on the word service would be a good place to start.

I described my phones symptoms, told him I had credit on my account, that the thing was fully charged and Id dialled correctly. I ended with a poetic flourish. Its now lying lifeless in my hands, I told Jamie.

Clearly he had been tuned to some other planet during my monologue. Can you make calls on it? he wanted to know.

I took a deep breath and told him, again, but slower this time, that my phone wasnt working.

Are you talking on it now? Jamie wanted to know.

I couldnt believe my ears. Was he taking the Mickey? How could I be talking on a phone that Id told Jamie not once, but twice, was dead.

For a third time, I explained my situation. Surely the penny had dropped.

Can you send texts? Jamie wanted to know.

I told him I thought that extremely unlikely.

Take the battery out and put it back in again, he commanded. It was as if hed been concentrating on something else for the past few minutes and had now decided to give me his full and undivided attention.

I did as Jamie asked and reported the phones return to the land of the living.

What did taking the battery out..

Jamie cut across me, ignoring my question. Would you like to buy handset insurance? he asked.

Its only £3.00 a month. And you get a replacement phone within 24 hours. You are covered for loss theft and damage to the phone and if you claim once, it doesnt affect you, he told me earnestly.

Listening to the customer is clearly not one of Jamies core competencies.

I asked again about the taking-the-battery-out-of-the-phone trick.

It reboots the phone and gets it to reconnect to the network. Do that whenever you have problems, he advised.

With the phone, presumably. Taking the battery out of your mobile when the mother in laws decided to come to stay for a couple of weeks or you get another speeding ticket wont cut much ice.

The insurance, Jamie continued tenaciously, comes off your balance.

I asked him to post me details.

Thanks for calling Vodafone, he said.

An uninspiring, offhand performance from Jamie. He might have sorted my problem, but an inadequate explanation and an obsession with selling insurance spoilt the conversation.

Jamies lack of enthusiasm, ability to listen, understand and a criminal failing in the common sense department (are you talking on the phone now?) didnt do him any favours, either.

Time and day of call19:55 weekday
Duration of call8 minutes
Length of queue? 8 minutes
Assistant introduced by nameYes

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 explanations3
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome2

I liked T-Mobiles choice of on hold music. No, really, I did. A good job when you consider that I was held in the queue for a good eight minutes before Margaret picked me up. If youll pardon the expression.

She didnt apologise for the length of queue — neither did any recorded message during the eight minutes Id spent contemplating my navel, come to think of it. Perhaps they didnt want to interrupt my audio experience.

Margaret was pleasant enough though as she took me through the security procedure.

That done, I explained to her that my phone and me had been getting on swimmingly and that Id used it earlier today. I reckoned I had credit on the account. My world fell apart, however, when Id picked the thing up to make a call this evening. It played dead. It had, to all intents and purposes, ceased to be.

Margaret was sorry to learn of my misfortune. She wanted to know what sort of phone I had brought to the party that is T-Mobile.

Is the 6260 a 3G phone, Margaret wanted to know.

Ive no idea, I told her. It might be a 30G phone for all I know. Whats with the G anyway?

Its generation. Is it a 3rd generation phone. Dont worry, Ill look it up. The thing is that weve had some issues with phones not working on 3G but when we tell them to connect via GPRS they are fine. I told Margaret, in the nicest way, that my knowledge of mobile phonery could be written on a grain of rice and still leave room for the Lords Prayer. She got the hint and switched into layman speak for the rest of the call.

Margaret then dialled my number twice. On both occasions she told me she was getting mobile not available. Can you try to dial a number? she asked.

I did so and reported back that the phone wasnt responding.

How many bars are registering, she wanted to know. I made a great play of checking and came back with the shock news that there were no bars in view at all.

Let me check to see if weve any reception problems where you live? Margaret tapped away and came back with the news that everything was hunky-dory.

Its a bit of a long shot, she told me. But take the battery and SIM card out of the phone, wait a few seconds, then try again.

I did as she suggested. We passed the time of day merrily as the Nokia struggled back into the land of the living. With a full complement of vital signs and, miraculously came back to life with its signal bars intact. I reported back to Margaret. She was almost delirious with joy.

Let me try you again, she said. I dont know why that helps, but sometimes it does.

Right on cue my 6260 sprang into life. I said hello to Margaret on the mobile and went back to the landline, only to find it was dead. I checked the Nokia. Margaret wasnt there either. Shed disappeared up T-Mobiles IT.

Margaret did very well. She treated me like a human being and went out of her way to help. She made the effort to call me three times. And made the bright suggestion to re-boot the phone. An excellent, common sense approach — once shed stopped talking Geek.

The relatively low score was caused by the premature termination of the call and the 8 minutes spent in the queue. Neither of which inadequacies can be laid at Margarets door.

Virgin Mobile3rd
Time and day of call21:25
Duration of call4 minutes
Length of queue? <5 seconds
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 help3
Giving clear, easily understood explanations4
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4

Even the recorded voice in the Virgin machine sounds pleased to hear from you. Its such a nice voice. A voice that its hard to find any objection to on the grounds of age, gender, race or creed. An interested voice. A voice that promises to sort the problem out in next to no time.

After such a build up, you almost expect top be bunged into a queue and left to fester a la Orange. But it was not to be. Debbie picked up my call in nanoseconds.

But when she greeted me, she did so with a businesslike tone. Brusque, almost. And yet, strangely, not at all unfriendly. She was hard to make out, so I gave up trying and recounted my story of mobile woe.

Debbie took my number, name and password. During the process, she didnt mince her words, yet neither was she abrupt.

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

I started to prevaricate a bit, pretending I didnt know the model of Nokia.

That doesnt really matter. So long as I know its a Nokia. Exactly what happens when you try to call. What about texts?

I told no-nonsense Debbie how my phone did everything apart from place the call. It lit up as usual, numbers appeared on screen as usual. The only thing missing was another person on the end of the line.

And texts?

I reported that Id not tried to text.

I think your phone has just hung. A bit like a PC. What we need to do is reboot the thing. The simplest way I know to do that is to take the battery out of the phone but do not switch the phone off before you do so. Would you like to try?

I did as Debbie asked. And, surprise, surprise. When I reinstated the battery and tried to make a call, all was well. The Nokia was doing its stuff.

Debbie was pleased the problem had been sorted, but not ecstatic. Shed done her job efficiently, well and in double quick time. As far as she was concerned, the call was over.

I tried to get her talking by asking how I knew when my credit was running low.

Dial 789 and an automated announcement will let you know exactly how much credit remains in your account.

Debbie was good, but seems to lack the conversational acumen to be outstanding. She was businesslike and keen to get on with the bare minimum of pleasantries. Id like to have seen just a tiny bit more by way of conversation.

That said, if every CSA was as competent as Debbie, Id be out of a job and customers across the networks would have very little to complain about.

Time and day of call19:05
Duration of call8 minutes
Length of queue? <5 seconds
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Polite and courteous manner4
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

Before it put me through the machinery wanted to know if Id take part in a survey once the call was all over. I said I would. Proof, if proof were needed, that the Mobile News Mystery Shoppers disguise remains intact

When I called 3 Nareen drew the short straw. I told her that when Id come to use my phone, the thing was lifeless. Dead to the world

She was extremely concerned to hear about the problems I was experiencing. Nareens spoken English and her accent, were almost flawless.

Certainly I can help you with this. We went through security. Colin verified I was who I said I wasnt.

We went through security. Can you describe what happens when you try to make a call? I did the best I could, telling her everything appeared to be normal until the words call failed put in an appearance on screen. Not the kind of thing you want to see when trying to reach your nearest and dearest, especially when youve just topped up.

Certainly, you have £11.50 cents (sic) on your phone. Are you using it now?

Gently, I reminded Nareen that the thing wouldnt make calls. I think she blushed. She was certainly embarrassed, judging by her voice.

I am going to try a few things, she told me. These will take your phone off the network then re connect and register it back on. If that doesnt work, there are other things we can try.

Can you please turn off your phone and take the battery out. Meanwhile, can you tell me what phone you are using?

I told her ZTE was the phone for me. She wasnt impressed — and who could blame her?

I was all for trying the handset once Id put the battery back into the phone (no easy task. ZTE dont do much for me in the design stakes and their idea of functionality is, on occasions, at variance with the dictionary definition.) Nareen had different ideas.

She had me punching in a set of numbers, #s and *s. Then she asked me what the screen was telling me.

Two words, I replied. Subscriber violate. And no, Ive havent any idea what they are talking about either.

This pleases Nareen, who asked if Id mind her calling me on my phone. Or at least trying to.

A moment or so later, the ZTE sprang colourfully and in a very real tone way to life. Im no believed in coincidences, but astonishingly, the lady on the other end of the phone was called Nareen, too.

I thanked her and she thanked me for calling 3. Before the call ended, she asked if Id mind doing the survey. Could she transfer me?

I hung on listening to muzak for a couple of minutes before deciding they didnt really want my input after all.


Despite a stumble at the outset (asking me if I was calling her on a phone Id described as being dead a moment previously) Nareen acquitted herself well. She was a delight to talk to and had a sense of humour.

Interestingly this is the first time my offer to complete the satisfaction survey had actually been taken up. Surely 3 isnt just asking customers who have had a positive experience? Perish the thought.

Time and day of call10:15 weekday
Duration of call5 minutes
Length of queue? 1 minute
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

On two occasions, O2s call handling apparatus didnt recognise my number. But it wasnt one to hole a grudge. Let me help and transfer you to one of our team, choose from five options, suggested an attractive voice.

Waiting to answer option five was Amanda. She picked up the phone (somewhere near Leeds, judging from her accent) within five seconds of it ringing.

The call proper got off to a great start. Amanda sounded really pleased to hear from me. She was practically falling over herself to see how she could help.

I explained that my phone was working fine when I last tried to use it but that now the thing was about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. As far as I knew I had credit and the handset was fully charged.

Im sorry to hear that, Amanda told me, sounding as if she meant it. We went through security. She checked my account and reported back. There are no restrictions on your account, and, as you say, theres credit on the account. How many signal bars can you see?

I made a show of searching. I cant see any, now you come to mention it, I admitted. Sheepishly.

OK, lets see if we can do something about that, Amanda was encouraging. Can you take the SIM card out. Once its out, read me the number on the back please.

We had a laugh about the number being too small to read without the help of a scanning electron microscope. Not the funniest conversation Ive ever had, but better by a considerable margin than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

The hilarity continued as I dropped the SIM card and had to move vast amounts of furniture to retrieve it.

Eventually, Amanda was able to confirm that all was well with the SIM card serial number.

Can you wipe the gold contacts on the other side from the number and then put the Sim card and battery back in the phone?

I did that and, once the Nokias electrical juices had flowed for a minute or so, told Amanda that normal service seemed to have been resumed. At least the signal bars had made a welcome on screen return.

Helpfully, Amanda gave me a test number to call. We were back in business.

Ive really no idea why your phone stopped wotking. It could have been something as simple as the contacts of the SIM being dirty or perhaps the phone just needed to re-boot. Whatever it was, fingers crossed, youll be OK.

By the way, Amanda continued, Would you like me to see how much youve earned towards your next phone?

I asked what on earth she was talking about.

10% of every top up goes into a kind of savings account for the next 24 months. You can apply the savings against a new phone. And, with pre pay phones starting at around £60, you might even qualify for a free one.

Amanda did the maths before we said our farewells.

An excellent call in every respect. Not least the enthusiasm and communicative way Amanda steered the conversation. She got the phone fixed (OK — she didnt know why, but then again, it wasnt broken in the first place.)

And she told me about the 10% cashback which given the fact I had a dodgy phone was about the best O2 offer she could have chosen to highlight. A model call.


The level of customer service being delivered by Orange at the moment is, frankly, a disgrace.

Vodafone didnt cover itself in glory either. Until Jamie actually tuned into the call, it was like talking to someone with a room temperature IQ.

T-Mobile performed well enough and Virgin Mobile delivered the goods with a bit of conversation thrown in for good measure. 3 showed that staff in Indian call centres are capable of delivering the goods.

O2 up to the standard weve come to expect from the two-time winner of the Mobile News Mystery Caller Award without delivering anything stunning this time round.

But the headline from this Mystery Caller concerns Orange who used to deliver very good customer service and regularly turned in presentable scores. Weve been berating its slide down the slope of indifference for some time now.

With their performance this time round, we can see that customer service has reached a new low.

We do not denigrate all Indian call centres as a matter of course. 3s did very well this time out.

But surely the network cant believe that outsourcing to this particular organisation was India was the right decision for its customers — can it?