Mystery Caller

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321

Orange

The literature accompanying my spanking new SIM told me to ring one number. When I did, the posh bird on the other end of the line told me it was no longer in use and I should dial another instead. No big deal, perhaps, but why couldn ‘t my call have been transferred?
Next Orange sounded very much as if it were trying to put me off chatting to a human being by inviting me to look at its web site. Then it ‘fessed up. We are currently very busy, it said. Moments later the stakes became: We ‘re receiving a very high volume of calls. Apologies for the inconvenience were then added to the mix. The announcement varied slightly, but continued for 10  count them  mind-numbingly boring minutes.
What made matters worse was that, despite the fine words, the announcements lacked any semblance of sincerity. They sounded as if Orange couldn ‘t care less whether I was waiting  it was my fault for being silly enough to call.
I tried much later, hoping the workload had become more manageable. It hadn ‘t. The only thing that had changed was the addition of a backing track of slightly shop-worn Christmas music to the trite apologies. After ten minutes of this torture, it was time to call it a day.
A third call the following morning began badly with a suggestion that if my call wasn ‘t urgent I ‘d be better off spending time painting my nails rather than hanging on for one of the elusive representatives.
But just when I was convinced this species had, in fact, become extinct, one of its member picked up my call  after a mere seven minutes.
She didn ‘t introduce herself, or waste time on any pleasantries. Her phraseology and accent combined to convince me I was talking to the Indian sub-continent. Or rather being lectured by it.
First she had me taking off the back of the phone to find the SIM card number  when she could have asked me to look on the packaging.
Then, as soon as I ‘d got the battery and back on the phone, she had me take it to bits again to find the IMEI number, which she demanded without explanation before she ‘d give me a phone number. Your phone will be switched on within 48 hours, she said. No rush then.
I was then given a bewildering set of instructions about receiving commands from the network that I should delete before removing the battery again for 10 seconds. When I asked how I topped up, no-name told me I should go and buy a voucher.
And that was that.

Mobile news rating6th

Orange
Polite and courteous manner2
Ability to identify and understand my needs2
Knowledge to provide good level of service?2
Genuine interest in wanting to help1
Giving clear, easily understood explanations2
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome2
Less 50% for 2 abortive calls Total 6

Call details

Time and day of call 09:50, 20:55, 09:47 weekday
Duration of call5 mins
Length of queue10min+, 10min+, 7mins
Assistant introduced by nameNo

Summary

Outsourcing call centres is very bad news if it alienates customers. Orange customer service used to be up there with the best. Even ignoring the 27 minutes spent in line before being answered, this experience was one of the poorest I ‘ve encountered for a long time. At the end of it, I felt the network really didn ‘t care about me as a customer and that its idea of service is a joke.

T-Mobile

Need help  asks the blurb on T-Mobile ‘s SIM card packaging.
It ‘s an encouraging start, and the help line number was prominently displayed. So I dialled, had a quick session with the interactive call answering machine and moved seamlessly into the queue.
The queue, it has to be said, came as no surprise. What did come as a surprise was that I only had to wait six minutes for the call to be answered by a very Scottish-sounding Brian.
I explained I was a pre-pay newbie and that I ‘d been told I needed to register my SIM. I also wanted to know how to top up. The whole pre-pay world, I told Brian, was a bit of a closed book to me.
Bear with me a wee second, said Brian. As it turned out I had to bear with him for many more than just a wee second. About 90 more, to be precise, before Brian resurfaced to ask me to bear with him another wee second. This particular ܘwee second ‘ was shorter though  it only lasted 20 of our earth seconds.
Is your IT playing up  I asked, by way of conversation, when Brian once more made his presence known. He feigned deafness, preferring instead to begin a probing, incisive interrogation.
What ‘s your password  Brian wanted to know.
As this was a new registration, I pointed out that I didn ‘t yet have one. Undaunted, Brian suggested I choose something memorable so that I could access my account quicker.
Once we ‘d completed the registration process, Brian was keen to see the back of me. At least that ‘s what it felt like. Is there anything else  he asked.
Actually there was. I reminded him I needed to know about top-ups. The hows, whens and wherefores.
Just bear with me a wee second, Brian said as he disappeared off into the wide blue yonder once more. Surely he didn ‘t have to wait for IT to fire up before he answered such a simple question? He did.
Even with the appropriate screen in front of him, Brian managed to confuse the issue, telling me to visit my nearest T-Mobile store for an e-top-up card when one had been included in the package, then explaining I ‘d have to register the SIM to the card, even though there was a sticker in place telling me this had already been done.
He also managed to confuse me when he explained (or rather failed to) how to top up by voucher.
I asked him if I could send picture messages. When he replied with the by now all-too familiar bear with me a wee second, I decided to say goodbye. Thanks for calling T-Mobile, came the cheery reply.

Mobile news rating5th

T-Mobile
Polite and courteous manner3
Ability to identify and understand my needs2
Knowledge to provide good level of service?2
Genuine interest in wanting to help2
Giving clear, easily understood explanations2
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome2
Total 13

Call details

Time & day of call 17:00 weekday
Duration of call8 mins
Length of queue6 mins
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Summary

Brian appeared unable to communicate without a script in front of him. Obtaining even the simplest piece of information was like dragging blood out of a stone. The pauses were embarrassingly long. Wee minutes rather than ܘwee seconds ‘. There was so much Brian could have done, but didn ‘t. All in all a poor effort.

3

On the plus side, only a nanosecond can have elapsed between my call being received in the bowels of the call centre on the other side of the world and Sildan picking it up.
I told him that I was calling to register my new 3 phone. Gimme a minute, he said.
Then he started to lecture me. A gentle lecture, but a lecture nonetheless. Once you register, the ownership of the handset cannot be changed, he warned, sternly. Hardly a great incentive to continue with the registration process.
What if I give it to another member of my family  I asked, not unreasonably.
In this case they will become a registered authorised contact. Sildan was trying to blind me with call centre speak.
We had great fun with the name I chose to register under. It ‘s one of the most common Christian names in the UK, but Sildan couldn ‘t spell it for the life of him. I also had problems getting him to understand my post code.
I request you to help me with two passwords for your account, said Sildan. Not quite how I ‘d have put it, but I came up with a couple of random words.
Would you like to be receiving marketing from 3  Sildan wanted to know. I told him I could think of worse things.
Do you accept 3 ‘s privacy policy  he asked.
This was going too far. The call was turning into something from the Spanish Inquisition. All I wanted to do was register my phone and make calls with it. How can I accept your privacy policy if I ‘ve no idea what it says  I wanted to know.
All it says is that we will only share your information with you and nobody else, explained Sildan. If what he says is true, there ‘s not really a policy to accept is there?
Once I was successfully registered, Sildan, off his own bat, told me how I could check my balance and about the free text offer I ‘d already apparently just signed up for  3,000 of the things a month, so long as I top up by £10 a month.
I asked how to top up. You can buy a voucher at Superdrug or a post office, Sildan told me. Or register a credit or debit card. But that will take seven days to activate. Hardly a massive incentive, then.
And with that, it seemed as good a time as any to take my leave.

Mobile news rating=3rd

3
Polite and courteous manner3
Ability to identify and understand my needs3
Knowledge to provide good level of service3
Genuine interest in wanting to help3
Giving clear, easily understood explanations3
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3
Total 18

Call details

Time and day of call 09:05 weekday
Duration of call 7 mins
Length of queue None
Assistant introduced by name Yes

Summary

As I said, a bit too much of an interrogative experience for my liking. Sildan ‘s grasp of colloquial English wasn ‘t brilliant  mind you my understanding of his native language isn ‘t much to write home about either. Thing is, he needs to be able to communicate better to be a really effective agent. At the moment, it ‘s rather like talking to a machine. But, again, we ‘ve seen worse. Much worse.

Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile ‘s call answering machine gave me a ܘregister your phone ‘ option, so I took them up on the offer.
Corin answered immediately. Though very nicely spoken and clearly bright, Corin was a little hesitant as he took my registration details. He had difficulty finding the address I gave on his database and floundered for a while.
Hesitancy gave way to confidence when Corin got a script in front of him, however. He delivered his speech on Virgin Mobile ‘s privacy policy with the aplomb of a Shakespearean actor. How could I refuse to receive offers that may include ܘ£100 off a handset ‘ or ܘfree tickets to gigs ‘?
The registration process complete, Corin wanted to know if there was anything else he could help me with, rather hoping, I suspect, that there wasn ‘t.
I told Corin that I was new to pre-pay. Could he explain how I topped up my account?
Certainly. I ‘ll be glad to help. There are three, or perhaps four ¦& no there are more. Wait. Let ‘s see¦& His voice trailed off.
Corin marshalled his thoughts and regained a bit of confidence. You can buy a voucher at most supermarkets, including Asda, Tesco and most Co-ops. There ‘s an e-top-up card. You ‘ll find one in your SIM card pack. That ‘s pre-registered to the number. Just take that into a shop displaying the e-top-up sign, pay the money and wait for up to three minutes for the credit to be applied.
There was more. Then there ‘s Pay As You Go Pay Monthly, Corin continued. It ‘s sort of like a contract, but it isn ‘t, he added. I wanted to know more.
Imagine you put £30 of credit on each month by direct debit. Once that runs out, we stop the account. That way, you know where you are. If you go for the direct debit option, we give you credits in the form of minutes and texts. This sounded good. How many minutes and how many texts, I wanted to know.
Corin was stumped. I ‘m not too certain. There are quite a few packages to choose from. You could have a look at the web site. Clearly Corin was on registrations this evening. This was someone else ‘s problem.
A question about roaming gave Corin the excuse he needed to pull up another screen and read from it. But rather than ask where I might possibly want to use my Virgin phone, he began to list the countries where I could, starting with the Asia Pacific rim. I took this as my cue to say goodbye.

Mobile news rating=3rd

Virgin Mobile
Polite and courteous manner4
Ability to identify and understand my needs3
Knowledge to provide good level of service?3
Genuine interest in wanting to help3
Giving clear, easily understood explanations2
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3
Total 18

Call details

Time & day of call 21:15 weekday
Duration of call 7 mins
Length of queue<20 secs
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Summary

Corin would have been far better if he ‘d sounded more confident. He was hesitant, thought aloud and was only truly fluent when he read from a script. We didn ‘t really connect and, though he did a fairly competent job, I ‘m looking for a lot more spontaneity and more in depth knowledge. That said, we ‘ve spoken with far worse.

Vodafone

We like the new SIM packaging. Especially the five-step guide to pre-pay success printed opposite the SIM card carrier.
The same can ‘t be said about Vodafone ‘s idea of a queuing system, which began with an eerie silence and got quieter. For a minute I wondered if I ‘d been cut off. I was startled out of my reverie by a ring tone. Then back to the silent treatment.
The ring tones were punctuated by different lengths of silence, just to keep up the level of excitement; sometimes separated by 20 seconds, sometimes by 30. I nearly hung up several times. As this isn ‘t the first occasion we ‘ve mentioned this strange approach to call management, we ‘d be within our rights to wonder if this isn ‘t a deliberate ploy on Vodafone ‘s part to get people to put the phone down on them, rather than the other way round.
Valerie took my call with just five seconds left on the clock before our 10-minute cut-off. But it was worth the wait. You ‘d be hard pressed to find anyone with a happier disposition. Immediately she struck up conversation and helped me to discover my number via the menu.
Once she ‘d satisfied herself that I was a bona fide customer, we continued with the registration process. When she asked me for my title, I asked her whether she ‘d ever had someone tell her they were a lord or a knight of the realm. Alas she had not. Perhaps pre-pay is beneath them, Valerie quipped. They ‘ll all have contracts.
She continued: Your SIM card is dormant at the moment. Make a chargeable call to activate it. We ‘ve put £1 of credit on your card. Is there anything else I can help you with 
I explained to Valerie that I was a first time pre pay-user. Ooh. That ‘s good. I ‘ll tell you all you need to know. And she did.
Not only did Valerie explain the various options open to me when it came to top-up, she realised I probably knew very little about the services Vodafone had to offer.
Have you heard of Stop the Clock  she wondered. That ‘s when you talk for an hour, but pay for just three minutes. That ‘s from 7.30pm to 7.30am. It ‘s free to register. Shall I add it to your SIM  It would have been rude not to.
And, continued Valerie, There ‘s Vodafone Passport. If you go abroad with this on your phone, you can talk to anyone for 75p. That ‘s all. And don ‘t forget Vodafone Free Weekends. Surely you ‘ve heard of them  I told Valerie the hype had passed me by. Needless to say, an explanation was forthcoming.

Mobile news rating2nd

Vodafone
Polite and courteous manner5
Ability to identify and understand my needs4
Knowledge to provide good level of service?4
Genuine interest in wanting to help4
Giving clear, easily understood explanations5
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome3
Total 25

Call details

Time & day of call19:00 weekday
Duration of call10 mins
Length of queue9 mins 55 secs
Assistant introduced by nameYes

Summary

Valerie did far more than just run down the basics. She made me feel I ‘d made the right decision; that Vodafone with all its wonderful offers was the best network in the land and that it was going to take care of matters mobile in my life. I enjoyed our conversation. The only thing I didn ‘t enjoy was the initial queue.

O2

Not the best of starts. A big, extremely unwelcoming sticker on the back of the SIM pack told me I ‘d have to fork out £10 on a top-up before I could use my phone.
A search through the accompanying literature for a helpline number only turned up one that wanted to charge me 50p a minute for the privilege of talking to O2. Considerably more, I suspect, than O2 call centre staff are paid. No thank you very much  I dug back through my notes to find a free phone to call.
Taz picked up my call within two seconds. I explained why I ‘d called. I expect your screen ‘s telling you that the SIM card isn ‘t registered, he said. I praised his clairvoyance.
We ‘ll sort that out, he promised. There followed a light grilling and, once he ‘d found out the personal information he needed, Taz read me my rights under the Data Protection Act.
I have activated your SIM, he told me. But it may take up to four hours for the phone to connect to the network. You ‘ll know when you ‘re connected successfully because you ‘ll get a welcome note on your screen. After another 48 hours, we ‘ll credit £2.50 to your account as thanks for registering. Is there anything else I can help you with today 
I told Taz that I was a pre-pay newbie and needed a few tips on top up. He began with a rundown of the various ways I could add to my credit balance. No need for him to refer to any screens  this was a very fluent and comprehensive summary.
Taz could, for instance, have just told me that I could top up using the O2 Active web site. Instead he went through the procedure and warned me to wait for four hours before I tried. When he told me how to top up using an ATM machine he cautioned against entering the wrong number, as a refund would be impossible. He also told me how to register the swipe card to my account  all good stuff.
Then, unbidden, Taz moved on to explain the tariffs I could enjoy. I got the gist, but Taz was going a bit too fast for me and I had to ask him to slow down once or twice.
The default tariff gave me 300 texts ܘfree ‘ when I topped up by £10 and a megabyte of data to browse with. Whatever browsing was  Taz didn ‘t elaborate.
I could Text Anytime for one rate or Talk Anytime for another. There was Talkalot which gave me the first three minutes for 25p going down to 5p with texts at 10p and cross-net calls at 40p  it was all a bit much.
Taz asked me if there was anything else he could do for me. I told him the car needed a wash. Then mentioned the fact I was off to France for a week or so. Would the phone work there? Taz promised it would, gave me details of the appropriate Bolt-ons and checked that I ‘d be able to send picture messages with my Nokia. The phone ‘s not connected to the network yet. When it is, I ‘ll send you the settings you need and give you a call to make sure you receive them.
And, four hours later, that ‘s precisely what he did.

Mobile news rating1st

O2
Polite and courteous manner4
Ability to identify and understand my needs4
Knowledge to provide good level of service?5
Genuine interest in wanting to help5
Giving clear, easily understood explanations4
Overall level of satisfaction with call outcome4
Total 26

Call details

Time and day of call 08:25 weekday
Duration of call 12 mins
Length of queueNone
Assistant introduced by name Yes

Summary

This was excellent. Taz knew his stuff and communicated it well. He went behind the headline information to provide valuable knowledge that helps on a day-to-day basis. I was particularly impressed by his calling back to make sure the settings had come through successfully. Shame about the literature accompanying the SIM.

Overall Summary

Getting the nuts and bolts of the registration process is the easy bit. The added value comes in how welcome you make the customer feel and how much extra knowledge you impart.
The results of this exercise - which should, incidentally, be one of the simplest to excel in split nicely into three. O2 and Vodafone did very well, Virgin Mobile and 3 need to try harder, while T-Mobile and Orange should get straight back to the drawing board.
O2 wins out this time because of the offer Taz made to ring back and check all was well.
Orange was by a long way the worst of the bunch. Over three days, and at different times, it took 27 minutes to be answered by someone who had some difficulty in understanding what I said. It ain ‘t no way to run a railroad. What ‘s gone wrong?

 

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