Before I start off on this post which reflects the events of the last couple of days, I have to inform you that this issue has been resolved with Virgin although my experience with them has been far below what I would consider a high standard.

This particular saga started yesterday lunchtime when I received a text from them saying there had been a problem with my mobile account. Naturally, concerned by this I phoned them up and was very politely informed that my direct debit had been declined by the bank and could I make the payment using an alternate means.

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Of course, as it probably is for most of you, my mobile is a critical component of my life. I take it everywhere and use it for all manner of things, phone, text, camera, Facebook, Twitter, the list goes on.

Being a discerning customer who up until today had experienced great service from Virgin I naturally tried to pay with an alternate card over the phone. This second card was declined and the helpful young lady on the other end of the phone asked me to check with my bank if there were any known issues with my card.

A phone call to the bank later and I’m back on the phone to Virgin. There are no issues with the account. Their fraud department can see no alerts against the account and the issue must be at the merchant end.

At this point, the level of customer service dropped remarkably. The second agent I spoke to was quite blunt, with her statement, there is no issue with their systems and I must be withholding payment by trying to pay with invalid or blocked cards and that I needed to pay either with someone else’s card or using a voucher which I could pick up from any shop.

This of course riled me to the point I launched into a tirade at them about how this was unacceptable and that they needed to fix their systems and allow me to make payment and that I would do this via their website. With that I hung up the phone. Their service was now striking me as atrocious and I was about to become the customer from hell.

Two different cards and a website later I gave up trying to pay online and went out to check my accounts at a cash machine. Finding (unsurprisingly) that I was allowed to withdraw cash from my accounts and make payments elsewhere, I returned to my work for the afternoon where I was left feeling very frustrated that I was being barred from making a payment for the mobile service I had used.

Later that evening I was making a trip from Sheffield to Manchester and as I came down off Snake pass I decided to make one last attempt to contact Virgin and resolve this issue. Back on the phone, this time to yet another agent who quite frankly took the full brunt of my anger at their ridiculous, broken business model. I actually felt sorry for the girl, she was only doing her job whilst I was by now a very irate customer.

During this phone call it was explained to me that they couldn’t take payment because the address didn’t match my card. Actually the way this was explained is that they had lost my house.

Wait, what?.. How do you lose a house?

At this point I became extremely frustrated with them. I am trying to pay for a service I have used and the company who provided the service is refusing point blank to accept the payment, almost accusing me of fraudulent behaviour and even telling me they can’t find my house. The poor girl on the other end of the phone was having to listen to a tirade about how atrocious the level of service I was receiving from this company was and how I was by now extremely dissatisfied. Eventually I was put onto a manager and the actual problem was made clear.

Up until last September I virtually never used my mobile. The occasional text, 5 minute phone calls here and there and internet browsing. Then, in September this all changed and suddenly there was high usage against my account. I’m on the phone for a couple of hours a night.

Sometime around the end of September / beginning of October I had an issue where I was on the phone for just over an hour when it was suddenly cut off. The next day I phoned up about this and they explained that because of the change to my usage they had cut the phone off thinking it was fraudulent usage. When I explained it was actually me making the calls, they very kindly reconnected me. The reason for the change in behaviour? I’d just started a new relationship with a girl in a different city.

Over the following months this behaviour has not changed, if anything it may well have got worst and once again Virgin Mobile had cut me off for “fraudulent behaviour” only this time they didn’t cut the service, they cut my ability to pay.

Do you see a problem with this?

This is a fantastic business model. You change your behaviour so we’ll cut off your ability to pay for your service, forcing you into failed billing but not allowing you to exit from it. The solution to this was that I needed to speak to their fraud department.

“Fine, put me through please?”

“Sorry, they are only open between 9am and 5pm.”

So now I am confused. There must have been a note on my account to say they needed me to speak to their fraud department and yet this message was not conveyed to me during either of the two phone calls I had made during the day. It was only once I phoned back in the evening (out of office hours) that I was informed of this.

Generally I’m a bit of a hot head and now I’m wound up, I’m angry, I’m frustrated and I’m confused. This is really not a good recipe.

The manager really took the force of my angst as I demanded that this be resolved so I could pay for the service I have received.

It wasn’t his fault I appreciate that. It wasn’t the young agents fault who was dealing with a very irate customer (although to be fair, she did tell me they had lost my house). It wasn’t the fault of the previous agents who had been trying to help me resolve this although again to be fair, the second one I spoke to was a little rude and seemingly telling me that I was withholding payment. Maybe that’s how she saw it but if that was the case, would I be on the phone trying to pay?

Eventually I agreed to phone up the following morning and went out for a meal with my girlfriend.

This morning I dutifully phoned back and asked to speak to their fraud department.

Why do you need to speak to our fraud department?

Pardon?

Explaining the situation (why am I explaining this again when it should be clear from my account?) the agent I spoke to agreed to put me through and I went on hold.

A minute later the agent picks up the phone again.

“Sorry the line is busy but I can try and put you through”

“Yes please, I’ll hold”

A couple of minutes passed and the same agent came back on the line.

We’ve unblocked your cards and you can make a payment”

Seemingly there was no need to speak to the fraud department at all. Instead, they gave me the run around until they realised I wasn’t going away and then suddenly my account is in the clear?

Let’s get this straight. By rejecting the direct debit this will have triggered a letter from my bank which costs about £8.00. OK they’ve agreed to refund this amount, great.

By moving me into failed billing, if this issue hadn’t been resolved it would have been marked against my credit rating. They blocked my payment so I run the risk of having my credit rating marred because I’m unable to pay, because their systems are refusing my cards. And this isn’t a problem?

Interestingly, if we look at the conversation I had with the second agent, if I had in fact been a fraudulent user of the phone, there is an even bigger flaw in their model.

The agent in question outright stated that if I wish to pay for the service I should use someone else’s card. So let’s think about this for a moment.

In this scenario I’m Johnny Phone-Thief. I’m using the phone and when the text comes through. On receiving the text, obviously I want to continue to use my ill-gotten gains so I phone up to pay the bill. Because the real phone owners cards have been blocked, I’m now offered two alternate options. To pay using someone elses card or to pay using a voucher. I don’t want to trot down to the shop and buy a voucher (effectively meaning I’m now on pay as you go), so instead I break out my wallet and pay the bill using my own card instead. Now I’ve not only got a new phone but also a method to pay the bill.

Of course this is dependant on being able to guess the password but we all know passwords aren’t that hard to break.

Question: Is this even legal? That a company requests that you pay using someone else’s card?

Finally the phone calls to VirginMobiles customer care are chargeable from mobile phones. I was forced to make 4 of them. No sign of this being refunded, nor is there any sign of the unnecessary phone call to my bank being refunded (but they will pay for the letter).

Quite frankly, after the high quality level of service I have received I will be giving very serious consideration to moving networks.

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