Why people hate mobile phone companies

by Andy Polaine on September 26, 2006

It really can’t be that hard, smart customer service from mobile telcos. Have these people learned nothing?

Here was my experience of Vodafone and Carphone Warehouse’s Mobile World in the UK.

Warning, there is a rant coming when you read the full article…

The Ballad of Mobile World
I have a Mobile World SIM card in order to avoid paying roaming charges when in the UK. It ran out and I wanted to top it up, so naturally I called the top-up number. But it is not a free number so I can’t call it from my mobile. Let’s just take a look at that again – Mobile World have now prevented me from paying them money to use their service more.

So, I try from a friend’s phone. I get through and find I have to register for the top-up service and register a credit card. Tedious, but okay, I’ll go for that. Except I get to the very last moment and it asks me for the UK postcode that the card is registered to. I have a UK bank and credit card, but I live overseas (as must quite a lot of people that use pre-pay SIM cards), so I can’t register it.

I decide this is probably an automated phone issue, so I go online. I have to register online as well. Okay, so I do that and now I have the same problem, I need a UK postcode. There is no mention of why (perhaps a security problem?), so in the end I have to register a friend’s credit card and pay her back. This is all because I can only top-up my account in a Carphone Warehouse shop and it was a Sunday. So, basically, I am saying “I would like to give you money to use your frankly crappy service and pay you even more money” and they’re saying “sorry, we can’t be bothered to make it easy for you”. It’s not smart.

But it gets worse. I go into a Carphone Warehouse shop and ask for a top-up. That all goes fine and the saleswoman chirpily asks me how I am enjoying the Mobile World service (clearly expecting me to say that it is great). “It’s rubbish,” I say and explain why. “I’m going to port my number to another carrier.”

“Don’t do that,” she says. “Write to them and tell them, because the more people that do that the better and they might change it”. But I’m in one of their shops and telling them here and now. She was my touch point – she should have apologised, agreed it was rubbish and told me she would pass my complaint on. Not make it my problem again.

The Ballad of Vodafone
So, I have a Vodafone SIM in Germany because, amazingly, I had a good experience with Vodafone in Australia. What a mistake and how can they foul this up so much when it is the same company? I always get sent about three spam text messages from Vodafone when I go overseas telling me I can charge-up my pre-pay account locally. Normally I ignore this, but as my UK one had run out, I decided to try this.

Carphone Warehouse (who claim to be able to top-up every network): “Ooh, no, sorry, I don’t really know. Maybe try a Vodafone centre.” Okay, that’s that. Enough from them.

Vodafone centre
“Can you top this German account up for me? I got sent a text message from Vodafone saying you could do this.” “Yes, what’s the number?” I give them my German number. The monkey on the computer behind the desk starts to scratch his head. “Actually, I don’t really know if we can do it because if it doesn’t work you’ll want a refund and I don’t know how we will be able to do it.” Confident of their service then. “Forget it,” I say and walk out of the shop shaking my head.

Note to mobile telcos
This is the age of the Internet. The Web. The Interweb to you grandad. I should be able to use any credit card from any country to charge up my mobile phone when roaming anywhere. That’s the whole point of a mobile lifestyle. It really can’t be that hard to get it right. Until then, you will continue to get a kicking and you’ll end up like Dell.

Vodafone Australia amazingly got it right (after a shaky start). They scrapped contracts, even for continued monthly billing. So no 12 or 24 month contracts. Why? I don’t know, but presumably the needed people to be able to switch to their new 3G services that cost them a fortune to set-up. In a counter-intuitive manner I stayed with them for years because I knew I could always leave.

After a while they called me and gave me (yes, for free) two V600i 3G handsets (I had two numbers with them) so I could spend more money on their services. I tried a few of the 3G things, they weren’t great, but a smart move by them to give me the handset.

It’s not hard to get this stuff right. The guy on the phone was super helpful, they even called me back about the second phone.

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