In days where hardly a month seems to go by without someone posting a blog about an episode of incredibly poor customer service from a company — unmistakable rudeness from a company representative, treating a customer as if they don’t have two brain cells to rub together, you know the kind — it seems kind of piddling to blog about a loss of a couple of hundred dollars. Still, I am not a rich woman by any stretch of the imagination, and neither are many of Virgin Mobile’s customers (or so I’d guess), so I feel compelled to tell my tale here for the sake of current and potential future customers of Virgin Mobile. I’m also really ticked off right now, and writing is usually a good catharsis for me, so I hope that writing this will help me calm down.
I first got a cell phone three days after 09.11; I’d wanted one for a while, but I’d seen it as more of a novelty than anything. The combination of post-attack realizations about the need to stay connected in times of crisis, and the fact that I’d just started my first full-time term at the University of Toledo, made me realize the wisdom in having a phone on me. It didn’t take long for my phone to pay back the investment I put into it; one day my father saw there was transmission fluid underneath where my car had been before I went to campus, and called me to let me know that if I’d probably ruin my transmission unless I put some fluid in it first. (He even drove to campus late on a Friday night with two jugs of transmission fluid for me.)
I switched to Virgin Mobile in either 2004 or 2005 when my phone from my first provider kept losing power because of loosening battery connectors. I’ve always used prepaid phones because my phone was mostly an emergency device for me until recently. Switching to Virgin Mobile also meant paying a lot less per month, so it was a huge cost savings for me. Their service is kind of spotty — given that I live so close to major retail and transportation venues, I don’t understand why I get zero bars of reception so often — but it was sufficient for my needs for a fairly long time; I recommended Virgin Mobile to my friends for years, although I’m not sure if anyone ever signed up for their service.
A couple of years ago I made the leap to a smartphone because I knew I could make use of their advanced features, particularly in my work life. I also needed a month-to-month plan because I’d finally begun to use my phone for casual conversation. At the time I could only buy the Samsung Intercept, quite possibly the lousiest Android phone ever made, but I stuck with it for as long as I could, using it until recently it just got to the point where no amount of reformatting or cutting back on apps would make it operate at any level of acceptability. Particularly as I wait to get “that call” from an agent or publisher who wants to work with me to get The Prostitutes of Lake Wobegon to market, I need a reliable phone.
I’d had difficulty with Virgin Mobile earlier this year when I lost service for a day because they “lost” my billing information somehow, but I got over it. As I began to realize I’d need a new cell phone soon, I began to investigate other service providers because the reception issue here at the house could become a huge issue for me, but most other providers I found wanted me to spend double or triple what I was paying Virgin Mobile every month. This summer, though, I got a text from Virgin Mobile saying that if I switched phones then I’d have to “upgrade” my plan from their $25/month plan to their $35/month plan. It’s the exact same plan in terms of monthly minutes and data usage and all of that; they just upped the price by $10/month a while back. At $35/month, Virgin Mobile wasn’t quite as attractive to me as some other carriers were.
I mentioned this on my Twitter back in September, and Virgin Mobile’s seemingly omnipotent customer care soon responded to me. (When I mentioned them here on the .org a couple of years ago, one of their representatives not only posted to ask me questions about my customer experience, but also asked if I’d passed Max 300 on DDR.) After a couple of exchanges I learned that if I bought any of the phones released on Virgin Mobile before May of this year that I’d be “grandfathered” into the $25/month plan. I was also given a list of the phones that would force me to “upgrade” to the $35/month plan. (Twitter conversation)
I wanted more time to make my decision, particularly after buying my Nexus 7 tablet and being impressed with the new Nexus 4 phone that just came out. My old phone was dying a quick death, though, and it got to the point where I didn’t think I could rely on it for anything. Amazon dropped the price of Virgin Mobile’s HTC One V from $200 to $140 recently, and since that wasn’t on the list of post-May 2012 phones I’d been given (although another Virgin Mobile representative — on the same Twitter account — had earlier said it was), I went ahead and ordered the phone, which arrived at my house two days ago.
You can probably guess what happened next. During the process of switching over my phone, I was told that I would have to upgrade to the $35/month plan. Given that my old phone was giving me so many problems, I kind of panicked and accepted the “upgrade,” figuring I’d get it straightened out later. When I tweeted Virgin Mobile, though, they told me that the phone was one of the newer ones that required the “upgrade” in plans. When I sent them the original Twitter conversation where I was told the HTC One wasn’t one of the forced-upgrade phone, the response I got was pretty much a glorified “oops.” (Twitter conversation) Not only did I get “upgraded,” but I didn’t even get a prorated credit for the time I still had left on the $25 I’d prepaid for this month, meaning I was effectively out an additional $13 or so as well. (I’d also deliberately arranged my billing date to be on the first of the month for convenience, and now it’s been forced to the 13th and the only way to shift it back is to pay extra to restart my “plan” on the first of the month.)
Now, I want to preface this by first extending my deepest sympathies to the customer service representatives who work the @VMUCare Twitter account; customer service is never easy, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it is when multiple people are assigned to the same account and they have to figure out where each representative has taken each customer in the problem-solving process. That said, the machinations of how Virgin Mobile handles their Twitter account seem to be some of their lesser problems; from their inability to adequately cover a neighbourhood like mine, to these billing problems, I can’t fathom why anyone would want to do business with a company like this. Being expected to pay all this money because of an employee’s mistake is just too much.
The problem is that I don’t really have a choice for the time being; I can’t be without a phone right now and I don’t think there’s any chance of saving my old one, so I’m stuck with this current one until such time as I can work up the money to buy a Nexus 4, which probably won’t be until after the holidays. I just paid $140 for a phone that I’ll probably only get a few months of use from, plus I lost the money I’d paid for the rest of this month on my old plan, plus now I’m spending $10/month more for the exact same plan with the exact same lousy reception at my house. Virgin Mobile has me by the proverbial short hairs here, so it’s not like I can threaten them with leaving them right away unless they rectify these problems. For the next few months I’m basically stuck with them.
When I do have the means to switch cell phone providers, though, I will do so with haste. Perhaps Virgin Mobile is suitable for some, but my needs have evolved since I first became a customer of theirs, and their service has almost completely failed to keep ups. Being forced to “upgrade” my plan is the last straw for me. Nothing short of Sir Richard Branson himself personally intervening to place my novel with a major publisher will get me to do business with Virgin Mobile for one second longer than I absolutely have to.