I still require some kind of therapy after a wasted weekend of mind-numbing conversation on the phone with my son Tom’s mobile phone providers O2, part of the Telefonica group. Tom took a contract with O2 just over a year ago on a special half price offer of around £16 a month. Some months later he noticed that O2 had been charging him nearly £30 per month and he went to the shop to resolve this, but got fobbed off by the staff. As compared with me, Tom is rather relaxed and after having a lot of his valuable time wasted, decided that O2′s dishonesty should be rewarded by him switching phone contracts at the end of the 12 months, which he did. He cancelled the direct debit and thought all was well … until O2 presented him with a bill for £61 for unpaid bills. On inspection I uncovered that O2 owed him £137.77 due to persistent overbilling on their part. I decided that it might be simple to have a friendly word with O2 about this … I was wrong …
So, what’s the big deal?
You might at first be wondering why any of this matters? Well, O2 recently put a debt collection agency onto the case. I had explained the situation to them and they agreed that it was not correct and they dropped the matter. I thought that this was the end of the matter. Not at all. I then received a letter from Messrs Buchanan, Clark and White, a firm of solicitors chasing the £61 debt (times must be hard – goodness knows what O2 are paying them to recover £61!! – perhaps it’s their UK tax bill?). So, the big deal here relates to my son getting a bad credit score rating for O2′s overbilling which caused Tom to leave them. Such things are notoriously hard to remove in the age of computers, even if it can be proved that the data is incorrect.
I asked O2 if they could call me to sort this out (Tom is a student and refuses to call them using an 0845 number, which would cost him a massive amount, given the time needed to get through). To my astonishment, O2 pointed out that they were unable to arrange callbacks. I thought to myself:
Er, did I just get hear that correctly?
A phone company unable to make a phone call?
Yes, you did Peter!
If O2 won’t call me, I’ll call them …
Eventually, I decided that a trip to see my son would be in order and a visit to the O2 shop, so I set off on a 60 mile jaunt to the O2 shop in Canterbury on Saturday. I explained the problem to the manager. The shop could not help as his account is not active and therefore their computer “said no”, but they did let me call O2 on their customer phone. After 20 minutes, someone eventually answered, listened carefully for 15 minutes and then agreed to escalate the call. However, there was no one to escalate the call to, so I asked for a call back. Another 20 minutes later, this had been arranged with a password for me to use on my son’s behalf. The call was to come within 5 – 1o minutes but no call arrived. Thus my entire afternoon was wasted for no outcome whatsoever. I retired injured, having spent the whole afternoon on the telephone when I had gone to see my son for something far more important. Ho hum, shit happens, and it seems to happen a lot when you phone O2 …
Lazy Sunday … not
Sunday is a new day so I thought I’d start over. Firstly online. In a moment of blind optimism, I thought that maybe I could ask O2 to start where we left off with a call back. Oh no, we’re right back to the beginning again! They refused to use the password we had set up on Saturday and also refused to honour the call they never made the previous day. Interestingly O2 are very keen to get me off Twitter to discuss the matter in private, so that they can continue the process of gradual erosion, sucking the energy, life and soul out of even the most passionate customer, like some kind of telephonic dementors:
Undeterred by about 50 repetitive mind-numbing e-mails from O2′s web team, I set off with renewed energy to the local O2 shop as it seems that the only way I can deal with this is by phone. An exceptional shop assistant greets me, tries to access the account online, but once again is blocked by O2 as the account is not active. This time we have a 90 minute phone call to O2, via three of their customer representatives including two senior managers. The first cannot help but is polite and refers me on again. The second listens carefully but also cannot help and refers to the third (Keeley) who decides to go on the attack. Here’s some of the arguments that Keeley makes:
- My son should have persisted with queuing for hours to sort the contract out. He is therefore a wimp for not putting up with O2′s appalling service and it’s his fault that he did not get his money back and now his fault that the solicitors are on his case.
- I ask for a copy of the original contract as he never received one and Keeley disputes his honesty that he bought an offer. Keeley refuses to send a copy as this information is ‘confidential’. She says that ‘the computer says’ that my son has not tried to contact O2 and this means that his contract is valid. I point out that he did visit the shop several times to no avail. She says that the computer has no record of shop visits and implies that it did not therefore happen. When people mistake explicit data from tacit knowledge and information, we are into very dangerous territory. If it is not on the computer, it does not exist was the line taken by O2. I am reminded of Little Britain:
- Keeley likes to point out that it was my son (and not O2) who broke the contract by just leaving O2 at the end of the contract. She thinks this is stupid and that therefore he must pay the price for his stupidity. When I point out that O2 broke the contract in the first place by repeatedly overcharging, she fails to answer the point, simply using the ‘broken record’ technique in an attempt to break my will. I point out that Tom would probably never have left O2 if the contract had been made correctly in the first place, thus if blame is to be apportioned, then O2 are the root cause of his departure and therefore the breach of contract. She chooses to ignore this. I hope she sleeps well. This seems to be in contrast with the views of Ronan Dunne, CEO of O2:
- She cannot help anyway as the matter is in the hands of solicitors to claim the £61 back. Keeley claims to be a ‘senior manager’. But just what is she managing? How has this got anything to do with management? It appears that the computer could do her job as she tells me that her computer holds all the information she needs to make a resolution.
I still need to resolve the matter or my son gets a bad credit rating for £61, when it is O2 that owe him money. On principle it seems wrong now to just pay up, which is what they expect people to do. Here’s the account as it currently stands:
- My son allegedly owes O2 £61 for not actively cancelling his contract
- O2 owe my son £137.77 for overbilling which caused him to leave O2 thus invalidating the contract
- O2 owe me £50 for petrol
- O2 owe me nearly two day’s wasted time
- O2 owe Tom and myself something for the mind numbing experience and a wasted weekend
Lest you might be thinking that all call centres are bad, that’s simply not true as there is a huge differential between these places. I’ve had excellent service from First Direct, EE and The Carphone Warehouse of late.
So, what’s next? Well, I think we have moved no further forward than when this started and each time I contact O2, they put bureaucratic and petty quasi legal obstacles in the way of resolution. So it appears that my next steps must be to raise this formally with various people so that they do not get trapped in a similar way. I must thank Anne Tynan for her excellent article on Why brands must have big ears, which provides a catalogue of advice and examples in this area.
POSTSCRIPT 14.15 Monday 03 March
I have just had a call from O2′s Office of the Chief Executive – The issue appears to be on the road to resolution although it has not yet been settled. O2 have agreed to stop hounding my son using solicitors for £61 and are writing him a letter which he will be able to use to prevent a bad credit rating from being registered. Thanks to all that have shared the blog on social media – I somehow wish that we could have reached this point without the worst two days of my life this year and the consequent losses of business and money, but nonetheless, at least the matter looks like it may be resolved.
To cheer me up, time for some Blondie which explains the title of this blog and some other telephone songs from ELO and Sylvia’s Mother, as performed by the bizarre Country and Western 3-piece Glam Rock duo The Cowpokers – the piece starts 2 minutes in:
About the Author: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0) 7725 927585. Check out our online Leadership programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.