Category Archives: virgin

Customer service – the Kafka model

Time to go public here.  This is one of many matters I’ve been meaning to blog about but wasn’t getting around to.  But this deserves to be on record somewhere public, and I don’t want to rely on Virgin’s forum where I have been posting it.

My broadband service from Virgin has been misbehaving again.  I’m not sure when it started: it was sometime last year I found myself frequently getting very poor VOIP call quality, which in retrospect was probably a symptom.  Other visible symptoms of the boiling frog included timeouts on the web, and from my mailer.

It’s slightly reminiscent of my previous troubles with Virgin , a nightmare that bears re-reading.  In some ways not as bad: I haven’t had extended complete cut-offs.  But in other ways worse: it was bad enough running the gamut of menus and adverts trying to phone them before, but this time that’s been replaced with an “on hold” noise that’s some yob screaming extremely aggressively: the kind of thing you’d beat a hasty retreat from if you heard it coming from a nearby street.  I didn’t catch any words, but the sound was a most emphatic “F*** OFF”.

Anyway, visiting the website, I find there’s no way to file a support ticket, only supposedly-interactive ways to call them, and a community forum.  The interactive ways don’t work, as will become clear below.

The Forum – once I’ve signed up (groan) – does work, and gets me some helpful replies.  But these aren’t from Virgin, they’re just members of the public.  My thread “Contacting Virgin” there tells the story.  This morning, one post was removed from there.  Not an important post, but if they can remove that then I reckon it’s time to copy the important contents, and not just to the saved page I already have.  So here goes.  My posts verbatim; replies omitted in case any other poster might be bothered by copyright on their words.

Jan. 30th: 15:53

I have a problem with virgin broadband: it’s very slow (less than 1% of the theoretical speed[1]) and so intermittent that many things are simply timing out, and phone (VOIP) has become unusable.

So I tried to contact Virgin. First online, where it tells me their support team are unavailable (yes, this is within the opening hours advertised – most recently today about 15:20). Then by (mobile) ‘phone, where after 4 minutes of menus it puts me indefinitely on hold. Then today I went in person into a Virgin shop, where the staff could (or would) do absolutely nothing, and wouldn’t even let me try to ‘phone customer support from there.

How the **** do I contact them?

I have just now taken the precaution of cancelling my direct debit. Maybe that’ll prompt them to contact me?

[1] e.g. http://www.speedtest.net/result/6991612663 , http://www.speedtest.net/result/7004521118

[first reply tells me I have contacted them by posting, but it’ll take “about a week”, and advises me to post some info from my router]

Jan 30th: 17:06 (as I was about to head out):

Thanks Tony. Yes, I’m at my desk, working wired (I use wireless too, but not for things like speedtest). Both are equally affected.

Sadly this editor won’t accept cut&paste from my router’s status pages. Well, actually it looks fine when I paste it in and in preview, but then rejects it when I try to post. I may try again later, but not now.

I could add my earlier experience of Virgin failing here, especially https://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/cut-off-again/

Feb 8th: 08:32

Well, my broadband appears to be back. In fact, it’s faster than it’s ever been before, or than I ever asked for: http://www.speedtest.net/result/7040027720 . In fact I seem to recollect that when the man from Virgin came to install my kit for a 30 Mb/s connection, he mentioned explicitly throttling something back for that.

That (still) doesn’t resolve the issue of contacting Virgin. If it’s pure coincidence that they fixed it after my attempts to contact them. that leaves me in limbo again next time something fails. Alternatively, if something I did (like my session with their menus from the mobile phone, or my posting here) prompted them to fix it silently, that’s an extremely unsatisfactory way to treat clients.

Either way, there needs to be a way to contact Virgin and get either a fix or at least an acknowledgement that a fault has been logged and will be checked out, rather than leave a customer in limbo! Not to mention an acknowledgement of known faults on Virgin’s status pages (this fault may have been unknown to Virgin until my attempts to contact them, but the one that led to my blog post referenced above was certainly known to them).

Tony, do you act for Virgin here, or am I still completely un-acknowledged by the company?

[another helpful reply telling me – among other things – this forum is the best way to contact virgin and suggesting 7-10 days for a reply from staff]

Feb. 16th, 22:44 (after nasty email from their billing)

No contact here after two and a half weeks. Perhaps I have to go to ofcom?

(Ofcom website tells me there’s an ombudsman, but I have to wait 8 weeks before trying them).

Feb 16th, 23:05 (after an attempt to reply to billing unsurprisingly bounced).

Seems I can’t reply to their email, either. So for the record, here’s what I just tried to send. There’s a “contact us” link in their email, but that just brings me straight back here!

On Fri, 16 Feb 2018 14:50:08 +0000
“Virgin Media” <Letters@virginmediacollections.co.uk> wrote:

> Important information about your Virgin Media Account
>
> Account Number: ********
> Overdue Balance: £33.23

I have no idea if this address reaches a real human, but
I shall reply in the hope that it does.

I need to be able to contact Virgin Media concerning my
service. I have tried in various ways, without success.
Please see my thread at
http://community.virginmedia.com/t5/QuickStart-set-up-and/Contacting-Virgin/td-p/3638012

At the time of the original problem, or probably even of
that post, I’d have accepted being able to get through to
a call centre droid. I think now it’s gone beyond that,
and I’d be looking to speak to a real person, and to
get at least an apology for the lack of service.

Another helpful reply commenting on the difficulty contacting them, and concluding with a paragraph that really, really deserves reproducing here:

A cynic might conclude they do not want to make it easy and do not want you to have any record of their statements, but surely that is just being paranoid?

Note, the three replies mentioned above are all from different posters.  What they have in common is forum labels describing them respectively as “Superuser”, “Super Solver” and “Knows their stuff”.  I presume those labels are based on their track records in Virgin’s fora.

Getting up to date, here’s Feb. 19th, 10:31:

Unbelievable!

They’ve just ticked another box in a diabolical blame game.

That is to say, half an hour ago, I got a call to my mobile ‘phone, showing the caller as Virgin Media. When I answered, it wasn’t a human, but a robotic voice asking questions to answer on the keypad.

Question 1: am I me? Press 1 for yes. OK so far.
Question 2: enter some password. Erm, WTF? Even if I had a clue what password they’re talking about, how likely is it I’d have it to hand at the moment they call me?

So now they’ve ticked a box. Call the customer, check. Customer confirms identity, check. But customer hangs up. How many customers could hope to explain that to any kind of adjudicator without appearing now to be firmly in the wrong?

Well, if anyone’s still reading, thank you.  I hope you’re duly amused.  I shall aim to update here as and when things happen, but no promises.  I do still have a 4G device, which is a faff to use but means at least I’m not completely reliant on Kafka’s castle at Liberty Global.

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Internet Non-Service

I don’t know how I should describe the nonsense I pay Virgin (“Liberty Global”) good money for.  It’s supposed to be an Internet Service Provider, but it falls well short of that far too often, and sometimes for extended periods.  Back in the summer I was stranded without service for several weeks.

This morning (or, more precisely, yesterday morning) I found myself unable to read my mail.  I also couldn’t ssh to the server.  Lynx could get the front page, but only after a long delay. This looked exactly like something that happened last week, when only after rebooting (from the rackspace console) and calling rackspace support did I realise the problem was with Virgin, and traceroute was hanging on a Virgin machine after just a few hops from here[1].  Using my EE 4G connection, all was well.

Today as last week I could see the server was fine, as I could access it from an apache.org machine, but anything from home just timed out.  I let that pass, and again used the EE connection to read mail.  But after a full day of downtime I thought I’d check a little more.  This time traceroute gives me an entirely different destination: 62.252.172.241, which is a machine owned by Virgin!  A simple DNS lookup tells me the same.  So this time it’s a DNS cockup.

Except …

If it’s a DNS cockup, how come I can still browse my website (at least using Lynx, which doesn’t time out first)?  There must be a HTTP proxy – with valid DNS – on 62.252.172.241.  Smells like deliberate sabotage!  And how come this didn’t appear to affect other sites I’ve been to today?  For example, $work email (c/o gmail), or this blog @wordpress?

Probing further, this time (unlike last week) I can route to the server by IP address.  So it’s definitely just DNS.

WTF is going on?  I think it’s time to drop this sick joke of a non-ISP.  Maybe get a second 4G connection from another provider for a bit of redundancy: that connection seems good most of the time, but wifi to the 4G modem is totally flakey so I have to use it via USB, which is a poor second-best.

[1] Yeah, of course any geek should have tested that before going to rackspace.  In my defence, I was flat out in bed with a nasty lurgy and in no fit state to browse the web, let alone fix a problem on it.

Cut off again

For some time now, my ‘net connection has been up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers.  But for a succession of feeble reasons, I didn’t get around to doing anything about it until today.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  First time it happened I thought it could be a repeat of a recent nationwide cockup, and configured DNS to bypass Virgin.  But subsequent outages showed that it wasn’t DNS, it was overall connectivity that was disappearing, sometimes for hours at a time.  So although I did something, it wasn’t actually relevant to the problem.

I think last night was typical.  Connectivity vanished at about 10pm, returning at 12:26[1] for a tantalising 4 minutes before disappearing for another hour.  Bedtime obscures the record of what may have happened overnight, but in the morning it vanished again at 9:21[1].  It showed no sign of coming back anytime soon, so I finally got around to trying to contact Virgin and ask WTF is going on.

Easier said than done.  For some reason I don’t understand, my connection sharing app (joikuspot on symbian) was unable to acquire a connection either last night or this morning.  So I had just a hopelessly slow 3g connection and a 3-inch screen to try and wade through Virgin’s notoriously crap-filled website and make contact.  And since my home ‘phone uses VOIP, I had only the mobile on which to try and call them.  In other words, everything I do is challenging and very slow, and any ‘phone call going through endless menus and adverts has the add annoyance of mobile costs.

Anyway, I made it to Virgin’s status page, which told me my broadband was just fine – though there might be problems with cable telly.  Then I made it through various help/support options to run a test on my line.  Now it tells me the test was unable to run, and gives me a ‘phone number (hurrah)!

So I ‘phone them.  There’s no option to speak to a human, so I just have to go through lots of menus interspersed with adverts.  These include supplying my details and repeating the same test I’d just run online, which is at least mercifully quicker to fail on voice than on 3g.  After that it told me it was putting me through to an operator.  It didn’t: instead there was another caricature[2] of an advert for the telly and some more menus, before it again told me it was putting me through to an operator.  And finally a denouement so splendidly appropriate to the whole experience I transcribed it verbatim:

Sorry, this number is not in service.

All that call in vain.  No chance of getting through to a human.

OK, back to the 3-inch screen and the crap-filled webpages.  Find another ‘phone number, try it.  Soon converge with a horribly familiar sequence of menus and hang up.

The phone is getting uncomfortably hot to hold (due only in part to it being the hottest day of the year).  I’ve been struggling alone for long enough: time to try and enlist some moral support.  None of the neighbours are around, so I call John, who I expect probably has a decent-sized screen in front of him.  Enlist his help in finding the address of the Virgin shop in central Plymouth, with a view to getting on the bike and demanding to speak to someone who deals with broadband problems.  He also finds – with a lot of difficulty despite a full-size PC screen – another couple of ‘phone numbers.

I try the number for the shop, and after hearing opening hours and adverts, and declining to get directions for it, find myself back in the same menus I’ve learned go nowhere.

By now it’s past noon, and I see next door’s front door is open.  Knowing some of my neighbours use Virgin, I decide to ask.  Karen is just back from work, and confirms her internet is dead too.  So it’s not just me!  She also tells me the TV and phone – also supplied by Virgin in the same bundle – are working fine (so much for that status page)!!!  Using the Virgin ‘phone, a call to 150 is free to her, and takes her through the same rigmarole as my first call.  Only this time, it ends with her being put through to a human.  Hallelujah!

Turns out the human is, to take a charitable view, suffering from the time difference between the Uk and India, and has probably had a good night out or a rough night.  That ‘phone call must’ve broken all records for the number of times Karen, and later I, repeated our respective addresses to the same person.  But we got some information: yes there is a fault in the area, and they anticipate a fix on July 29th.  Aaargh!!!  YOUR WIFE IS A BIG HIPPO!!!!

This is the point where I ask Karen if I can have a word with them, to try and ask what they can do for me in the meantime.  A connection over oldfashioned copper?  A 4g dongle?  No use, and asking to speak to her supervisor doesn’t help. Well, actually he refers me on to Customer services when I ask about alternatives, but after several more minutes on hold I regret that.  Where can I send the bill for my time, and for finding an alternative?

At least now I know the Virgin shop in town would be a waste of time.  How soon can I get a connection from someone else?  Fibre broadband is now available here, so there should be alternatives.

Try plusnet.  I was their customer for over ten years, with fewer problems than other ISPs I’ve used.  And there I can get to speak to a human when necessary!  Their website is unusable from the ‘phone, but I have their number.  Dammit, they tell me there’s a 15 minute wait, and the muzak is utterly horrendous.  Guess that’s what happens when a medium-sized ISP gets borged by BT 😦

Hmmm …

What about a 4G dongle?  Would Currys or PCWorld sell me one?  Do we have 4G coverage?  I just about manage to access EE’s coverage map, which tells me yes I should.  OK, worth a try.  So braving the early afternoon heat, I trundle over to Currys, who can indeed sell me one, and a subscription to EE.  Great!

Actually not a dongle.  It’s a gadget that gives me another wifi signal, but whose connection to the outside world is 4G.  But it’s an emergency, and beggars can’t be choosers.  Indeed, in principle it’s a rather good solution: my problem with it is just the wifi-less macbook.

Is 4g as good as its enthusiasts claim?  Maybe I can make it my regular connection and ditch Virgin?  Guess I’ll find out over the coming week, and thereafter if I continue to use it.  Interesting times.

[UPDATE] Composing this on the wifi-less macbook, I’m now disconnected again, so this post won’t appear today.  If I have no connection tomorrow I’ll cut&paste it to another machine and publish from there.  Grrrr …

[1] These times are approximate, taken from when an IRC client – configured to connect automatically – notes connection and loss of connection.  The computer, and with it the IRC client, sleep when I’m not at a computer with IRC (which includes when I’m at the ultrabook, where screen space is too limited to run IRC unless I have a specific reason).

[2] I suspect I’m being over-polite in describing it as a caricature, as that would imply some kind of self-awareness.  Virgin’s current owners “Liberty Global” seem more likely to be the kind of corporation that gives the ‘merkins a bad name for being utterly oblivious to irony.

Congestion

Sunday morning, my dad ‘phones me for a chat.  As always.

Only this time, I hear just the merest snatches of his voice.  Likewise, he can’t hear me.  Somewhere on the line there is a problem, and it seems to be with me.  Specifically, a connection that’s inadequate for VOIP.  That shouldn’t happen: I have cable and pay for a 30Mb line in, and near 2Mb upload speed, which is an order of magnitude more than I should need.

While I figured out an alternative, my dad ‘phoned my mobile number.  Not something either of us like, as it costs (he gets weekend landline calls free).  I explained my alternative, which was to turn my Virgin router off and use VOIP over my O2 line.  Fortunately the weather was gorgeous and it was a pleasure to go and sit out on the front terrace for best 3G signal, though it appeared also to work in some parts of the house.

Later in the day I ran some more tests.  Performance was incredibly poor: on average rather worse than a 28K modem (remember those?) and much of the time a complete standstill.  It took a long time to get a speed test to run at all.  Whoops!

Experimentally I tried a wired connection to the router.  Now suddenly all is well: I’m getting the speeds I’m supposed to.  So it’s the wireless.  A bit of research later and I change the WIFI channel, whereupon all is well.  I also come upon a tool called Kismac, which tells me the problem was indeed congestion: my neighbour and I had both been using channel 11.

Is that a common problem in a cable area?  Lots of Virgin users, and they ship standard routers with a standard configuration that sets us up for conflict, rather than a more mixed area where routers are (a priori, at least) a random mix?

Credit where credit’s due.  Virgin’s help pages were genuinely helpful.  It’s a rare pleasure to find a help page that tells me anything that wasn’t already blindingly obvious.

BTW, I have a couple of DECT phones and an ATA adapter to use my old phone&fax on order.  Should be arriving tomorrow.  So I’ll have a well-equipped house and should hear the ‘phone from anywhere.