I'm always wary about recounting my personal experiences in buying/using mobile services, but after this afternoon I feel the need to vent / discuss ..... especially as I feel it reflects on the day-to-day service received by "the average punter", as well as customer psychology.
I've had an account with O2 via Carphone Warehouse for more than 4 years. It's been reasonably OK - couple of glitches with international roaming permissions, another with trying to get a GPRS data "bolt on" which screwed up all my data usage temporarily, a replacement SIM easily obtained after a handset theft, but otherwise unremarkable. The guys in my local CPW store (actually the one where the company started out) are pretty decent blokes & helpful. I've spent quite a bit of money over time.
Given I work in the industry, I haven't been getting handset upgrades/replacements from CPW/O2 - I've usually had "vanilla" phones about to put my SIM into. This time, however, I thought I'd try out a proper, up-to-the-minute, operator-customised 3G phone - and also try & lower my bills at the same time. I had a look around at phones, decided on a SonyEricsson K800i (never played with an S-E for any length of time but hear good things, liked the specs etc, so seems a decent choice). I had a look at the SIM-free price (about £330), so decided to go for a subsidised one, either getting it on my CPW/O2 account, or churning & using number portability to switch to either Orange or Voda. Had a look on the Voda website, and with the (equally friendly) blokes in my local Voda shop as they had a pretty good deal in terms of bundled minutes/SMS.
I phoned up CPW "customer service" (on an inexcusable expensive 0870 national-rate number) and clicked through the IVR to the "customer loyalty" option to see if they'd match the Voda tariff. And sat on hold. Repeatedly over the course of 2 weeks. Tried the "upgrade" IVR option - same deal. Looks like CPW has taken half its phone support staff & cross-trained them to help out with the new & woefully-understaffed Broadband call centre. So I went to the store instead, thinking it would be quicker. If I'd just wanted the K800i, it would have been easy. But to change tariffs, the staff had to dial into the call centre & get me to talk to them. (Phone call made from the store's landline, amusingly....). Cue 30 mins of hold music & occasional "it'll just be a minute" interventions from the first customer service bloke trying to transfer me to the "loyalty" (!!) dept. Getting fed up, I asked the store staff if I could just cancel my contract & get the number portability PAC code from them. No. You need to spend an hour on the phone just to cancel the damned service.
In the end, I had to resort to the blogger's equivalent of "Do you know who I am??" and start throwing my weight around. "Put me through to someone senior who can make decisions". "I want to speak to your boss, your boss's boss, or else Charlie Dunstone's secretary". "I'm not wasting any more of my time on hold. Get someone to say when they will call me about this". "My time's more valuable than yours - this'll cost you £2 per minute - who do I send the invoice to?". "No I won't call back tomorrow, I want to speak to someone now". "Who runs the call centre - O2 or CPW? I want to be sure to criticise the right people".
I nearly got a red card & was threatened with being booted off the call for swearing when I said I "couldn't be arsed" to hold any longer (Arse? Oooh, what a naughty word. There, I said it again. Report me to the police or sue me for being offensive, I dare you).
Finally I stooped to saying "I'll be writing something on my blog about this - exactly what I say depends on how helpful you are". I'm not proud I had to pull a trick like that, but it seemed to work. (I pity Joe Average, though) I don't know whether they Googled my name to realise I wasn't bluffing, but I eventually got through to a customer service manager called Martina who was helpful / efficient / allowed to say something that didn't come up as a script on the screen. She promised I'd get a call back from "one of the best guys" in their loyalty dept in 15mins. And indeed, I got another real person called Matt phone me back quite rapidly. He's obviously one of their guys dedicated to particular troublemakers like me - conciliatory, and empowered to offer me a decent deal, which I accepted. When I say "decent" I suspect that translates as "almost bribe him". Given the handset subsidy, a rebate & the cost of the customer service peoples' time, I estimate that collectively CPW & O2 will make roughly zero gross margin out of me over the next 12 months, if that.
Interestingly both O2 and Voda now seeing to be using big SMS bundles as a "sweetener" - perhaps unsurprising as the internal cost of these is near-zero, and presumably it enables them to fudge the data ARPU percentages (a topic for another post....)
Bottom line? If in doubt......shout.