Tuesday, 9 February 2010

#VirginMedia - a customer’s perspective on Twitter service

Let me say from the outset that this is not a "Virgin Media lies Virgin Media sucks" post. I am a relatively happy Virgin Media customer and on balance I would recommend them to a friend; but my last customer service experience with them was mixed. I've chosen to case study the experience for precisely that reason. It's incredibly hard to create a good cross-channel, joined up customer service experience and get things right every time. Even the best companies struggle. Most organisations do some things well and some things badly. They are siloed, they fire-fight and they have done little more than dabble in social media. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Virgin Media, it's to highlight learning's from my recent dealing with them.

My experience with Virgin Media started when my broadband and cable TV went down. After 24 hours I called Virgin Media's help line. I hit their IVR, navigated the menu options to the technical support line, but just as I reached the end of the menu path my call was disconnected. I tried a further 4 times but was disconnected each time having spent around 4 minutes per call. Frustrated, I called again but this time I pressed random numbers on the IVR and I got through to an agent. The agent apologised and explained that there was maintenance going on in my area. He couldn't tell me when the maintenance would end but he offered to credit my account £10. Happy enough I hung up, but 24 hours later I still had no broadband. I used my iphone to check on Virgin Media's web site to see if there was a service update online but I couldn't find anything so I tweeted "#virginmedia broadband now down for 48 hrs. Disconnected from call centre IVR 5 times... #fail". To be honest I didn't expect a response to the tweet but within an hour I got a response. We exchanged messages and @virginmedia advised me that the maintenance affecting my broadband would continue for another 2 days; not great but at least I now had an answer. Sure enough, 2 days later my broadband was switched back on (co-incidentally, on the same day I received a marketing offer through my letterbox to sign up as a new customer to Virgin Media (!) I’ll leave Marketing, Sales and Service integration for another post!).

What do I take from this customer service experience?

The best service is no service

I don't know if the maintenance on my broadband was planned or unplanned. Either way, Virgin Media could have prevented my call. They could have written, e-mailed or sent me an SMS to let me know that maintenance was planned in my area before the event. Once a problem occurred, they could have identified accounts from the affected area and put a message onto their IVR or web site advising customers who called that they were currently experiencing problems that would be resolved in 72 hours and that they would be crediting £10 to all affected accounts. In some industries, consumer-to-consumer is becoming the best way to prevent service calls, with customer’s turning to support forums to fix their problems.

Multi-channel is dead; the challenge is cross channel

My experience with Virgin Media highlights the challenge that many organisations now face. I started my interaction in one channel (phone), shifted to another (online) and then another (Twitter). Customer's will increasingly look to switch channels at their convenience and expect to pick up processes where they left off. This challenge will only get tougher with the increasing emergence of social channels beyond the organisation’s formal control.

Customers don't mind self-service until it breaks

I have no problem with IVR technology per se, until it fails. I expect most customers feel the same. We now accept service automation but it has to be easy to use, crisis-proof and integrated into back up options. When Virgin Media's IVR failed, my call was disconnected; I couldn't navigate home and in the end I had to fool the IVR by selecting random options just so that I could speak to someone.

Technology doesn't build relationships; people do

When I eventually managed to speak to someone at Virgin Media they were both understanding and helpful. They didn't appear to be reading from a canned script, the agent seemed to be empowered to credit my account on the spot.

Expectations management should be ingrained across customer service

When the agent told me that maintenance was going on in my area he didn’t tell me how long it would continue, probably costing Virgin Media an unnecessary contact. My friend and colleague Reg Price nails this one. In his book Reliability Rules: How Promises Management Can Build Your Company Culture, Bid Your Brand, and Build Your Bottom Line, Reg lays out a comprehensive framework for setting and managing customer's expectations. 

Twitter is really starting to be a viable service channel and listening works

Virgin Media surprised me by listening to Twitter and offering to help. That unexpected surprise off-set the failings of some of their other channels which I think shows that Twitter is starting to become (at least in customers’ eyes) a viable service channel, however, I doubt this honeymoon period will last. Soon customers will expect organisations to adopt service channels that met their needs, whether that is Twitter or whatever social platform comes next.

Solid foundations

Perhaps above all, my experience with Virgin Media illustrates the importance of solid foundations for customer service. I admire Virgin Media for being an early adopter of Twitter for customer service, but, for me Twitter was a final resort, all other channels having failed.

Disclaimed and disclosure: I have never worked for or with Virgin Media. My only dealings with them have been as a customer.

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The Customer Revolution Blog by Laurence Buchanan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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