I find this really uncomfortable, but I don’t seem to have much choice. I am confronted by a company that appears to be designed to disappoint and frustrate its customers rather than serve them.  Records aren’t kept, promises are broken.  I keep pinching myself and thinking “nah, I’m daydreaming, this is such an easy thing to fix…..”  

Here is what has happened:

A few weeks ago my daughter left for a holiday in Australia. She needed a new phone. I had a nearly new iPhone and I was struggling with the size of the screen so I agreed to give her my handset and get a new one.

I’m with Vodafone. All I needed to do was arrange an unlock code for the phone. Simple.

I visited the Vodafone shop in St Albans. I run a business and we are a corporate customer. Most of my dealings have been with the store because over the years I have found Vodafone’s ‘helplines’ the precise opposite.

The store manager said: “Sorry. We don’t do unlocking anymore. There’s a form online that you need to fill in and we take care of the rest.”

I was irritated but left and logged on later that Saturday and completed the form. My date of birth, my number, the IMEI number for the device, how I pay, send.

48 hours later I got an automated email back saying the details I provided were incorrect.

I had no alternative, so I called Vodafone.

It took me two attempts to get through. I run a business. I don’t have spare time. But this was important. So I persevered and after around 1 hr, 45 mins spread across 2 calls I got through.

The person at Vodafone said “It appears that your request has been declined by Apple. You’ll have to call them.” I spent a bit of time arguing that Vodafone could handle this for me given the time I had wasted but I could feel the rising tide of futility.

So, at the next available opportunity (work to do, you know how it is) I called Apple. Again, it took me two attempts to get through. The first time I was on hold for 47 mins. The second time I got through after about 20 minutes.

I explained to the Apple person. He said “no, this is Vodafone’s issue.” He was actually helpful and was a bit annoyed on my behalf. He also agreed to send me an email confirming it is Vodafone’s issue (effectively Apple giving them permission to help me) and it arrived a couple of days later.

I called Vodafone in the meantime (another 40 minutes waiting to get through). I explained what I could stand to recount of the chronology. The person on the other end said “let me check your details.” She did that and found that there was no date of birth registered for me (one of the required details). There was no way I could have known this, nor a prompt in Vodafone’s email to indicate that there was something missing in their records.

She said “our systems are down at the moment but let me take your IMEI number and date of birth and I’ll complete the form.” Great, I thought. Could you send me a confirmation that it has been done, I asked. Sure, she said. I’ll send you a text just as soon as it’s done.

I waited a few days and there was no text, so it was clear that she’d lied or forgot, because I still don’t have the code.

The day before yesterday I filled in the online form again, assuming that she had at least updated my date of birth, even if she hadn’t done what she promised to do.

This morning at 5am I got the same email I got the first time. Your details are incorrect.

So I am right back to square one.

In parallel, I’ve had ‘text exchanges’ with Vodafone. After each call they send me a series of texts asking me to rate the quality of the service. Here’s part of the latest ‘exchange’. Sorry, they’re a tad ‘passive aggressive’ but I was fed up.


Yesterday there was a vicious hailstorm in Brisbane. My daughter’s there and she got caught up in it. We were naturally a bit worried. She managed to find a phone box and called to say that everything was alright, but she sounded jittery. It’s at times like that that mobile phones come into their own. Hers is sitting in her bag waiting for Vodafone to deal with an achingly trivial request that is starting to morph into an obsessive quest on my part.

There’s a phrase in the tech industry – ‘planned obsolescence’. Vodafone have invented a new one – ‘planned obfuscation’.

Current score – Vodafone 5, me 0.  What do I do now?

UPDATE: 6pm Saturday 29 November

I feel really uncomfortable about this.  I run a PR agency and my job is to promote brands, not to criticise them.

And yet I find myself in this crazy situation.

There’s a programme on National Public Radio in the US called This American Life.  It’s brilliant.  True life stories.  I was listening to an episode yesterday in which the presenter of the show, Ira Glass, takes us through the story of one of his colleagues who has reached a similar impasse with MCI in the US.  Her situation is much worse (they are billing her for hundreds of dollars that she doesn’t owe), but the architecture is otherwise much the same.  The company is impossible to get through to, they keep promising to fix things and never do (one call centre person gives her relaxation therapy over the phone only to disappear when she calls back to complain that he hasn’t fixed her problem), etc, etc.

In the end, Ira gets involved and they make a call (declaring that they’re calling from national radio and that the call is being recorded).  This, shall we say, ‘oils the wheels’ of service and in no time at all the problem is solved.  But it took ten months to fix. You can listen to it here.  It’s well worth a listen.

Mine is much simpler.

Thinking about the power of the media, I thought I’d sort of test this out.  A couple of journalists very kindly retweeted links to my blog, alerting Vodafone to my problem.  It has had several hundred views and has been retweeted several dozen times.

Great, I thought.  That’ll get things dealt with in no time.

Several hours later, all that I’ve had from Vodafone (via Twitter) is a complete repetition of the broken path that I have already taken.

Their last tweet to me is a link to the form that I filled in to request the unlock code.  If I fill it in I’ll get an email back saying that my details are wrong.  So my date of birth is, according to Vodafone, not the one I had thought it was; I don’t pay by direct debit (perhaps I pay in madeira cakes) and the telephone number that I have been giving out for more than a decade is wrong (sorry everybody).

I think I have no choice other to invest another hour or so calling Vodafone.  Unless anyone has any other ideas?

UPDATE: Sunday 30 November, 2014 12.15pm

I just called Vodafone.  I spoke to someone in customer services based in South Africa.  I read him my blog.

After various bits of toing and froing (requests for various new bits of data – password? PIN?) I convinced him it was my account and he manually completed the unlock code request while I was on the phone.

He said I’d get a progress update by email in a few days.

At the same time, I checked a couple of things: were there any records on file of my previous calls?  There weren’t.  Nothing.  My records are clean as a whistle.  It’s as if I haven’t spent several hours on this already.

Secondly, I asked him to check something else that had been troubling me.

A while ago I upgraded to a 4G plan and despite what I thought was pretty modest usage (I don’t stream video or download huge files), I started getting texts early in November from Vodafone saying “you’ve used up your data allowance.  We’re now charging you £6.50 for every additional 250MB of data”.

I was a bit concerned, so when I was in the store asking for an unlock code for my daughter (that’s around 356BC if you’ve read this far) I asked the store manager at Vodafone if he would check my usage and adjust my plan.

He said: “No problem, I’ll do that now.”

I watched him do it from behind his screen.  He clicked and typed on his monitor and added another 2GB to my data plan.

Then he said: “OK, that’s all sorted for you.”

Trouble is, the texts kept coming.  I just assumed that this was a glitch and have been ignoring them.

But today, I thought I’d just check.

Helpful guy in South Africa went away and had a look.  No such change had been made and I have been charged an extra £26 already this month for excess usage.  Anyway, I got a bit angry and he said he’d fix that immediately and refund the amount charged for excess data this month.

To be continued. In the meantime, here’s some on hold music:

UPDATE: Monday December 1st 2014

All fair quiet today (ie, no further forward – I’ll give them till Wednesday), except to say that Vodafone’s social media manager, Franz Kafka, appears to be at the helm.

He / she has been busy mopping up all the tweets and retweets from over the weekend and reassuring everyone that they’re helping me out.  Except they really aren’t.

Their approach on social media is start from scratch, ignore any previous and send me a link to a form that I need to fill in so that they can call me (I tried tweeting them my Vodafone mobile number to try and bypass the bureaucracy, but that’s no good apparently).

The form, by the way, is full of those ‘tip of the tongue’ security questions – precise amount of last bill, Bill Clinton’s mother’s maiden name, sort code, password, pin, etc (I made one of those up) – which means that I couldn’t do this until I got home, leafed through various files, logged on to the page, filled in the form and then got an email back 48 hours later saying my answers were wrong.

No wait, that’s the other form for the other thing.

Or is it?

Anyway, I think I’ll pass on the social media support option because on the face of it they don’t seem to know anything about what’s going on and I really could do without having to go through the whole thing another time.

UPDATE: Tuesday December 2nd 2014

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UPDATE: Wednesday December 3rd 2014

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UPDATE: Thursday December 4th 2014

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Like many disenchanted customers I have an evolving conspiracy theory that splits into three:

I think there might be someone at Vodafone that works out how bad or threadbare the service can get before people start to leave in volumes that matter.

I think they also spend time working out whether it makes commercial sense to offer good service.  If it doesn’t earn them money, they don’t do it.

I also have a feeling that they make it as difficult as possible for a customer to move without the customer noticing that they’re conspiring to do that.

Still no word.  My daughter’s still phoneless.

UPDATE: Friday December 5th 2014

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UPDATE: Saturday December 6th 2014

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