Switching with Virgin Mobile UK… It’s a saga

I needed to upgrade my Virgin Mobile SIM Contract. Due to various circumstances I was previously on a Virgin Mobile contract, but the account was in someone else’s name, which is incredibly inconvenient. Additionally the price of this monthly rolling contract was on a steady increase. So when I saw a “deal” on Virgin’s website I decided now would be a good time to switch and start paying for it through my own account.

I figured that would be easy – Virgin wants my money, I want to pay Virgin. Oh, how naive.


Websites

I can get by with a very low-resource cheap SIM contract. Partly because I do all my data-intensive work in an office or at home connected to a landline internet connection, and partly because I’m a stingy scottish student. So when I found a contract offer that was A) Cheaper than what I was previously paying and B) Offering more data than what I was using now, it seemed like a good offer to go for. Too good to be true, it turns out.

Let me start off by saying that Virgin Media UK’s website is not the easiest to use. It is riddled with Google Captchas (an anti-spam tool that I absolutely despise), it is slow, it very often breaks, and the cable and mobile sections are intertwined like a Gordian Knot. Normally this kind of aesthetic would turn me off from buying anything from such a website, but having had experience with Virgin in the past I know that their service is mostly good (at least no worse that any other UK CSP), and they are generally cheap (due to egregious amounts of outsourcing abroad).

When I initially made an order, I was offered a form asking for a PAC. This would allow me to transfer my existing number to the new account. Sure, that seems a reasonable and convenient idea. Alas, no. PACs cannot be used to transfer from one virgin account to another, only to another provider. If I wanted to keep my number, I would need to contact a customer support agent and go through the hassle of completing a transfer procedure. Based on past experience, I want no part in dealing with Virgin customer support agents. They are outsourced to the far reaches which means poor quality phone connections compounded with difficult to understand accents. Well, I’m ordering via the website for a reason: online only interactions please, so I’m happy to get a new number.

I eventually managed to get through the account creation (including inane password requirements and security questions) and ordering processes, ordered the special deal, and was informed that I would be credit checked† and… a customer support agent would phone me soon. Ah… Oh no.

† I am not a fan of credit checking, but that’s a rant for another time

Agent 1

When customer support agent 1 phoned me, they were asking me to confirm my date of birth, as apparently I had entered it into the system incorrectly (I doubt this very much. I know when I was born) and consequently the credit check had failed.

To proceed I needed to confirm my date of birth, various other details, and create a memorable phrase. The customer support agent suggested just using my security question response with a number tacked onto the end because “it needs to have a number”. I thought about making a secure phrase but decided against it. The connection to the agent was very poor quality and I didn’t want anything to be lost in transit or mis-typed on their end. Fine, I just went with their recommendation.

While informing me I could opt out of marketing (spam) at any time, but not actually asking me if I wanted to opt in, I interrupted saying I did not want any marketing.

I was told I would be credit checked again, and everything would then proceed.

Agent 2

A few days later and Virgin phone me again. This time it was agent 2 (based on the moon, going by the call quality) come to inform me that I could now make my order. OK… I thought I had done this several days ago, but apparently now is when I choose which contract I want. And I’m sure it is no coincidence that it took so long to reach this stage, because the special offer I had originally wanted had since expired from the website. And this means I can’t order it over the phone either.

From the resulting (polite, but stern) argument, I got the impression that the agent at the other end was just looking at the website, as was I, and that my original order had disappeared into the aether. After numerous attempts to upsell me to something more expensive I convinced them to just give me the cheapest monthly rolling contract on offer.

Now I was told that I could set up my billing details, and all I had to do was confirm my bank’s name, and they could use the details I had previously provided them. Hold on a second. I entered bank details alongside my original order form, so they must still be able to see it. At this point I admit I had been tired out (I am sure the agents are trained well at this job), so I just decided to continue sans backtracking for fear that things might devolve further and I would lose what little progress I had made.

While again informing me I could opt out of marketing at any time, but not actually asking me if I wanted to opt in, I again interrupted saying I did not want any marketing.

Finally my order was made and was informed I would be credit checked ahead of my SIM card being delivered in the mail. I really hope frequently repeated credit checks doesn’t harm your credit rating…

New SIM Card comes in every size, for your convenience. Considerate, given the inconvenience thus far.

Billing Accounts & Agent 3

A few days later my new SIM card arrives in the mail, alongside a confirmation of my billing account. Excellent. The last thing to do is log in to my account online and make sure that all my settings are in order.

When I visit the website I find I cannot log into my account. After logging in I am presented with an error informing me “Oops, something’s gone wrong! Please try again in a few moments.“‡. hmm.

‡ I detest error messages that try to be cutesy. Just tell me what went wrong. Even if I can’t fix it myself, it will make it easier when I have to contact someone else for it.

After many repeated tries over several days – waiting what I consider to be a good “moment”, I still can’t log in. I need to make another new account on the separate community support website to ask for help, as there’s no way I’m talking to someone over the phone again.

To Virgin’s credit, the agent on the community support site did respond quite quickly, and agent 3 tried their best to help me. But from what I can tell through my interaction with them, the only solution was for Virgin to delete my login details and ask me to re-create them. This means I had to wait several days with an IT support ticket number, of which I received no response to, before eventually being able to create my account anew in the same way I had back when I originally ordered my SIM card.

Except now, because I have an existing account I have to answer my security question. Ahh… but my account, and associated was deleted. So when it prompts me to answer the security question it A) Doesn’t prompt me with any question and B) Doesn’t accept my answer. The site also requires me to fill out multiple google Captchas each time I want to try again.

Screenshot of security question form without a security question
No security question to ask, it just wants an answer. Which answer? Nobody knows!

After much consternation, agent 3 informed me I should use the memorable passphrase that was created way back in my first phone call. That works. I can finally log in to the account which I thought had been created at the same time as my order!

Checking the marketing preferences online revealed that, alongside a timestamp, when agent 1 had informed me I could “opt out of marketing”, they had actually opted me in until I explicitly requested otherwise.

I was opted in without confirmation at 12:04, only to be opted out later when I interrupted their spiel. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.

Once all was verified and in order I was finished. New phone number, new contract, all sorted.

Agents 4 & 5

But that would be too easy. The old contract remains to be cancelled. Now, it being too late in the lunar cycle, I’ll have to pay for a month where the old account is not going to be used. And I can’t cancel, it is up to the old account “owner” (who I was registered alongside with) to complete the ritual.

This means I have to sit with the previous account owner through calls to agents in India*. Thankfully it takes only going through agents 4 & 5 to cancel the contract.

* Agents in India sounds like a great name for a spy film. A pity it’s such a sorrowful reality.

All the while being repeatedly prompted for account details which is in all likelihood pure security theatre. We also got to experience the tenacity that is a CSPs will to upsell you – even when you’re trying to cancel an account. Even when told that the customer in question isn’t leaving your company, that the customer is just changing their billing, Virgin will try and foist upon you on a new expense.

Safe, for now

Eventually, and finally, the old contract is dealt with, and the new phone number’s contract can begin its meagre existence.

As of writing this I haven’t yet been billed for either the cancellation fees for the old contract or the cost of the new one. Only time will tell if everything truly has come to a rest, or if more trouble is brewing on the horizon.


sigh. Just as I had finished writing this blog post, news began to surface of a data leak at Virgin. It seems that they were hacked (though as a twitter customer support agent put it – “wasn’t a hack. It’s happened because one of our databases wasn’t fully protected”). Details at The Register.

I guess my earlier assessment about costing was wrong. They don’t cut costs by outsourcing but also by not having any security at all! Joy. I still have doubts regarding the other UK CSPs being any better at this stuff.


~despair~ Cover photo by @taychilla on unsplash

Join the Conversation

  1. I used Virgin mobile maybe around 2004, and they were pretty good. At the time, the call centre staff seemed to speak English with a British accent of sorts, and they had a simple web site that “just worked” (TM). I only left because they were fiendishly expensive. My, how things have gone downhill! Your experience echoes my last 2 experiences with O2. Their support staff have neither the competence nor the authority to fix things when your account is broken, and are only capable of reading from a script that instructs the customer to do the things they’ve either already tried, and/or are already in the help section of the web site. I won’t go into details because that’d be the subject of a very long rant, but I don’t think I’ll use them directly ever again. Likewise, I had a terrible experience with EE a few years ago (deceptive sales tactics in-store, awful service, and mid-contract price-hikes). I’ve noticed the smaller MVNOs seem to have their act together regarding customer service. I really can’t fault giffgaff (who run on O2’s network), plus for a cheapskate like me 6 quid a month for unlimited calls and texts suits me down to the ground. Another PAYG network with great customer service is 1Pmobile, who run over the same network infrastructure as Virgin (i.e. EE’s). Unfortunately, where I live, a lot of us call EE “NN” (“Nothing, Nowhere”), because we just happen to be in one of the few areas they don’t cover very well!

    TBH if you look at the networks that primarily offer PAYG offerings, they’re generally the same or cheaper than lots of SIM-only/contract deals, with the added bonus of not signing your life away or submitting to credit checks. I don’t really see any logical reason to have a contract phone these days. I bought my current handset outright for €550, and buy a £6 bundle every month from my airtime credit on a PAYG SIM. To get the handset in this country I’d have been looking at at least a £36 contract for at least 2 years, meaning I’d have effectively paid £720 for the handset after factoring the cost of calls/texts/data on the worst-value PAYG bundle. In fact, the most-expensive PAYG bundle with unlimited data is £25 anyway… with no worry that you’d be locked into paying monthly for a handset you can’t use, if you lost it or wanted to switch networks.

    I think a lot of people don’t consider PAYG these days because they are under the false impression it’s more expensive. It probably is, if you use one of the big networks. I don’t know, as I’d rather have good customer service, so I no longer use them! …Or perhaps, people just want the latest handset now without paying for it until later? I’d say keep your old handset for a year or two more, and put the money you’d have paid in a contract, into a jar. By the end of the year, you’ll have the money to buy the latest, best handset outright… and still have enough left in the jar for next time round.

    1. The point about PAYG is an interesting one. I didn’t want a lengthy contract even if it was SIM only, and figured that a monthly one I could get out of at any time would be best. I should do some shopping around for those.

  2. Locally here in North London, Virgin installed ‘superfast’ fibre last year and came up a number of well-priced schemes but they have acquired a reputation for hopeless customer service. Shot themselves in the foot?
    O2 have gone down hill. Incapable of giving good advice, only quoting their contract prices and admitting they can natch other offers.
    But how to disentangle from them and go elsewhere? That’s another whole story.

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