Virgin Media are still Masters of the Eldritch

It’s April 1st again, and here in the UK that means it’s price hike day. Utility bills like phone plans go up by whatever the “Retail Price Index” says, plus an additional few percentage points, just to keep the shareholders happy. So today is also the day I have to get in contact with my phone provider to get back on the lowest plan they have.

Shopping around, I found that Virgin was still offering the best deal, and some careful reading of some copy from their website suggests that an upcoming merger is going to lead to an even better interim deal when they merge fully with another mobile provider, O2. Virgin are pretty crap, but I’m cheap, and tried to justify to myself that as Virgin were only ever a virtual network operator they were not really responsible for network problems anyway, and I’m cheap, so I decided to stick with them.

However, I needed to figure out how to actually get this change done. Their website is an abomination. Years of mergers and technical half-assery have left multiple services all with separate logins using a mix of the same domains, and shopping services that no longer work now they’ve started the merger with the other company.

Logging in to the website will remove your ability to locate package deals, so you need to be logged out first. Going through the process of applying for a new sim card leads me to a broken store page which will not actually proceed to purchase, and a prompt that I should call a number to get help. When I called this number, my phone suddenly lost all capability to connect to mobile internet, send and receive calls, and SMS. Ugh.

To complete a change to my plan, I had to go through a bunch of help and support trouble-shooters, making sure to follow only the mobile help, not the home broadband help, then click “no, this was not helpful”, and then disable my ad blocker and wait for a minute, because only then do you get the magic link that lets you to talk to the support bot that can actually help you. I had to pretend that I wanted to upgrade my plan (their vocabulary is very careful to never suggest you can downgrade).

Virgin clearly recognise their webshite is awful, so as soon as possible their site will direct you through a WhatsApp chat. This is the first time I’ve done an organisational support call through WhatsApp, and to be honest that’s an improvement over the usual phone call to an Indian. No offense intended to the people of the Asian sub-continent, but the accent barriers and poor call quality never made talking very easy.

Half an hour of copy-paste responses from the support agent (was it an AI bot? The poor spelling in some of the genuine responses suggests otherwise) and my cheap mobile package seeking journey is complete. They assured me that once my new SIM arrives, it will correct my inability to use SMS, calls or data service. Time will tell if my thriftiness will be my downfall.


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