The story of Georgina Jolly and the lessons to be learned from it

Written by on July 24, 2017 in Guest Blog with 0 Comments

By TeodorLazarev /

Georgina is currently far from Jolly, due to incompetent customer-handling processes and outrageous customer support charges from Vodafone UK. A year after the mobile giant was slammed for a rise in complaints due to the introduction of a new billing system, why has it – and the rest of the industry – not learned the lessons?

A year ago we were greeted with headlines of how Vodafone’s complaints soared after the introduction of a new billing system – hardly what you’d expect from a premium tier 1 MNO. The UK regulator Ofcom meticulously shamed the mobile giant with the facts. Its complaints had gone up from 20/100,000 to 32/100,000 in one quarter, and it was the only service provider to have more complaints than the industry average of 10/100,000. This was despite complaints for the UK mobile market having fallen in the same period.

At the time Vodafone’s complaints pile made pretty depressing reading. They related to billing, pricing and charging, its complaint handling process and fault management, its service and provisioning issues.

Which is why over a year later it is even more depressing to read the story of Ms Jolly. Her nightmare began because she wanted to upgrade her phone. She googled for Vodafone’s number and rang them. What she didn’t know though was that the number she had found was being charged at a premium rate. She was then passed from pillar to post internally and kept on the phone for an hour. Annoying and frustrating as that was, to add insult to injury she was billed £149 for the indignity.

What happened next was worse. She rang to complain and was again passed around customer services – being told the charge would be cancelled, only for the next agent to tell her it wouldn’t be. They lost her records and no-one seemed to have an answer – agreeing to a reduced charge only to later claim no knowledge of this agreement.

What’s galling about this case is that 084 numbers are not regulated because, in theory, they are capped at 7p per minute. If this had been the case, Jolly’s call would have cost a maximum of £4.20. However, an access charge was imposed by Vodafone, which now charges 55p a minute for the privilege of calling them via this number, even though it also offers a free number (191). This is an unacceptable loop-hole that the regulator needs to close – they need to make clear that the total price cannot be more than 7p a minute or how on earth are customers supposed to understand the already complex charges for the 08 number range?

The irony of all this is that Georgina wanted to buy something from Vodafone. They took this opportunity though to rip her off with their excessive charges and internal incompetence – she is literally paying the price of Vodafone’s inefficient process and ineffective agents.  What’s more, having failed to resolve the issue, Vodafone passed the case to debt collectors who bumped up the charges even more. Instead of passing it to dispute resolution.

Now we all know what the cost of wholesale voice is – Vodafone could have waived the call charge without any harm to its business. The institutional incompetence of the entire case is staggering and embarrassing not just for Nick Jeffery but for our entire industry. It shines an uncomfortable light on the less than customer-centric billing and support practices of many operators.

Lacking in grace right up until the end, Vodafone’s spokesperson preferred to point out that the 084 number Georgina had dialled was operated by a third party. Its PRs must be shivering in their boots. The correct response guys was to cancel the charge, call off the debt collectors, apologise to Ms Jolly and stop overcharging for access charges to your own call centre. Customers cannot be expected to know who operates the line – that’s not fair. This is sharp practice from which you Vodafone stood to benefit the most. Your short-term attempts to scalp customers is resulting in complaints and unhappy customers. Are you winning?

In fact, your arrogant and incompetent treatment of Ms Jolly reveals how little you care about your keeping both your customers and your good name, and shows how much you are living off your past performance.

One small light of hope is that Vodafone’s complaints have dropped from their peak a year ago, but unfortunately they’re still way above average. In the latest report from Ofcom, covering the period Q1 2017, Vodafone had 17/100,000 complaints which was significantly above Three UK’s 3/100,000 (the lowest of the MNOs). Lower still was MVNO Tesco Mobile with less than 0.5/100,000.

Note to the wise: Vodafone has already reported a 15.8% drop in UK earnings. Vodafone shareholders should be demanding to see Nick Jeffery’s action plan on this, because this level of complaints is literally flushing a great brand, and thus corporate value, down the toilet. He’s already had 18 months to resolve it – how much longer will they give him?

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About the Author

About the Author: Teresa Cottam is the chief strategist with industry analysts and strategy consultants Omnisperience. She is an expert in BSSOSS and a judge of customer experience for the GSMA’s Global Mobile Awards. Teresa founded the company to focus on three core issues: improving operational efficiency, increasing commercial agility and delivering a better experience to customers. Teresa’s experience of a wide range of industry verticals, as well as deep telco experience, enables her to advise on both business level and execution strategies, and produce influential analysis on key industry trends. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam .


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