I am not normally drawn to murderous thoughts but Vodafone possesses a particular kind of incompetence that leaves me shouting at walls. You’d think that getting a phone upgrade would be simple enough. And indeed it starts off well. A friendly Irish salesman takes my call and sorts out new terms we are both happy with.
“You should have your phone in the next 48 hours,” he ends in a sing song voice and fool that I am, I believe him.
Five days pass and no sign of my phone, so I call Vodafone for an explanation. It appears they have no record of my recent upgrade and so I am forced to start the process all over again. With this done and with reassurances that my phone will soon be with me, I sit back and wait. And wait. When I chase Vodafone with yet another call, I am told my particular model is out of stock.
“When are you expecting it back in?” I ask in frustration.
“I have no idea.” The girl’s voice is hard and bored. ‘The system doesn’t give me that information. I see here that your husband took out the original contract so I would need to speak to him about this not you.’
‘He’s at work. In meetings.’
‘I’d still need to speak to him.’
This is exasperating. ‘So what you’re saying is I can renegotiate the terms of my new contract but not be entitled to know when I can take delivery of the phone?” I ask churlishly.
‘As I say, you’ll have to get your husband to call us to discuss anything further.”
So much for customer services. Irritated, I call my husband and recount the situation. He takes forty five minutes out of his busy working day to resolve the problem, speaking to various people in different departments who all tell him conflicting things. By the time he hangs up he’s only half sure he’s got it sorted.
Another week passes and about the most exciting thing to arrive in the post is a £10 Ocado voucher. I make call after call – literally hours of my life dialing Vodafone’s customer service number, but suddenly it is impossible to get through. Press one for this, press two for that, option after option only there’s never one pertinent to me. I start pushing random numbers no longer caring where they take me so long as it’s to a human being. Instead, I get bad music and the same droning, automated voice telling me, for the umpteenth time, ‘Great news. The I-Phone 6 is now available.’ It’s like a form of torture; Groundhog Day replaying over and over without there ever being an outcome. I want more than a wall to lash out at. I want an apology, sympathy, even a bit of groveling. Most of all I want someone to sort out my bloody phone. But there is no option for an unhappy customer. That’s not the kind of call they want to handle.
Finally, after what feels like a life sentence, I get through to a girl who sounds as if she actually cares. If only she wouldn’t say ‘that’s fantastic” after every question I answer.
“So, how long is it you say you’ve been waiting to receiver your phone?”
“That’s fantastic. Thank you.”
To her credit, she takes time to read my notes and agrees they’re a mess which I find oddly reassuring. At least she’s on my side. And while she can’t send me a phone because my model really is out of stock, she does source one in a shop about half an hour’s drive from where I live.
“I can have them send it out tomorrow,” she offers.
I cut her off at the pass. “Let’s avoid any more mishaps. I’ll drive over and pick it up myself.”
Before I set off the next day, I dial the number she has given me. The shop in question is supposed to have called out of courtesy but as I haven’t heard anything I call them. And wouldn’t you know it, I can’t get through. Just their voicemail with a promise of a call back soon. This feels like depressingly familiar territory. I leave four messages, each one increasingly curt, but no one returns my call. I even google the shop to see if there’s another number listed, but I just get the same customer service number I’ve grown to know and hate.
Taking a leap of faith, I drive to the shop. The manager is embroiled with an elderly couple who have clearly never seen a mobile phone before. They keep her occupied for half an hour while I hover, pent up and fidgety waiting my turn. When the couple finally leave, I explain why I’m here, anticipating a “oh, yes, we’ve been expecting you,” kind of reaction. Instead, I get a blank look.
“I don’t know anything about this.”
“But I left four messages for you this morning.” I show the Manager the piece of paper I’d scribbled her number down on as though it proves something.
“We’ve been really busy,” she says without so much of an apology, “and that’s not even my number.”
Oh, for God’s sake. This just goes from bad to worse.
“I can still authorise a new phone for you.”
For a nanosecond my hopes rise. “You have the one I want in stock?”
“No. But even if I did it would need to be delivered to your home address. I can only give you the phone if your husband is here to sign the contract.”
‘He’s in the States,” I say, shrilly, ‘for two weeks!”
‘Then I can arrange to have the phone sent out. You’d have it by the end of the week.’
I regard her with suspicion. “Forgive me, but Vodafone’s track record of promises hasn’t exactly been reliable.”
There are four other customers in the (very small) shop. One is being helped by the only other member of staff. No one looks my way, but I can tell from their careful movements that I have an audience.
“All I can do at this point,’ the manager continues, “is cancel your existing contract and order you another phone.” She regards me coolly. “Would you like me to do that for you?”
She is a wall, implacable against my feelings of frustration and injustice, but because I’m running out of options and because I can’t bear to go home without something to show for my efforts, I allow her to proceed.
Through the shop window I watch a mother trying to control her toddler son. He’s in a rage and because he can’t get his way, his little fists start thumping her. Finally, caving into a stronger force, he goes limp in her arms and wails. I know just how you feel, I think. What a complete waste of time this has been.
The Manager is running through the terms of the contract she’s just put together.
“Hang on,” I stop her mid flow. “How much did you say I’d be paying?” She repeats the amount. I am aghast. “But that’s almost twice what was agreed before.”
‘It will be,” she says, all matter of fact. “I can’t match online offers. I don’t have that facility.”
I’ve had enough. ‘Who is the highest person in the Vodafone chain I can complain to?” I ask at the top of my voice. “I want their details.”
A neighbouring customer takes a precautionary step back as though expecting me to start throwing punches, but from the manager, nothing. No expression of emotion. Not even a flicker.
‘I don’t have access to that information but I can give you the general enquires number.”
Before I do something I’ll regret – and I’m sorely tempted to – I grab my bag, mumbling ‘this is a bloody joke,’ and exit, slamming the door behind me.
I am very calm when I call Vodafone the next day. My mood is almost receptive. I speak to a young man whose accent I can understand and who responds helpfully to both my request for my PAC number and my reasons for no longer wanting to be a customer of Vodafone.
“I’d do the same thing in your situation,” he admits. “I can see this has been a nightmare.” He then surprises me by saying that while there is an £18.50 fee for canceling my account, he has credited it with £20 to avoid there being any cost my end.
Where was this helpful individual when I needed him? Sadly, it’s all come a little bit too late. I’ve moved on and am now signed with EE. There’s only one problem: I now can’t get a signal.