James McQuarrie is a UK based Product Leader who helps teams discover, design, build and deliver digital products and services that delight their users.
When I found out that the flat I moved into in the middle of April was in a VirginMedia 50M broadband zone I got very excited.
When we finally had an engineer round to install said broadband (it took over a month) I got even more excited.
When I woke up one morning to find that we had no connectivity to the Internet and a dead telephone line I was very much not excited.
I went through the normal procedure of turning everything off and rebooting the router with no luck. I checked the phone line and plugged in different phones to make sure it wasn’t a dead phone causing the problem, still no luck.
I used my MIFI to get my laptop online so I could check for known issues. I found the Virgin broadband status page and was told there were no known issues. So, as a last resort, I phoned the customer support number (from my mobile – expensive – as the Virgin telephone line wasn’t working) and reported the problem.
The very helpful customer services person on the other end of the line confirmed that there were no known issues in my area (after checking that I’d run through the standard turning off / on routine) and booked in an engineer for the following day to come round to my flat and test my connections.
End of story until the next day. I went out in search of a proper broadband connection (thanks Starbucks) and got on with my day.
A few hours later I get a text message from Virgin (good customer service, keeping me informed) letting me know that a fault had been identified in my area and that an engineer had been sent to fix it. The engineer who had been booked to come round to my flat the following day had been cancelled as the “known fault” escalated the problem and meant it wasn’t a fault with my connection or equipment. Great.
I carry on with my day assuming that wheels are turning and things are in motion to get the problem fixed.
Later that afternoon I return home to find a working telephone line, but no broadband. Hooking up my MIFI again, I figure I will check the official status page again for an update. Only, the official status page had no update. It still showed no known issues in my area. I guessed that they were so busy fixing the known fault, it hadn’t been updated yet.
Later that evening my telephone (the one plugged into the Virgin phone line, with a Virgin provided number) rings and I answer to Virgin customer services checking if my phone is now working. Which it is. As they proved by talking to me on it. Great. Still no broadband though, which seemed to surprise the Virgin worker, “oh, well we have an engineer out fixing it and it should be working again within the next 5 hours. In the mean time just reboot your super hub every now and then to see if it’s working.”
For the rest of the evening I reboot my super hub every now and then and still have no connection.
The following morning we still had no connectivity. Still very much not excited. I hook up my MIFI again to get an update, but the official status page still insists there are no known issues in my area. Frustrated, I call the support number (free this time as the Virgin phone line is working) to see if I can get an update.
I explain the problem, the customer services person checks their system… “There are no known faults in your area, I will arrange for an engineer to come round to your flat tomorrow for you.”
“Hold on,” I interject, “that’s what I was told yesterday…” I explain the story and the “unknown” known fault.
“Okay sir, in that case there is a known fault in your area and it will be fixed soon.” I’m now confused.
It turns out that in the World of VirginMedia not all faults are created equal. Some faults are special faults that are only reported to people who don’t answer the phone to customers, and are certainly not reported publicly on the official live status page of the VirginMedia website.
Which (finally, to your great relief I’m sure) leads to my point: As a service sector company, communicating with your customers when things go wrong is hugely important. If like VirginMedia you have a status page on your website that suggests that your customers can find up to date, live service status information on it then it needs to show exactly that. Anything less is raising your customer’s expectations and then failing to meet them. A combination that results in very upset and angry customers and provides a really bad customer (and by extension user) experience.
Virgin eventually fixed my broadband connection later that second day. And, in fairness to them, called me back several times to give me updates. Over the few months we’ve been a customer of theirs that has been the only prolonged down time we’ve experienced, and I’m pretty happy with the speed and service that we get.
But on that day, when they failed to deliver their promised service, to be told that their status page only shows some faults made me question how much longer I would be a customer. It felt like I was being lied to, and it hugely lowered my opinion of their ability to deliver a service.
If you want your customers to trust you and, more importantly, stick with you when times are tough you must be open, honest and responsive when things go wrong. And you must also never raise expectations beyond what can be delivered.