Dear Vodafone: It is My Time, Indeed!

In July of this year, telecommunications giant Vodafone announced a new marketing campaign under the slogan “Es ist Deine Zeit” — “It is Your Time”.

After a seriously disappointing and tiresome experience with Vodafone’s customer service department, that slogan has taken on a deeper meaning for me: “If you ever have a serious problem with one of our products, it’ll be your time that we’ll be wasting. And we might not even solve your problem, either!”

Saying Good Bye to Vodafone to Say Hello to iPhone

After having passed on the first two generations of iPhones, I felt it was time to finally give in to the Lure of Steve’s Shiny Phone Thingy when the iPhone 3GS was introduced in June 2009.

I had signed up for a basic, two-year-minimum-term Vodafone contract, which I was using with my previous phone, back in 2007. Hence, it would have made for perfect timing to port my existing phone number to the iPhone, if I had canceled the Vodafone contract effective June 2009. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline for the three-month advance notice by some 15 days, because I hadn’t paid enough attention to the fine print in the contract and assumed that I had to cancel with an advance notice of only one month.

Since a new mobile phone number meant having to inform countless people about the change, editing my letter stationary, having new business cards printed, etc., I wrote to Vodafone customer service to inquire whether there was any way at all to get out of my contract early in order to keep my phone number. In this letter, I explicitly mentioned that the reason for my request was my commitment to purchasing an iPhone which, in Germany, is officially sold exclusively through T-Mobile.

Vodafone Can Offer iPhones, Too!

Instead of the written reply that I had hoped for, I received a phone call from Vodafone’s customer service about a week later. And the story unfolded thusly:

18 August A Vodafone representative calls to offer me an iPhone with a Vodafone contract. The actual device is offered by an “independent reseller” that they partner with. If I’m interested, they will forward my contact details to that reseller, who will get in touch with me.

I agree, but also ask about whether they will let me get out of my Vodafone contract early in case their iPhone offer will not come to pass. He confirms that, yes, I will have this option, and that my case record in their CRM database explicitly says so.

31 August Not having heard anything from the “independent reseller” yet, I call Vodafone and get to choose between waiting a bit longer for the reseller to contact me, or escalating my request for early contract termination. I decide to give them two more weeks.

16 September Still no news. I call Vodafone again and am being offered to get in touch with the reseller myself. I politely decline and ask about the offer to let me out of my contract early. I still do have that option, I am told, but have to send another written request to Vodafone. That’s exactly what I do after hanging up, and I include a reference to their call from October, 18th, in that letter.

30 September Vodafone’s reply is in my mailbox. Date-stamped September, 23rd, it turns out to be a run-of-the-mill form letter, and it lists June 2010 as the effective termination date of my contract.

Yet another call to Vodafone, then: after talking to her supervisor for a few minutes, the hotline rep tells me that said supervisor has agreed to look into this matter personally; that my contract would be terminated on October, 5th.; that there would still be plenty of time to port the phone number to another provider; and that my number would not be tossed back into the number pool.

When I mention that I need a written cancellation confirmation to apply for my new cellphone line, she says she can only confirm the October, 5th, date on the phone, but that she will look into this, and that I am not to worry.

10 October My phone still logs into the Vodafone network and I’ve finally had enough. I decide to call Vodafone one last time.

We’ll be Right Back After This Recap

Let’s quickly recap what happened so far: at this point…

  • … it’s been almost eight weeks since I received the call with the iPhone offer, and the reseller has not contacted me even once,

  • … on four seperate occasions, different Vodafone customer service representatives have confirmed that I have the option to be released from my contract early,

  • … I was given a definitive date on which my Vodafone line would be cut and the number released for porting to T-Mobile,

  • … the only written confirmation I have lists the original termination date in June 2010.

Valued Customer? Gotcha!

Let’s pick up the story:

10 October (cont’d) After exchanging greetings, I ask the customer rep to please put me through to one of her supervisors, because I had been dealing with an issue for a while now and, therefore, would like to talk to someone in charge.

Nevertheless, she asks what this is about, so I give her a quick overview of the situation.1 And then she puts me on hold in that all-too-familiar attempt to talk to one of the higher-ups — for no less than twenty minutes.

And when she comes back on the line she tells me how sorry she is, but that my request for early termination had been denied by the complaints department.

I tell her that now would be a good time to put me through to her supervisor, after all. But shielding hotline supervisors seems to be the only thing that works perfectly at Vodafone, because after another short moment spent on-hold, I am told that the supervisor — the very person she has talked to just moments ago — was now in a meeting that would last another fifteen minutes, or so, and if I would like to be called back.

Although I do request a return call, that call never comes.

Thanks for Calling Vodafone, How May We Screw You Today?

I know what you’re thinking: “If you had sent out your cancellation letter in time, none of this would have happened, so stop whining!” And you’re absolutely right — at least in part.

Because none of this wouldn’t have happened, either, if Vodafone had invested just a little bit of effort into simply responding to my initial letter, telling me that, nope, sorry, can’t do that, you’ll have to stick around and sit this one out.

But it was their decision to call me and offer me an iPhone, instead. And it was their “independent reseller partner” who didn’t bother to get in touch with me in some way or another for almost two months.

The most baffling aspect of this whole ordeal, though, is this one: what does Vodafone gain from not letting me port my phone number to another provider before my contract with them runs out? It can’t be money, because I did offer to pay off any outstanding monthly fees. It can’t be customer retention, because even the most dimwitted CRM executive must, simply must, understand that such pig-headedness is a sure-fire way to lose customers, not retain them. So what is it?

Whatever the reasoning behind that decision is, Vodafone did have a chance of keeping me on as customer if their iPhone supplier had bothered to contact me at least once. When I requested early contract termination, they did have a chance to see me leave with sufficient goodwill to consider becoming a Vodafone customer again in the future. When they were unable, or unwilling, to keep their own promise, they did have a chance to at least limit my disappointment by calling me back, listening to my complaints, and explaining to me what went wrong. And they wasted every single one of these opportunities.

The bottom line: Vodafone customer(!) service(!!) managed to botch up so many details in this case that I have simply taken them off my shortlist of “connectivity companies”. A company whose customer-facing organisation is managed so poorly is simply not worth my time. Because, you know, this is my time, and I’d rather invest it in doing business with more competent suppliers.

Epilogue: Hey, Look What I Got!

As I finish writing this blog post, my iPhone is lying around here somewhere, loaded with useful apps, all my contacts, hours of great music — and a T-Mobile SIM card. What a fantastic little device and what a surprisingly pleasant buying experience at the local T-Mobile outlet, which, ironically, is right across the street from a Vodafone store.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write some emails to inform my friends, family, and colleagues about my new phone number…

  1. I’ve since realized that that was a major mistake. If I should ever run into a similar situation again, I will refuse to explain the issue to the service rep and insist on talking to her supervisor. No more opportunities for them to shield their superiors. 

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