Virgin Mobile – Think Twice!
I try to keep the topics on this blog to strictly programming related posts but after a recent experience with Virgin Mobile, I felt this was something that I should make public.
I’ve got a company phone right now but I figured I ought to have my own phone for personal use. I didn’t really want to get a whole new contract so I figured I would go the “Pay As You Go” route. Between the phone and the minute pack (400 minutes) I spent just over $50. It wasn’t a lot of money but it certainly wasn’t pocket change either. Through the last month I used exactly 1 minute and 4 seconds of my 420 minutes I had available. As of last night — all of my minutes had vanished.
The Website Approach
Being a web guy, naturally the first step is to sign onto their website and see what the problem is. So I opened up Chrome and…
Eh… Okay, well I guess I didn’t want to use that menu system anyways. Thats fine though, I realize it’s hard to get everything to work in every browser so I’ll just pull up FireFox. After messing around with it a bit more and finally getting past their login I get the following…
Okay… FINE. I’ll use Internet Explorer…
The Automated Service Approach
I really hate calling phone services and hate it even more when I can’t just talk to a person. While a “voice” controlled automated service is cool from a technical perspective they are a pain because you’re forced to listen to every option and try to find your way to the section you need. Coming from the age of twitchy fast-answer internet browsing the whole process is entirely too slow.
I don’t really need to go into great detail about this part since you can probably guess what happened since I’m even mentioning it. After fumbling through menus for awhile and getting stuck in areas where hanging up seemed to be the only ‘back button’ available, I gave up. I never heard an option to speak with a real person, not once.
The E-Mail Route
I headed back to the website figuring that I must be the one doing something wrong but after a few more login attempts I realized I was getting nowhere. After a little more searching I found a customer service feedback form which was exactly what I was hoping to find.
Except they wanted me to provide my PIN number, which is the same number you use when logging in — a step that despite all my efforts had failed every time. I went ahead and explained my situation, entered the rest of my information and sent it away. After I finished the step I couldn’t help but wonder, what about NON-customers? What if I wanted to ask some questions before I paid for the service? How is this form supposed to help these people? Clearly a usability issue but not something of my concern.
The E-Mail Follow Up
The next day I got an e-mail. I won’t post the entire thing but here is the part that rubbed me wrong.
Thanks for your email!
The Account PIN you provided is not matching our records.
We can certainly help resolve your question but first we must verify we have the right account. Can you please respond and provide your correct Account PIN (numeric security code)?
For real? I’m already having problems with this PIN number and now you won’t talk to me unless I give you the correct information? The letter doesn’t tell you how to get your PIN either – it suggests that you either log into the website (with your PIN mind you) or call customer service (and fiddle around with their automated service again… yay!).
Now after going over the PIN information that I already had I realized I had been entering in the wrong number. Now I readily admit that is my fault — but where was the error messages on the site? Where is the validation that says “Hey man, you entered something that doesn’t look like a PIN. The PIN number should look like…”. Anything would have been better than nothing!!
In any case, I sent back the correct PIN number and finally got the answer to my question.
I would like to inform that minute packs are good for 30 days only and if you do not purchase another Minutes Pack within 30 days from the day you purchased your first Minutes Pack, you will loose all unused minutes.
That is the reason, you have lost the unused minutes on your account as you have not purchased another minute pack.
Customer Hostile Business Model
I have another “Pay As You Go” phone that I purchased for my 8 year old daughter. I’d like for my kid to have the option to call me in case of an emergency but know that if the phone is lost then I only lose about $30 which is a lot better than someone racking up a bunch of long distance calls on a subscription.
With her phone, when I buy minutes they come with service days. Not just a couple days but something like 90 days which is excellent. Whats more, is that those days stack on top of each other along with any unused minutes. Even if I some how run out of service days I can simply buy some more and all my minutes stay intact. It is a great system that is both clear and fair to the customer in how it works.
But take Virgin Mobile – 30 days after you buy minutes, unless you give them more cash, they wipe them out – all of them. Sounds like they got their business model directly from the Dark Side if you ask me.
So to be clear, right after you buy some minutes the 30 day timer starts at the end of which your minutes are erased no matter how many you have. What if you have 5 minutes? gone. Have 500 minutes? gone. Or the maximum 5000 minutes? gone. If you want to keep your phone working then you need to spend at least $20 a month — sounds a lot like a subscription to me.
Just to backup my claim, here is part of an e-mail that I got from their customer service. To be fair, in this e-mail they offered to restore my minutes if I purchased a new minutes pack — but it was a one time exception.
To answer your question: yes, you are absolutely correct in understanding that expired minutes will be lost and cannot be restored. However, if you purchase a minute pack and reply to this email, given you are a valued Virgin Mobile customer we will credit the expired minutes to your account balance.
Summary (read the small print every single time)
Don’t get me wrong, I messed up when I didn’t read the fine print. I appreciate the gesture they displayed at the end of this ordeal but I’d rather not have the threat of a complete wipe of my minutes looming over my head. If there are other, more consumer friendly options, then they need to be the default for the account.
In any event I think this experience helped me and $50 is a cheap price for a valuable “life lesson” — even if it was an obvious one.
In summary, I doubt Virgin Mobile is an evil company but they certainly aren’t looking out for the customer. Always remember to read the fine print in detail.