Hugoware

The product of a web developer with a little too much caffeine

Virgin Mobile – Think Twice!

with 7 comments

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…

website-chrome-menu

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…

firefox-error

Okay… FINE. I’ll use Internet Explorer…

ie-error

… 😐

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.

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Written by hugoware

August 26, 2009 at 2:14 am

Posted in General Update

Tagged with , , ,

7 Responses

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  1. Hi there! Firstly, I want to apologize for your service problems. Not sure exactly when you were experiencing the website and log in issues, but we did experience a rare problem with our website last week. That has since been resolved and again, we apologize.

    In regards to your service plan, it looks like you are on one of our 3 Minute Pack pay-as-you-go plans. In regards to losing your minutes, as long as you add another new Minute Pack within 30 days, unused minutes will roll forward for the next 30 days (up to 5000 minutes). If you don’t add another Minute Pack or your Minute Pack expires, minutes are 20¢ each. Considering your light usage, I recommend you change your service to our $0.20/Minute Basic Rate plan, if you are not already there. The $0.20/minute basic plan just charges you $0.20 a minute, and you only need to top up every 90 days. If this something you find more beneficial for your usage, here’s how to do it:

    1. Log in to our website with you phone number and PIN.
    2. At this landing page you should see (middle left center of page) a section labeled “YOUR PLAN”. Under that is a “CHANGE PLAN” button. Click on that.
    3. On the next page, scroll down to the “PAY AS YOU GO’ plans. Select the “Choose a 30-day Minute Pack or go with our 20¢/Min Basic Rate” pilot button, and then click on “NEXT”.
    4. This next page just describes the differences between the $0.20/Minute Basic Rate and the Minute Packs. Click on “Next” when you’re ready.
    5. The next page asks you when you would like to have the change take effect – Now or with your next payment due date. Decide which you would like to do. Keep in mind, if you request to change now, you will lose any unused minutes from your previous Minute Pack plan. I recommend selecting the next payment due date option, but that’s entirely your call.
    6. The next page asks you to validate your basic info and payment method. Feel free to make changes if you like (not required).
    7. When it comes time for you to fund your account (what we call, Top-Up), you will be given an option to add one of the 3 minute packs. Under those boxes in red letters is an option to click that says “No Thanks, I’ll add a Minute Pack later”. This will by-pass the minute pack options and keep you on the basic $20/minute plan.

    Again, sorry for the inconvenience. If you have any more questions, we also help folks on Twitter. Feel free to follow us at http://www.Twitter.com/VirginMobileUS.

    SA@VirginMobile

    SA@VirginMobile

    August 27, 2009 at 8:15 am

    • Thanks for the response but I still maintain that the idea of a complete minute wipe hanging over my head isn’t something I’m interested in. If you have a more ‘consumer friendly’ plan, as you have mentioned, then it should be the default or at the very least clearer than it is on your site.

      As I mentioned at the end of my post I’ve worked with other ‘Pay As You Go’ services that didn’t do anything like this. Your minutes were yours and at worst you had to purchase some more service days on the off chance you actually ran out of them. I could use $50 to get enough service days and minutes to last my daughter 6 to 8 months of service. Your default plan $50, $100, $500, etc, all last just 30 days.

      In any case, your proactive approach in customer service should be commended, as I said at the end of the post your team was willing to restore the minutes which was appreciated.

      webdev_hb

      August 27, 2009 at 8:36 am

  2. Proactive? LOL! Not when they’re responding — that’s reactive.

    But since you seem to have caught Virgin’s ear, I have a question: Are they offering a low-cost plan for unemployed and low income people who need a basic phoneminus the big bills?

    I’ve heard that they have a $10 a month plan available but I can’t find it on their website.

    Merle Lindt

    September 26, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    • Proactive in the sense that they found my blog and responded to it here (I didn’t send them my blog link)

      As for the plan they have available, I have no idea – I’ve abandoned the service completely.

      webdev_hb

      September 26, 2009 at 7:30 pm

      • Not trying to bust your chops but proactive is before the fact; reactive, after.

        Merle Lindt

        September 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm

      • Call it what you like, however, no one is making them come to my blog to respond to my post. Reading my post and responding with a comment is ‘reactive’ — reacting to the content found on this page.

        Conversely, searching for unhappy customers by reading blogs and websites is a ‘proactive’ approach to customer service — this complaint wasn’t delivered to them, they had to find it themselves.

        Anyways, I don’t really care after that — they aren’t a company I’d do business and I wouldn’t defend them any further than I already have.

        webdev_hb

        September 26, 2009 at 7:56 pm

  3. so I just purchased the Loft s3200 by virgin mobile..I had no idea i couldnt still go under the basic plan..So I tried to add only 10.00 for texters delight.Turns out they only offered the PayLo plan.I talked to one of the speacialist on the phone and he added me under the $25 a month plan..a couple of days later I added $25 more…Will I lose the minutes I had before I added that extra $25 or will they cross over into the next month??Basically I made a payment early.So I wouldnt have to worry about any minutes expiring or my phone being cut off!

    LaKeisha Lattin

    January 2, 2011 at 3:05 am


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