Monday 1 July 2013

Phoney wars: Are you listening, Vodafone?

Regulars will know I am not a fan of BT or Vodafone in particular - but just about every telco deserves a decent kicking and berating for dodgy practises and outrageous marketing that is designed to confuse and prevents customers from making simple choices and switches. Worryingly, they seem to go to great lengths to ensure that they are all as cynical and outrageous as each other. There appears to be a general agreement not to offer any sort of customer service beyond that which a trained monkey can provide.

News that the EU commission has now forced all EU telcos to stop reaming their hapless customers with cartel-rigged rates for data (now "only" a maximum of 37p a MByte!) is long overdue. And as ever with heavy handed political intervention in technology, it is too late and quite pointless - but perhaps the idea that the EU get involved is enough to cause these outrageous monopolies to think their tactics out more carefully in future.

Vodafone pre-empted the EU move with its Eurotraveller product last year. This is actually a very fair proposition indeed - but when I went to Majorca recently all the outbound calls dropped a second after connecting. Vodafone's effusive twitter "support" was less use than a rubber hammer, and I even managed to reduce them to terseness by rejecting their various hopeless suggestions for me to find my own fix.

The US may be even worse since it has a generally more primitive cellular scheme than Europe, as a result of a very slow start; but the way that some hapless travellers got home to huge bills (as much as $201k!) is legendary. There is even a vast Wikipedia entry on the topic of EU roaming charges.

The whole point of a phone network is that once the network is in place, the cost of providing services is marginal to negligible. There is barely even any more electricity used on the network when a call is made. Once the fixed costs (like the outrageous licence fees - a vast stealth tax on the users) are covered it's almost all profit. Maybe all the execs are too busy working out their offshore taxation plans to notice their general services are so patchy.

This is a typical Vodafone customer reaction:
I'd like to give Vodafone credit for leaving this online, but I think its just because they can't be arsed to manage the forums closely, hoping that their users will talk amongst themselves while Vodapeople do more important things - like devise specious and arcane marketing propositions to confuse customers.

3rd party reviews are just a brutal.

And the way google thoughtfully suggested search phrases tells another tale that Vodafone PR would be advised to note. To be fair, I also I tried to find evidence that  "Vodafone is terrific"... but this is all the suggestions Google gave me.

Overall, it doesn't seem terribly encouraging for Vodafone, does it? I expect that all networks are about the same (although Google (UK) gave Virgin Mobile an almost clear rating in the above tests), and they will argue that they have so many customers that statistically there are going to be a large number of dissatisfied customers whatever they do.

It's just that Vodafone spends so much time "in my face" telling me how great they are, occupying costly shops in otherwise empty high streets, and spending £gazillions of F1 sponsorship, that I feel obliged to remind them that their own view of their wonderfulness is one that not widely shared.