Archive for Customer Services

A Dilemma

A couple of months ago I achieved a small personal victory against Orange who finally admitted that their network is struggling and terminated my contract early.  They’ve since agreed to pay me a quite reasonable amount of compensation for unreasonably keeping me in contract when they knew they couldn’t provide me with the service I was paying for.

So I changed to Three for a number of reasons, foremost of which was the value for money and the superior coverage.  For £32 per month I get a free network unlocked HTC Desire, 500 minutes of any network calls, 1000 minutes of Three to Three calls, 1000 texts, 120 MMS messages and 1gb of data.  On the coverage front, I get Three’s network which provides relatively patchy coverage nationally (but fine in the places I frequent regularly) and roaming access to voice and data on Orange – the largest combined coverage of any UK mobile network.

I have been more than happy with Three right up until last Saturday when my phone would no longer connect to Three and was stuck on roaming.  I assumed it was a local problem and after a few hours called Three to confirm they were aware of the problem.  They said there was no problem, it must be the phone and I should turn it off and take out the sim card, leave it for a few minutes and try again.  I left it overnight to see if the problem went away by itself but it didn’t so I tried what I was advised to do and that failed to fix the problem.

So I called again and was told it must be my phone and that there is a known problem with the HTC Desire that can cause it to latch onto a roaming network and be reluctant to move back to the home network.  I was told to take my phone to a Three or Carphone Warehouse shop and get it flashed to the latest version of the software under warranty.  The phone had updated that morning so I knew it was up-to-date but I reluctantly agreed to do as they said.  But later that day I went to a relative’s house and as soon as I travelled away from home, the phone picked up Three again.  “Ah-ha”, I thought, “that proves it’s the network”.

So when I got home I checked #2 son’s phone which is also on Three and his had the same problem.  I manually scanned for networks and it would only pick up Three on 2G – scanning with the phone set to 3G wouldn’t pick up Three at all.  So it’s definitely the network, without a doubt and I phoned Three back up again.  The person I spoke to this time told me that the mast by my house had been decommissioned and that they were currently working on the next nearest to upgrade it to take up the slack from the decommissioned mast.  This would take a couple of days, he told me.

Being a naturally suspicious person, I decided to go to the Three shop in town and check it out the following day.  I went, they checked and confirmed that what I was told was correct.  Brilliant, it’s not my phone and I just need to sit tight for a few days and it’ll be sorted.  Except it isn’t sorted because my phone still roams onto Orange as soon as I turn into my street and it’s been a week.  I called Three today to find out if the upgrade had been finished on the other mast – yes it has and there are no problems with any of the masts in my area.  You know what’s coming next don’t you?  I did and I sighed.

The handset faults person asked me for my software versions again and told me that I didn’t have the latest version.  I disagreed.  So did he.  He told me it was my phone and I needed to get it flashed.  I told him it wasn’t my phone and explained all the above again and asked him if he genuinely thought that it was all a co-incidence and that two different models of phone had spontaneously developed the same fault which only manifests itself in my street and started when they turned off the mast near my house?  He said it could be.  Clearly it isn’t.  This is what I do for a job – I diagnose and fix application infrastructure faults for a multinational IT company.

The aforementioned handset faults person got his supervisor to phone me back and we went through it all again.  He didn’t try and blag me the like his colleague did though and agreed that it was Three’s fault.  He offered me a different handset or to terminate my contract without charge.  As I’ve already proven it’s not the handset with #2 son’s phone, the only option is to terminate the contract and go elsewhere.

But here’s the dilemma: my phone works in the house, it just can’t get a Three signal so it roams onto Orange.  If I’m on a call when I turn into the street it invariably cuts me off as it tries to keep the Three signal for as long as possible and ends up cutting me off because it’s too late to switch the call to Orange.  And I came off Orange for a reason – the network is overloaded and unreliable.  But I won’t get the deal I’ve got from Three if I go to another network – I won’t get the data, the free calls or the coverage.

Obviously Orange is out of the question so that leaves me with T-Mobile, O2 or Vodafone.  We’ve dabbled with T-Mobile and it was nothing special and then they built a new mast at the end of the road and the signal nosedived to the extent that it often wouldn’t work indoors.  So that leaves O2 or Vodafone.  Having worked for a mobile phone dealer, I know that Vodafone’s upgrades are shit – you have to spend quite a lot of money with them to get a decent upgrade when your contract is up so that leaves O2.  But O2 have overloaded their network with free data packages to the extent that their network in London was pretty much knocked out earlier this year for weeks.

So now you see my dilemma, what should I do?

Stop buggering about with my internet!

Bloody buggering Sky, I swear there’s a conspiracy to piss me off.

Two months ago they buggered up my internet connection and then buggered up my phone fixing my broadband.Cartman Pissed Off I spent several days arguing with them over the phone that the problem was at the exchange, not my equipment or my phone, the micro filter or the socket.  Eventually I got through to someone sensible in their higher level support department who did the unthinkable and didn’t follow the step by step instructions that clearly had no relevance at all to the problem I had and eventually got the problem sorted at the exchange.  I managed to figure out the problem despite being in a hotel on a training course but it took several days of phone calls for Sky to catch up with all their gadgetry.

So they fixed my broadband by moving my line from one switch to another and in the process paired my phone up to god knows where, but it wasn’t my phone line!  As compensation fro dicking me around entirely unnecessarily, ballsing things up twice and costing me quite a lot of money in phone calls they knocked a fiver a month off my bill for a year.  Which they also cocked up, resulting in my getting billed for two half price phone lines instead of one.

Anyway, they sorted all that out and everything was fine until yesterday when we got back from a week’s holiday to find that the internet wasn’t working.  There was no heartbeat light on the micro filter (I bought an expensive filter a while ago which tells me when it’s connected to the exchange) and the data light on the router was red which kind of suggests that there was no connection to the exchange.  So I did some tests, including trying a spare router which they sent me when there was nothing wrong with my router two months ago.

Eventually they figured out that there was a problem and phoned me back to tell me they’d fixed it.  So I asked what was wrong and what they’d done to fix it.  There was a pause and a reluctant explanation: they’d done some tests on the line and discovered that it will only support 10mbit/sec so they’d reduced the connection to 10mbit.

Interesting.  So my line has supported a connection at over 20mbit/sec for over a year but suddenly, in the space of a week, my line has mysteriously degenerated to the point where it will now only support half the data rate it did before I went on holiday.  Is there an explanation?  Well, the maximum speed is calculated from the distance from the exchange, the line quality and the quality of the wiring at home.  All of which I know and that’s how I know their maths doesn’t add up.  According to Kitz, at 900m from the exchange with 13dB downstream attenuation, I should be be able to connect to the exchange at 22mbit/sec with a throughput of just over 20mbit.

Kitz ADSL Speed Calculator Result

As the crow flies I am less than 400m from the exchange so the actual length of cable is probably somewhere between the 0.4km distance from the exchange and the 0.9km they estimate.  Regardless, the LLU speeds quoted above are pretty much spot on what I’ve been getting for over a year and nothing has changed.  The router is still plugged into the master socket with no extensions and a high quality micro filter.

Anyway, they said that it will take up to 24 hours to put the speed back to 20mbit (5 minutes to reduce it, a day to increase it … hmmm).  Needless to say, 24 hours later it’s still connected at 8mbit – not even the 10mbit I was told yesterday that my line could support.  Not a happy bunny as you can imagine so I phoned again, went through the same conversations and had another promise to put my connection back to 20mbit.

I pay for 20mbit, my line supports 20mbit, I expect 20mbit!  I suspect another battle may be in the offing, let’s see what happens tomorrow.

Orange admits their network is over capacity

For the last few months the service I’ve been getting on my Orange mobile phone has been getting progressively worse.

A few months ago I couldn’t make phone calls at all for about half a day and nor could I receive any.  #1 son’s phone was the same, so was Mrs Sane’s and so was the work phone I had – all on Orange.  All the phones had a full signal but they wouldn’t make or receive calls.

I called Orange off my landline (an expensive call) and they couldn’t tell me what the problem was.  The work phone came back on before our personal phones – to be expected, they use QoS on their network.  But this was the first indication that something was going seriously wrong with Orange’s mobile phone network.

Since that time, the service has become increasingly poor.  When trying to make outgoing calls I would often get connection errors, network busy messages or just simply timing out without making the call or displaying any errors.  This could happen with a poor single or with a full 2.5G signal.  I took Orange’s advice to change the phone from 3G to 2G temporarily and this improved the service greatly but I use a lot of data so it wasn’t a proper answer to the problem and when it started happening even with 2G manually selected, I decided enough was enough.

Over the past few months I have spent hours on the phone with Orange trying to get to the bottom of this problem.  Several times I told them that if they couldn’t fix the problem it was fine but that I expected them to end the contract early so I could change to another provider.  That’s pretty much where the sympathy ended and I had some interesting conversations with people at Orange about this.  During one call I was told that there was no real difference between 2G and 3G data connections – in reality it’s between 1.8mbit/sec and 3.6mbit/sec, depending on the state of the network where you are.  On another call I was told that it was impossible for Orange to cancel my contract early and when I pointed out many times that the terms and conditions they continuously quoted at me as an excuse to keep taking my money without providing the service I was paying for said that they could, in fact, cancel my contract whenever they wanted for whatever reason they wanted, the woman hung up on me.

The problems happened mainly in busy built up areas, generally not rural or sparsely populated areas.  It also generally happened during the day, not at night.  I’m not a mobile phone network engineer but I’m a pretty techy person (alright, I’m a geek) and over the last few years I’ve gained quite a lot of knowledge and experience of networks and communications infrastructure.  To me the cause of the problem was pretty obvious – not enough capacity – but trying to get someone at Orange to admit that their network wasn’t able to cope with demand was a seemingly impossible task.

But it wasn’t impossible because, with the help of a couple of nice men from Orange’s off-shore call centre in India, I managed to get a call escalated to Orange’s networks department and on Saturday a very helpful man from Orange called me, discussed my problems and agreed that it was lack of capacity on the network and that it couldn’t be fixed.  He agreed that the iPhone was the trigger that has brought the network to its knees just as it has done with O2 and said that it may get better when they start merging their network with T-Mobile in a year’s time but they just don’t know at the moment.

It was a refreshingly honest admission from Orange and they agreed to end my contract immediately, allowing me to change providers.  Co-incidentally, there was an announcement on our company intranet today that Orange have come clean to my employer about their network problems and staff are even being offered second phones on a different network by the company where problems are particularly bad.  It may just be a co-incidence but could my call on Saturday have been the trigger for an open admission by Orange that their network is basically buggered?

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s … expensive

I was on the phone to Orange customer services today to see if there was a cheaper way of getting my son a small amount of internet access.

I was disappointed to find that not only was £5pm the cheapest option for data, but new customers would only receive 250mb for their £5pm, rather than the 500mb limit that has been available until recently.  I was considering adding the data to Mrs Sane’s phone package but 250mb for £5 is even worse value than the already poor offering of 500mb.

I assume that Orange is aware of other networks’ offerings and how Orange compares to them.  Let’s have a look at what’s available elsewhere:

Vodafone charges £5pm for 500mb – double the new allowance you get for the same price with Orange.

O2 charges 50% more than Orange but in return for the extra £2.50 you get unlimited data unless you have an iPhone or a 600 minute package or above in which case you get free unlimited data and unlimited access to their network of wi-fi hotspots.

T-Mobile offers unlimited data for £5pm and Three even gives 100mb per month free with a £10 pay as you go top-up as well as free Skype to Skype calls!

This is a backward step from Orange and as I said, disappointing.  I’ve been an Orange customer for 13 years and recommended it to many, many people over the years.  I even had a job selling Orange mobile phone contracts a few years ago!

The high cost of data on Orange is a real let down and after visiting a Three shop yesterday and seeing how cheap their packages are I think I know where I will be going when my contract is up.  With a roaming agreement with two networks, their poor coverage isn’t a problem any more and most new phones are available on Three so it all comes down to price.  For a £10 pay as you go top-up you get free Three to Three calls, free Skype to Skype calls and 100mb of data as well as 50 minutes of voice and 100 texts.  Contracts are even better value.

Orange has the resources to match that offering but refuses to do so.  It’s a shortsighted move that’s cost them an extra bit of business from me yesterday and when my other 3 contracts with Orange are up next year it’s probably going to cost them those too.

Internet Broken … arrrrrrgh!

It’s amazing how much we’ve come to rely on t’interweb in our household.

Mrs Sane phoned me at work yesterday to say she couldn’t get on the internet so I popped home at lunchtime to see what the problem was.  I checked the modem status page and it said the ADSL link was down so I phoned Sky Broadband up to report the fault.

The flunky on the phone insisted on me powering off the modem and powering it back on again for the 5th time on the basis that it was on her list as the next thing to do.  She then asked me to check the wire from the micro filter to the modem was in securely so I unplugged it and … the phone went dead.  Which shouldn’t happen.

The phone would only work again if I unplugged the micro filter and plugged the phone directly into the phone socket so I called back and told them it looked like the micro filter was faulty.  So, after work, I went to PC World and bought a spangly new micro filter that had been reduced from £20 to £15 and got the manager to give me a 10% discount because the packaging had been opened.  This micro filter isn’t your normal dangling bit of wire from the socket, it sits flush to the socket, has two phone sockets as well as the modem socket and it has a surge protector so it should be reliable (it also has a couple of blue LED status lights that flash when it’s connected which is a nice touch).

Anyway, I plugged in the new micro filter and got the same problem with the phone.  Unplugging the wire from teh modem to the micro filter gave me the phone line back.  Unplugging and plugging it back in to the modem a few times cured that problem so it evidently wasn’t the micro filter that was at fault but still no internet.

Another phone call to Sky Broadband and after a lesson in teaching my granny how to suck eggs, I was transferred to the department that deals with technical problems for people who have Sky phone lines.  Half an hour on hold listening to the same 3 minute loop of terrible hold music and an irritating Scottish voice inviting me to take up all the wonderful services that I already have and I eventually got through to someone who told me that they will check the line to make sure there isn’t a problem with it before they start looking at whether it’s the router that’s at fault.  Fine by me as it’s quite likely to be a line fault but not fine is the warning that it can take up to 48 hours to diagnose a problem with the line so we could be without internet access for over 2 days.

I did pop on the internet a couple of times by hooking up my mobile phone to my laptop but as well as being unbelievably slow (we’ve been spoilt with 20mbit broadband that’s capable enough to handle 2 laptops and a desktop connected to the internet at the same time without any drop-off in speed) it was eating through my 500mb monthly data allowance like nobody’s business.  So I’m reduced to retrieving my emails and checking Twitter on my mobile phone while Mrs Sane can’t do her online banking or online bill payments which needs to be done around about now.

Cheap, fast broadband has made life so much more convenient but at the cost of making living without it so much more inconvenient.

Details, details …

Orange has this clever feature when you ring customer services where you enter your password on your phone keypad – 2 for abc, 3 for def, etc.  It’s a great idea, assuming you don’t have one of these:

You’ll note that, unlike regular mobile phones, the number keys don’t have a set of letters on them on account of the phone having a qwerty keyboard.  The same applies to the Cackberry and every other mobile phone with a qwerty keyboard.  I once pointed this out to someone at Orange customer services who said I was the second person that day to say it.  It was a while ago now and it still asks.

And while I’m complaining, Sky still have their old phone number that changed months ago on the phone number list on the Interactive service.  The “new” number is free for Sky Talk customers to clal but the old one isn’t.

WordPress disappoint, Runtime impress

If there is a known “feature” with the new version of WordPress that causes anything in the dashboard to generate internal server errors from an apparently random point in time that can be fixed by creating a one-line ini file in the wp-admin folder, why the bloody buggering hell doesn’t the WordPress install file create the damn file in the first place?

But kudos to my new host – Runtime UK – for the excellent service this morning when the error started.  I got through to an English person just up the road, the call was answered in a couple of rings, the support person couldn’t give me an answer straight away so he promised to call me back.  He called me back after about 20 minutes having determined that it wasn’t a server problem and had even gone on Google and researched the problem for me.  Now that is what I call excellent service.

Surprisingly good customer service from Sky

My trusty Netgear ADSL router gave up the ghost yesterday which was a bit inconvenient.

Some investigations pinned it down to a problem with the wireless on the router so I phoned Sky technical support.  I was most surprised to get an answer at 10pm and even more surprised to speak to someone who spoke passable English (they were from Scotland, not Mumbai).

In total I spent an hour and 20 minutes on the phone to technical support convincing them that the evidence pointed to a problem with the router and not my laptop as the router couldn’t be found on my wife’s laptop either, nor on my phone, the desktop computer or the printer.

I eventually convinced them of the need to replace the router and a 2 minute conversation with the customer support team this morning secured the replacement which is being posted out to me.

Interestingly, the woman I spoke to in technical support said that my exchange is one of the first to get the upgrade from 16mbit to 20mbit and a quick test she did on my line suggests that I’ll get over 21mbit (I currently connect to the exchange at about 16.7mbit).  Which is nice.

The postman delivered the replacement modem at 6:45 this morning.  Are they supposed to ring the doorbell at that time of the morning?

Technorati Technorati Tags: , ,

Nice Printer, Shit Service

Mrs Sane went out and bought a new printer today – a nice Kodak ESP 7 all-in-one wireless device.

The printer installs fine on my laptop and Mrs Sane’s laptop but the desktop is having none of it.  I’ve tried to contact Kodak’s 24/7 customer support live chat for about 2 hours now and keep getting a message to tell me they’re too busy.

kodak1.png kodak2.png


Kodak’s 24/7 online chat support is still unavailable this morning.

Technorati Technorati Tags:

The Eveshambles saga continues …

Remember how the keyboard on my Evesham laptop broke a few weeks ago?  Not long after, my colleague’s Evesham laptop developed the same fault.  Geemore, the company that Evesham’s sole remaining director set up to take over the Evesham business (but not the debts), collected the laptop 10 days ago with the standard quoted repair time of 5-10 working days.

Today he phoned for an update to be told that it hadn’t even been sent for repair.  Why?  Because they’ve only just signed an agreement with the repair company (presumably Micronano again) and even though the agreement has been signed, they still haven’t paid them.  Rather helpfully, they don’t have a clue when they might be able to send laptops off for repair or how long it will be until they get them back again.

So much for Geemore honouring Evesham warranties.

The Sky’s the limit

A few weeks ago I swallowed my pride, bit the bullet and decided to line Rupert Murdoch’s grubby pockets again.  Telewest (now Virgin) couldn’t get my broadband to work properly for 3 months and couldn’t tell me when they were planning on fixing it so I gave them the boot and had a scout round for a good deal and up popped Sky.

Sky TV is a million times better than Cable TV, they give you free phone calls at evenings and weekends and thanks to the wonders of local loop unbundling they can also give me 16mbit broadband.  All this cheaper than I was paying Telewest for the phone, TV and a 4mbit connection that didn’t work properly.  Sky even agreed to pay the £120 reconnection charge BT quoted me.

Got the phone connected, got the Sky TV installed (the installer turned out to be someone I went to school with, what are the odds, eh?) and eagerly awaited the broadband to be activated.  The broadband was activated in the afternoon of the date they gave me and the process was relatively painless.  It wasn’t exceptionally fast but I thought I’d give it a few days to settle down and see if it got any better.  It didn’t so I phoned technical support.

I checked the speed from my desktop as well as my laptop.  I have built-in wireless from Realtek in my laptop and a USB dongle from Belkin attached to my desktop.  After arguing the toss with technical support that there really is a problem with the router I got through to someone who asked me to plug the laptop in using a network cable.  I did and hey presto it was 3 or 4 times faster.  Marvellous, so what’s the problem then?  Apparently, the wireless card in my laptop and the wireless dongle on my desktop both have “incompatible frequencies”.  Nobody could explain what the “incompatible frequencies” might be but told me that I’d have to speak to the manufacturer of my wireless adapters.

Still convinced that there was a problem with the router but resigned to going through the motions I phoned Belkin (but not Eveshambles, more on that in another post shortly).  They confirmed that the dongle was fully compatible with the router and when I explained the symptoms the Belkin man agreed with me that the router was obviously at fault.

So, back on to Sky tonight and what a horrendous experience that was.  I got through to someone in India who could barely speak English and who was so technically inept that he failed to grasp even the most basic of concepts.  He insisted that there was nothing wrong with the router because the lights were on and I could get a web page.  I asked him if he bought a Laborghini and it only did 20mph would he be happy with it because the engine turned on?  It missed the point entirely.  In fact, I think he didn’t actually understand what I was saying because it wasn’t written down on his script.  Anyway, I persevered for about half an hour getting more and more irate when I eventually gave up and hung up.

I rang back and got put in a queue for half an hour and spoke to … wait for it … and Englishman!  Believe me, this is a novelty because every other person I’ve spoken to at Sky has been either Scottish or Indian.  This man understood perfectly what the problem was and arranged for a replacement to be sent to me there and then.

So far I’m not impressed with Sky’s customer service.  People complain about Telewest’s customer service but they answer the phone pretty quickly and their broadband technical support is very good (although not free any more, another reason not to stay with them).  Time will tell if it gets any better but hopefully I won’t need to speak to them again if this router works properly.

Eveshambles Part 2

Well, surprise surprise, Evesham are still shit.

The keyboard on my Evesham laptop is broken and they won’t honour the on-site warranty. Apparently they don’t have motherboards in stock even though my colleauge had his motherboard replaced in the carpark at work a month or two ago. No, they’re going to collect my laptop and send it to China for repair and I can have it back in 7-10 days.

If you’ve read about my shambolic experience of Evesham before then you may remember that the repair to my laptop last year was going to take 7-10 days and I spent weeks without a laptop while they “repaired” it and lost it and lied to me and then sent me an old laptop that they tried to pass off as a new one (I still have the photographs showing it thick with dust.

My conversation with Eveshambles Technical Support went something like this:

Evesham: They don’t do motherboard replacements on-site.
Me: But they did not long ago for my colleague.
Evesham: Ah yes, they’re out of stock now and Mitac have all the stock.
Me: Not a problem, the engineer will have to drive past the Mitac factory to get to my house.
Evesham: They won’t do that.

There was some boring stuff going over the same old things again and I declined his offer to arrange for a collection. It’s not possible to complain to Eveshambles over the phone so I phoned the press office.

Me: Hello, I’m getting really crap service from Evesham again, you’ve had bad publicity about it last time and I don’t mind giving you some more but I wanted to give you the opportunity to make some effort to put it right.
Evesham: Can I take your name?
Me: Stuart Parr
Evesham: Oh right, you’re that wonko person?
Me: Yes.
Evesham: In that case …

It did look like they were going to make some effort, “think outside the box”, live up to the 5-star rating they got for customer service from PC Pro magazine. But no. They won’t ask Mitac to give them a motherboard, not even as a one-off bearing in mind what they’ve done to me before.

So I have no choice – my laptop is going to be collected, it’s going to be shipped off to a factory in China where it will no doubt languish on a shelf for a few weeks and maybe get repaired, maybe get lost. My hard drive will be formatted even though there is nothing wrong with it and I have no way of backing up an 80gb hard drive.

I will, of course, be keeping an Eveshambles Part 2 diary.