Service recovery Virgin Media style

Last night I blogged about my experience of Virgin Media over the Christmas break, you can read the full story here, but in a nutshell my broadband connection kept failing, the information I was given was incomplete and/or incorrect and I was bloody frustrated at missing the online shopping opportunities presented by the Christmas sales! I was also very pleasantly surprised at the brilliant customer service I got from the staff on the Virgin Media twitter team.

Today I’ve been very surprised and impressed at the response, which has included:

* The lovely Virgin Media twitter tweam sent me a thank you for my post and let me know it’d been passed on to other people to try help learn the lessons

* Alex posted a comment on my blog post acknowledging that it had been read and lessons would be learnt

* Two people who I follow on twitter who work for VM got in touch with me personally to apologise on behalf of their company – this was a really lovely touch, they had both offered to help out before and I was impressed with their pride and sense of disappointment that VM had delivered such a mixed service

* Then this afternoon I got a phonecall from the local Field Manager, he explained what had been done the last time a technician came out and that they’d checked the signal levels today and offered for a Principal Technician to come out and run a health check on the circuit (all sounds very New Years Health Kick to me) externally and internally to our property. Bob explained that the Principal Technicians have more sensitive equipment and should be able to rule out whether there are any ongoing, underlying faults on the system. This has been arranged for Saturday so I don’t have to take any further time off work and they are going to ring first thing on Sat and let me know roughly what time they’ll be here – to save me waiting in.

* Alongside all of those responses from Virgin Media, I also got quite a lot of chat and banter on twitter more generally. In amongst the general chat was a link to a post about the call centre script by @Martijn Linssen – couldn’t have put it better myself so I’ll not try, I’m sure you’ll recognise the problem; Guy Letts and Martjin have also been engaging in a fascinating conversation about ‘incompetence masquerading as innovation’, you can read more here on Martijn’s blog post Social Customer Service – Proving you failed?

Photo by Gene Hunt

All of this got me thinking about what is really going right and wrong here and I thought I’d offer my thoughts to help out the VM people trying to learn the lessons!

Is it about staff incompetence? I don’t think it’s that simple. I know that VM have something very right – the people I talk to who work for them, the people who evidently manage their twitter account, even to some extent the technicians we’ve dealt with – they’ve all shown an ownership of the Virgin Media brand and it is evident that they can give great customer service – within the constraints of the system in which they work. I’m not sure if this was clear enough in my earlier post – I’ve been very impressed with (most) of the individuals who I’ve dealt with about this matter – I just think that they could have done better if they were empowered to do so, if they weren’t following a script of options, if they weren’t limited by the equipment they had available; my sense is that this is a problem with the design of the service not necessarily just poor customer service.

Does Guy’s hypothesis stand? Is this incompetence masquerading as innovation? Again I don’t think so. The technology is new, the problems are old, but the response is something different. I feel that social media allows for a different type of response, my issue was that I didn’t have enough information and that I didn’t feel like my concern was understood – the twitter tweam were able to alleviate that, even though the underlying problem has yet to be guaranteed to be resolved. Problems will always occur, services will always break down but the response is what is different here. Add to that they really were taking on board what I was grumbling about – the suggestion that they would ring on Saturday with an estimated arrival time was brilliant, leaves me a little more in control of my weekend; if only that was routinely possible.

My sense is that Virgin Media have responded brilliantly….I consider that I’m lucky in that my grumble was picked up on twitter, if it had been my non-twittering mum experiencing the same problem I’m not sure she’d have got the same response or be as happy as I am, but then I guess less people would likely hear about it. A few months ago I blogged about a small problem I’d had with the awesome Pizza Cafe Newton and their brilliant response. Fabian Segelström read that post and later used it as an example of good service recovery. So what is service recovery I hear you ask? Rather than reinvent the wheel I’ve quoted from Fabian and Jeff Howard’s blog post about it:

…research has led to four major findings on how service failure and subsequent recovery affect customers’ loyalty towards a service company:

  1. Service failure has a negative effect on customer loyalty intentions.
  2. Failure resolution has a positive effect on loyalty intentions.
  3. Customer satisfaction with the recovery has a positive effect on loyalty intentions.
  4. Outstanding recovery results in loyalty intentions which are more favorable than they would be had no failure occurred.

Whereas the three first findings could be expected, the fourth is somewhat of a surprise and has become known as the service recovery paradox. The service recovery paradox means that a customer might be more satisfied with a company although they didn’t deliver on their first attempt than if they had delivered the service without errors, if the recovery action is perceived as very good.

Fabian points out that current estimates are that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain one; at this point in time I feel that Virgin Media have done all they can to resolve my problem – with the responses I’ve received today I feel like they 1) care and 2) might get to the bottom of it, so I guess at this point in time I am one of those rather random customers whose loyalty intentions might improve as a result of the failure I’ve experienced. For now at least. I think it’s about investment, illogical as it feels to put up with a deficient service, attempts at service recovery mean that I now feel like we’re in this together, it’s no longer my problem it’s *our* problem, in fact this feels like a joint investment between me and the best bits of Virgin Media.

Ultimately the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, if the problem continues and it can’t be found out why then I will have to look to move to another service provider, but at this moment in time my broadband is tickety boo and my loyalty to Virgin Media unquestioned. So again, thank you Virgin Media and thanks to Martijn, Guy and Wim for stretching my thinking on this one. Thanks also to Fabian and Jeff for doing the research leg work – nothing like some evidence informed thinking about the design of services.

7 thoughts on “Service recovery Virgin Media style

  1. Fantastic George!

    What a story, and what a turnaround for you.
    I wrote my ServiceDeskPhobia post after my own experience with my ISP, Telfort

    My issue was that of a faulty modem that would disconnect my wireless connection every 30 minutes (when refreshing the IP-lease).
    After 32 vice-versa posts on the Telfort forum and hours and days of my own time, trying to measure and solve issues here as the technicians there assured me the problem wasn’t on their side, the problem seemed to be solved but returned a few days after.
    No one from Telfort ever followed up, and tired of the entire exercise (Telfort refused to tell me which steps there were in the process before sending me a new modem) and unwilling to invest even more time, I decided to switch ISP’s (very easy here these days, contract changes to 1-month ones after the first 12 have expired)

    Upon Tweeting that I had switched from @Telfort to @XS4ALL, someone from @Telfort asked me what they could do for me – I told them they could do nothing, as I had signed the new contract already – upon which he sent me a screenshot he said was proving there was nothing wrong with my modem because it had been up for 11 days already (aren’t they supposed to be up 24/7/365?) – which had nothing to do with the issues I had logged with them.
    So, he offered to send me another modem. I politely declined, and again told him I had signed the contract with XS4ALL already

    After that, he sent me another few ones. Here’s a screenshot from TweetDeck I took:
    It is in Dutch, but if you look at the text and the timestamps, you’ll get the picture of a very frustrated and customer-unfriendly technician “being social” to me as a customer. “Over eigenwijs gesproken” translates to “Talk about being stubborn” – it was such a rude comment I just laughed and ignored it. The guy from Telfort was so upset he sent out another few tweets that he forgot to direct at me, so they turned up public…

    Meanwhile I’ve been on XS4ALL for over a month now, needless to say their modem works perfectly and I haven’t had a single interruption

    The lesson there?
    If anyone asks me about Telfort, their product and their service, I’ll tell this story and show these tweets.
    If anyone asks you about VirginMedia, their product and their service, you’ll show them these blog posts

    I know which ISP made a better investment and impression…

  2. Great post and good to hear that Virgin Media seems to be listening! I do think though it is a sign that we see these kind of responses as “awesome, gr8 or impressive”.. I think we have grown to bad Customer Service and our expectations are pretty low..

    Nevertheless it looks like Customer Service is on the rise and that’s a good thing. I do think though we need to be careful with generalizations that can easily become myths, that cost us much more energy and time to debunk, than to create them..

    What I’m aiming at is the quote from Fabian & Jeff’s post stating the service paradox. There is little argument about the Service Paradox, but it should also be clear that this will only work as long as it remain incidents. It is not recommended to implement a service recovery strategy as means to increase Customer loyalty. Check out his blog from Vovici: Service Recovery Paradox: no excuse for bad service

    Second is the estimation that it costs 5 times more to attract a new customer compared to retaining one. This is one of the widespread myths that does not take into account the huge differences per type of business, differences in Customer segments, differences in lifetime-value per Customer, differences in lifecycle, competitive position etc etc etc.. Thus: it differs for each company and likely even for each Customer (and prospect) of a Company how much it costs to attract and/or to keep them. For some it maybe like the myth, for most it will be completely different and it may even be totally opposite. My point: making business decision upon a myth is really not very smart business..

    Thx for a great post & having me here 😉

  3. I’m really glad your problems were resolved and that there was so much follow-up by VirginMedia. Clearly there are many individuals there who are competent and who care deeply. Actually that’s usually the case with the individuals – as you rightly point out. I used to run a large support operation and we recruited to a high standard, as many do. It’s the empowerment, the systems and the policies that are often sub-standard – and that’s down to top level leadership not just investment. That means I saw it as primarily my responsibility if customer satisfaction levels were low – because I knew any widespread problem couldn’t be with the good people we hired.

    Just to clarify – my observation is not that social media is wrong as a means of service recovery, but that it is wrong when there is no effort made to improve the underlying processes, systems and policies that led to the problem.

    In effect nothing was done until you shamed them publicly. Surely that’s not what you or they wanted – and it’s the high profile ‘sticking plaster’ approach to which I object.

    Great post though – everyone has a bad customer service story to tell, it’s good when it’s turned into a constructive debate.

  4. Great post George, also enjoyed the comments from Wim & Guy.

    I had a very similar experience myself with Virgin Media back in January 2010 which I wrote about here

    Like you, I was very impressed with the Twitter team (and in fact most of the people who I spoke to) but the experience was not joined up and in my case the traditional channels e.g. phone simply failed.

    My take is that it’s now relatively easy to give customers a great experience via Twitter. Particularly in the UK there is still a novelty value that your angry Tweet has actually been picked up and responded to. It’s much tougher however to properly integrate social media care with the wider customer experience. In my case, that was where Virgin Media failed. VM subsequently left me a comment on my blog at Customer Think saying that they were trying to move in that direction.

    Let’s give them credit for starting the journey but there’s still lot’s of work to do!


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