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I have TV and broadband through Virgin Media, and both went down at about 6PM last night, and remained down for the next three and a half hours, though some customers are still without service this morning.
To be fair to Virgin, this is the first major outage I've had in the past two years, and I have no major issues with the service in general, but in this instance the communication to customers, both online and offline, has been woeful.
I first tried to get on to their website on my iPhone and find out if there were any major regional or national faults that may be causing the problem.
The website can be a pain at the best of times, but it let me and plenty of other customers down when it could have been useful. This is the message I got when accessing the faults status page:
It did provide another link to a status page, which was also broken, sending customers round in an endless loop. Absolutely useless.
So, a service that should give some customers the information they want, and help to take some pressure off the call centres has completely failed.
This prompted me to reach for the phone and call Virgin Media's faults line, but after an hour of trying, all I get is an engaged tone or a 'sorry, we are busy' messages which plays before hanging up.
As well as infuriating people, all this will do is make people call again and again until they get through, increasing the pressure on the call queues. When there is an issue that affect large numbers of customers, why not leave a recorded message advising callers about the fault?
The only information I managed to get about the problem was of course, via Twitter, though no thanks to Virgin Media.
By searching for the term, I found a number of people tweeting about their service issues, and from several parts of the country, which suggested that a major outage was the problem.
I also found that Virgin Media has a Twitter account, but was it using this to inform customers about the service problems and reassure them that it was being dealt with? Er, no. This was its Twitter account at 7:10PM last night, ober an hour after the issues started:
At least not until the problems had been going on for more than three hours, and then with a vague message that only referred to the Midlands.
I also found the @vmstatus account, which promises 'service updates on VM's business and consumer platforms'. Was there an update to this account? No, not for the last seven weeks. Virgin should take a look at BE Broadband's Twitter account to see what it should be used for.
This would have been an excellent opportunity to use Twitter to communicate important information to its customers, such the nature of the problem, affected areas, and when they will fix it, which is all most people wanted to know.
After all, plenty of customers are on Twitter looking for information, and many would have appreciated some form of communication, it may even make the difference between staying and cancelling for some, but Virgin Media has totally failed on this score.
By failing to communicate to customers online, both through its own website, and its Twitter account, Virgin Media will have piled even more pressure on its call centre staff, and alienated lots of customers.
The result of this information blackout?
Lots of unhappy customers; a Twitter search for @virginmedia doesn't make for happy reading for the company. There are hundreds of angry customers on there, all of whom will remember this incident next time their contract is up for renewal, or when they see an advert for Sky, BT or some other ISP.
Sevice faults will happen from time to time for any company serving so many customers, but Virgin Media has made the problem worse by failing to talk to its customers, despite all the channels of communication that were available to them.