2nd October 2011

 

 

Dear Sir Richard Branson

Hi! How are you? I hope that you're doing well at the moment. Sadly, I'm not, as I've recently made a terrible mistake; a mistake which I hope will become clear by the end of this letter. Actually, I've made a number of mistakes leading up to it too, which I'll explain now.

I suppose I should start this letter by explaining why it might be worth your reading it. I am, Mr. Branson, a Virgin customer. I have long wished for the speed and reliability afforded by a fibre optic internet connection, but until recently I have never found myself living in an area where such a connection was available - until now.

I have always been very careful in the selection of an ISP to provide my internet connection, as I am a user that knows what she's looking for and knows the various ways in which it can be screwed up by those attempting to provide it. In this particular case, one of my most immediate needs was to be connected to a service quickly, and though BT Infinity was available at my address, the 3 week lead time before an engineer would install the Fibre to the Cabinet service was hard to accept. That left Virgin Media, Mr Branson -your company- with it's "superfast broadband" through its Fibre to the Home product, which I'm sure you'd agree to be a technically superior option. This was my first mistake.

You see, Mr Branson, a technically superior option is only superior when it is delivered in the form of a product that fully capitalises on that technical superiority. When the engineer came out to install our internet and phone service, he actually had to ask me, the new tenant of the property, where he could find the cabinet in order to connect my house to your network. I'm not quite sure what your company expects of its customers, but I feel that the psychic power to explore an area in one's mind and find a piece of street furniture corresponding to the one your company happens to own with a cable running to my house is a little bit of a stretch! However, he connected our service, and was on his way.

It was only after he had left that we discovered that our internet speed was varying wildly between the 50 Mbits I am paying for and the less than 1 Mbit we were sometimes receiving. On calling up your customer services, one of your support staff took control of my computer to check the router settings and run a speed check before booking an engineer visit. I accept that there can sometimes be teething problems of this sort when a new service is installed, and so this was not something that upset me too much, in spite of the week I had to wait before an engineer came out to give me what I am paying you for. When the engineer eventually arrived, it was then that I learned why the previous engineer had expected me to have amazing psychic superpowers. It was, you see, because the information your company keeps on it's roadside cabinets and the actual facts of reality on the ground failed to match up - the engineer was told that our cabinet should be on one end of the street, when in fact our connection belongs to a different cabinet on the other end of the street! Worse still, we were informed that we had been connected to a 'line' that had been unstable for the last year, which nobody had bothered to fix! I feel very strongly here that I should point out an obvious issue for your consideration: The reason the first engineer didn't know what he was doing was because your company told him to do the wrong thing, and if your own engineers are not capable of working effectively with the service you provide, how are your customers supposed to be able to? By magic? By crossing their fingers? Or are they expected to make use of those psychic powers again, Mr Branson?

In complete fairness, the second engineer did manage to identify and resolve the problem with the actual fiber optic cabling and its connection to your street furniture (incidentally, did you know that if you divide the actual service customers like me get by the service you promise to deliver, the resulting value implies that your "street furniture" takes on the more literal characteristics of that term?). However, shortly after that another problem arose, seeing our wireless speed drop to a tiny proportion of what your equipment is supposed to provide us with.

I'm sure by now, Mr Branson, were you in our position you could understand why we would be getting a little bit miffed. Normally, in this circumstance, I would take a sledgehammer to my cheap but fully featured ADSL router and replace it with a new one of equal cheap but incredible value, with features as standard such as DynDNS, dual band n/g networks, and so on, as well as very useful if less common features like 'many to one' and 'one to one' NAT (Network Address Translation). Sadly, as I am now a Virgin customer I have had to put up with your neutered, ineffectual, unfit for purpose and poorly named "SuperHub"... Which sadly remains the property of your company, so that your useless and ineffectual front line support staff can demand to know the passwords I use in order to log into it and screw up the settings so nothing can reach the internet in my house. They do this in their pursuit of a solution to a problem they didn't listen to in the first place, because they were too busy working from a script to realise that they were talking to someone with a little technical knowledge, who would be better served by talking to a Virgin employee who was capable of understanding them. This of course leaves me feeling like I want to slap them about the face with a wet fish after 30 minutes of their sheer incompetence wasting my time, which in turn causes great frustration owing to the fact that I can not do so for both moral and practical reasons.

You see, my other mistake was that I dared to believe any part of your promotional material. I am afraid to tell you that your SuperHub is SuperBroken. In fact, it's not even a hub at all, but a router. To be just a little bit technical for a moment, it is a cable modem that's integrated with a badly engineered router - a router and a hub are two very different things. Worse still is that someone at Virgin took the decision to strip it of a variety of features that would be perfectly standard on any other Netgear router, presumably in an effort to make it easy to use - sadly however, that ill advised attempt to bring it closer to 'hub' status has merely reduced it to a shockingly awful router with an "advanced" configuration page that's roughly equivalent to the "wizard setup" process of most standard routers. It drops connections, its auto channel selection seems to actively seek out the busiest channel and select it to transmit on, and it can't put out a simultaneous N and G connection - in fact, if you set it up such that both N and G devices can connect to it (2.4 Ghz band), the moment a G device connects to it it drops the data rate for all N devices that happen to be using it at the time too!

That's absurd! It's like having a motorway with a 70 MpH speed limit, that suddenly drops to 56 MpH for all traffic the moment a single lorry drives onto it. Again - this is peculiar to your SuperHub - it's not the technology that's to blame! It probably doesn't help that whoever at Virgin was deciding on the requirements for your SuperHub when designing it clearly had no real understanding of the technology at all, and merely said "the option to select N or G would be useful, as N is faster and more stable", without even considering that a G device (the most prevalent kind) cannot connect to an N only network. That particular part of the decision is like building a new motorway that can only be driven on by cars either older than 2 years or newer, but never a mix of the two. Did this person actually go to school a some point in their lives? I ask because either they were incompetent for the job they were doing, or very, very stupid. There are no other explanations for this issue.

That said, I'll return to the technical support issues; especially now that I've broached the subject of incompetence. You see, the tip of the iceberg was when our wireless speeds dropped drastically to the point where three or four 56K dial up modems could have matched our bandwidth byte for byte, and I made a call to your tech support line. Firstly, every time I tried to enter my phone number when asked to do so it failed to recognise it on the first attempt, and recognised it every time on the second. I wonder if this phenomenon is anything to do with the request to "Enter your phone number now, or press 0 to enter your account number", given that all UK phone numbers begin with a 0. Which genius thought that one up? Was they system installed on April Fools day? Secondly, the service was terrible. And by terrible, I mean earth shatteringly, monumentally, nut crunchingly awful.

First call - the automated system put me through, and I got nothing but silence before the line went dead.

Not a good start then! Onto the second call, and it's answered by a man with a thick Indian accent. In fact, all four people I spoke too that night had accents so difficult to understand that I strained to hear what they were saying even as I held the phone to my ear not at full volume, but with its speakerphone turned on! It's rather unpopular to suggest that it's somehow wrong to have call center workers with Indian accents owing to ideas about racism... but Mr Branson, this isn't about racism. It seems likely to me that you've outsourced your tech support to another country, or maybe it was a complete coincidence, but regardless of that, it's not a good idea to staff your entire technical support team with people who's accents are difficult for your customers to understand. ESPECIALLY when those staff have no technical knowledge at all, are reading from a script, and consequently aren't actually listening to your problem and aren't willing to hear why what they are asking you to do is inconvenient, unnecessary, and wrong... but that last bit is a given with most companies, sadly.

In any case... my problem was that while using the same 802.11G wireless adapter, I had seen an absurd reduction in speed with no change of settings relative to the maximum speed I had previously obtained with the device. Your tech support agent informed me that they would only support Wireless N connections! - now, apart from this not being the specification of your company's product in any way shape or form, this was completely ignoring the nature of the query. Much disagreement was had before I spoke with his supervisor. When the supervisor insisted that we immediately reconfigure the computer were were working on to install a wireless adapter in order to achieve a network type we had no intention of using (partly because of the terrible "SuperHub"), we relented... reluctantly. After all, arguing with a brick wall and arguing with a know nothing ass who thinks he knows it all are much the same. When we attempted to reconfigure, it crashed the computer and we had to restart it... and after spending 30 pointless minutes on the phone, he wanted us to hang up and call back when it had rebooted! Well, we disagreed, and he stayed on the line a little while longer, until the moment where we told him that the laptop had just rebooted and we were logging in, when he hung up on us. Tell me, Mr. Branson; Does Virgin Media intentionally employ all the biggest rejects from customer service school, or is it just an unfortunate side effect of your bad employment choices? While I'm asking this question, could you please tell me if it's company policy to refer to customers with slightly deeper than average voices as Sir even when they've announced their selves as Miss?

Then we come to the second phone call... and the less said about this one the better as it was a truly painful experience lasting a whole 45 minutes! Suffice to say, no, I do NOT want to tell someone over the phone what password I am using. I DO use wireless networks other than my home one on my laptop, and I do NOT want them deleted (contrary to what your tech support staff seem to believe, Windows is designed to store these details. The clue is in the fact that windows stores them!). I DO want to keep the passwords I've saved in my browser, I DO want to use Chrome or Firefox, and I absolutely DO NOT want to use Internet Explorer! If Microsoft has had to relent and not lock people into Internet Explorer, then why should you! At least MS actually owns the browser and has a reason to want to do so! I think the worst thing, however, was that your agent on this call actually didn't know what NumLock was and had to ask for help. Where on earth do you find these people Mr. Branson? I know Silver Surfers who know more about the basic operation of a computer! For that matter, I know dead people who are more capable!

... And after all this fuss on the phone, your agent made a complete mess of the router settings which we then had to fix ourselves in order to be able to connect to the web at all! This isn't tech support. This is Virgin Media Tech support... which is apparently a service you can call to be ignored, insulted, offended, frustrated, and have your personal computer settings completely erased and/or messed up all at once. How's that working out for you, by the way? You seem to have perfected it at this point.

Finally, there's your product. Can you tell me please, Mr Branson, why you sell your product as being of such high quality when it is in fact terrible? It uses dynamic IP's by default, but you don't even offer customers a value added option of a static IP, or of multiple IP's. This is Fibre Optic - it's not hard for you to do, and it means that people would be able to make a full and proper use of their connections. Your included web space is very 1990's, especially when these days people can run their own webservers from home - but not on your service! It apparently doesn't matter if you want to run a game server, a personal web server, or indeed, simply to have access to your desktop remotely - you can't do any of these things with Virgin. Just what is the point of your "superfast" broadband if you can't make proper use of the speed and bandwidth available for common every day uses? I find myself wondering if the reason that you don't offer anything beyond the most basic of no-frills broadband services with added rubbish and bloatware is because you only want those broadband users with the lowest expectations from their internet. That way, your product, terrible customer service and incompetent tech support agents won't look like the prongless forks by the soupbowl they really are.

This was my mistake Mr. Branson - I joined Virgin. It seemed like we were going to get on so well, but while I felt clean and pure before the experience, I'm left feeling right royally rogered up the backside. I would sincerely hope that you can address these issues.

Sincerely, and with regret,
Krissie Pearse

Ref: Account Number 764091803