How Vodafone’s Overseas Call Centre Lost Them a Customer

Yesterday Boy had another football party to go to. My wife tried to send a text to birthday boy’s mum an hour or so before it started and it bounced back which we found slightly odd. She tried to call, using the mobile rather than the landline and the connection dropped. She thought she’d seen that she had signal and so tried the text again a few minutes later. Again it didn’t work. Again it looked like she had signal. Since she was about to go out to the party she suddenly became worried something was up with her phone or our joint contract and asked me to go and get my phone which was charging. I got it and found that I too had signal bars showing but was unable to call anyone. Half an hour before she was due to take Boy to the party she thought she would call Vodafone and find out what was up. Our assumption was some sort of general service issue but it was worth checking that they had received the payments I knew I’d been making.

We keyed the call centre number on their website from the landline. At the start of this process you have to key your mobile number in. Then you go through a series of interminable option selecting moments until, 5 minutes later, you get to speak to a human. It turns out this isn’t actually an improvement.

The first thing my wife was asked was what her mobile number was. Why an earth had she had to key it in at the start of the process? This sort of thing is an early indicator that you are not talking to someone in the UK and indeed she wasn’t. She’d got through to Egypt. And Egypt did not want to talk to her. Since I was the main number on the account they would only talk to me unless she gave them a password which neither of us could remember because, up to then, we’d not needed to both speak to them. This is actually good practice and necessary to comply with the Data Protection Act (DPA) but it’s a might frustrating with time ticking down till party time, when a number (my wife’s) has already been entered in to the automated system.

So I took over the call. I have written about racism in the past so I hope you don’t think I’m out of order when I say that if I am phoning from England to an English company I expect to have someone on the end of the phone who can speak slowly and clearly in English. This girl couldn’t. I had to ask her to repeat almost everything she said. At this point it became obvious she was reading from a script and had no actual idea about phones. First question:

Her: Is the problem just in your postcode?

Me: How should I know? I haven’t left my postcode all day.

Her: Errrr. Ummmm

Then she asked what phones we had. So hang on. You know the DPA password for our account but not what phones we have. Really? How hard is that to put on a basic account information screen? So I started with my iPhone 4S. She then told me she was going to reset the battery. Reset the battery? What the actual fark is that for? No-one will ever know however because the two instructions she gave me to do this were the instructions to a) turn the phone off and b) take a screen grab, two things I do a few times a week. Having pointed this out to her she then changed tack completely and asked me to do a search for all providers in my settings. This seemed to mash the phone completely, probably another indicator of a local signal issue, but reporting this to her elicited surprise followed by silence.

At this point I noticed both my children. Child one was bashing the TV remote and child two was trying to eat the resulting battery removal. Shamefully I lost it with them instead of asking reasonably to put it down / take it out. The only mitigating circumstances in my defence were that I was now completely frustrated and there were now less than 5 minutes left till the Boy had to leave for the party. While my wife placated the children I decided to cut in to the script reading idiocy.

Me: Is our account paid up to date?

Her: Yes

Me: Had you checked that already?

Her: No

(I stifle a scream)

Me: Are there any signal problems?

Her: No

(I stifle another scream. Despite the appearance of signal bars on the phone there clearly are, something we proved later).

At this point my wife asked me to apologise to the children and took over the call. The password thing was forgotten at the other end. My wife asked to speak to a supervisor and was told it was not possible. Ok then she said, she had to go out now so could someone call us back after 6.30 (the call centre is open till 8pm, it says so on their website). No, she was told, it would take up to 48 hours for a manager to call us back.


After another request to please have a manager or supervisor call us back after 6.30 when Baby would be in bed and Boy in the bath or in bed we terminated the call with the Boy now in tears and 5 minutes late for his party, and the issue unresolved.

Boy went to the party with his mum. I left a couple of very unhappy tweets then played with Baby. At 4.30 I got a call from my wife’s mobile. The issue was clearly short term or related to our location since she was able to call from a mile away so I thought I would test this out my end. The screen shots below show the phone with full signal in the garden (where my wireless drops) and inside (where I get wireless). The second shot shows that even though I had full signal I still couldn’t make calls. However I no longer cared. My wife was safe with a phone, I could use the landline and I was happily playing with Baby.

5.27pm a manager from the Egyptian call centre called me back on the landline. I was home alonewith a toddler and therefore he got a flea in his ear. I told him we had asked to be called back after 6.30 which this was not. He said this was impossible as his office shut at 5.30 (remember their site says the lines are open till 8 – also it was precisely 3 minutes before his office closed and the previous call had taken nearly half an hour). No-one called us back after 6.30. As I write the problem still persists.

I don’t want ‘isn’t this terrible’ comments because, on the grand scale of things, it isn’t. My mobile phone won’t make calls from my home but that’s OK because I have a home phone. I lost it with my children as a result of the frustration caused by their call centre but that’s my problem, my parenting failure. Still, it just shows that half an hour with an Egyptian call centre is more frustrating than an entire day of screeching and toy throwing and covertly hiding plastic things in the oven.

No, here’s the point. I will not be renewing my contract with Vodafone. In fact I will be seeking advice on how I can get out of the current one. Their ‘great’ business idea – outsource the call centre to overseas to save money – has lost them the business. Not because the operative was foreign but because she was completely unable to do her job. The one person who should have been able to help was only able to flounder hopelessly, read off a script, not check the bleeding obvious, not have all our account information to hand and not able to communicate effectively in the language of the person calling her.

This country is currently, arguably in double dip recession. There is an unemployment problem and it is at its most acute in the 18-24 age group. Both my wife and I “made our bones” in call centres. It is pretty shite work. Regimented hours, unreasonable targets, odd shifts, angry customers. Yet it is exactly this that sets you up for the world of work, that gives you knowledge and yet incentivises you to get the heck out for something better. I cannot believe that in the current climate there aren’t people in the UK crying out for call centre jobs. They certainly couldn’t do a worse jobs than the ones currently being employed to do it.

Bye bye Vodafone.


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