Media Shreds Vodafone UK Billing Screw Ups

I have been busy and distracted the last few months. When I was not planning for the RAG Summer Conference I was coping with other world-shattering events like Brexit, the end of Western civilization, and getting another of my short stories published. I have been so busy that the zombie apocalypse may have come and gone but all I would have noticed is the slightly slower shuffle of commuters on the days I traveled into London. So I missed some of the terrible publicity that Vodafone UK received as a result of their endless billing errors and complaints. And when I use the word “some”, I actually mean “a lot” because there was so much bad press. For everybody else who missed it, here is what happens to your telco’s reputation when you keep charging people the wrong amount for their service.

MoneySavingExpert.com

Britain’s most popular website for consumer affairs and money saving tips presented a stark message to the 15 million people who visit their site each month. This was how they opened their post about Vodafone’s woes:

Vodafone warning: Check for bill errors and more

If you’re a Vodafone customer, check your bill NOW. Since it moved to a new billing platform last year, 1,000s have reported problems, including direct debits incorrectly set up, people being put on the wrong tariff and poor customer service.

They then provided an alarming step-by-step explanation of how customers should protect themselves from being overbilled. Based on the forum they set up for unhappy Vodafone customers, they identified the following “common problems”:

  • Customers being put on a different tariff to the one they’d asked for.
  • Direct debits being incorrectly set up, with customers then chased for late payment.
  • Customers being double or even triple-charged.
  • Payments being taken even after a customer’s cancelled.
  • Credit agencies wrongly being told customers have missed payments.

Unlike the rest of the media, they also hint at the failure of the UK’s regulator, Ofcom.

Despite identifying certain billing issues, in February Ofcom wrapped up [the first] part of [its] investigation and decided not to take any further action. It concluded Vodafone had established processes to actively monitor and fix problems, and that the “level of harm actually incurred by customers appears to have been relatively low” given Vodafone has been “amending subsequent bills and the monetary value being taken from the customer’s account”.

Bear in mind this assessment is only based on the cases Ofcom knows about, and there may be others who have problems which haven’t yet been reported. That’s why we’re urging Vodafone customers to check their bills and statements, as the sheer scale of unsolicited feedback we’re getting suggests many are still experiencing problems.

BBC News website

Mobile phone giant Vodafone has made hundreds of changes to its computer systems following a flood of complaints about bills.

This relatively mild piece shows a graph that compares the level of complaints generated by Vodafone to the average for UK telcos, and it recounts the stories of various mistreated customers. You can read it here.

The Guardian newspaper

On 8th June the Guardian ran a damning article with the following headline:

Vodafone customers warned to check bills after widespread complaints

The Observer newspaper

The Sunday sister paper to the Guardian went even further than their sibling, writing on 27th June:

Vodafone billing chaos leaves mobile users disconnected and out of pocket

The article provides many interviews with dissatisfied customers, some of whom were photographed for the piece. They also dug up another telling indication of the frequency and impact of Vodafone’s mistakes:

Ombudsman Services says it has received 6,429 complaints about Vodafone in the five months to May, nearly half of them about billing errors. Among the complainants are those who are unable to secure mortgages or loans because billing mistakes have compromised their credit record.

Moneyexpert.com

This popular website for consumers focused on the facts in their piece.

Complaints began flooding in to Ofcom after Vodafone migrated its online billing system onto the same computer system as all of its other digital services…

Mobile Today website

When Ofcom published statistics for complaints from postpaid mobile subscribers, this business-oriented website responded with a headline that said it all:

Vodafone tops Ofcom’s customer complaints…again

The article gave Vodafone an opportunity to defend their performance:

Vodafone pledged to do more to improve the service. A network spokesperson said: ‘We apologise to any customer who has had an issue with our service, we will do better. Since the beginning of the year we have made significant investments in additional call centre resources and have implemented numerous specific improvements to our systems with the objective of improving the customer experience overall.

‘This has led to a reduction of more than 80% in the number of extra calls into our consumer care estate while the number of customers ringing us specifically to ask for their bill to be recalculated has fallen by 90% since November last year. We continue to work hard and invest significantly to further improve our customers’ experience and we are starting to see the early benefits of the significant efforts we are making, with this report showing a 10% quarter on quarter fall in complaints to Ofcom and our own data showing that trend continuing.

It is worth observing that the recent 10 percent fall in complaints from Vodafone customers is greater than the number of complaints made by the customers of rivals O2, Three and Tesco Mobile during each of the last eight quarters.

BBC Radio 4, Money Box

Vodafone faces the prospect of a heavy fine… Money Box has been speaking to some disgruntled customers…

That was how the Money Box radio program introduced the topic of Vodafone’s failures; they then shared clips of Vodafone customers talking about how their issues had been “ignored” by the telco. You can listen to the program here; the relevant portion starts at 11 minutes and 49 seconds into the show.

As I have noted before, the failure of one telco causes damage to all of them. The BBC invited some know-nothing blogger/pundit on to the show, and she opened with the following generalization:

The telecoms industry is appalling at their own communications.

Later she asserted:

They’re all as bad as each other.

So if you work for a UK telco and feel your customers are giving you an unnecessarily hard time, you know who to blame…

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is a recognized expert on communications risk and assurance. He was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and others.   Eric was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He was a founding member of Qatar's National Committee for Internet Safety and the first leader of the TM Forum's Enterprise Risk Management team. Eric currently sits on the committee of the Risk & Assurance Group, and is an editorial advisor to Black Swan. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.   Commsrisk is edited by Eric. Look here for more about Eric's history as editor.
  • martyn Jones

    Having worked at Vodafone and dealt with the Pre-Pay migration onto an Oracle billing platform from an RA perspective, seeing the continued complaints for 4 consecutive quarters is shocking to say the least. The ongoing resolution will not have helped the customers that have already been impacted, although the volume and time period with ongoing complaints is striking. Advising customers to check their bills is a key point, although there are instances when customers may have been billed incorrectly although the value may not be large enough to recognise and on a large scale this could be a significant amount. Based on the ongoing complaint volumes I would expect OFCOM to take appropriate action / financial penalty to illustrate the importance of accurate customer billing and that Vodafone demonstrate this is main focus.