£20 million of Uma Thurman can’t make up for product problems

I posted last month on the launch of Virgin Media, the re-branded merger of NTL/Telewest (cable TV, fixed phone, broadband) and Virgin Mobile. I was hoping that the months spent on the business before the re-brand meant that the Virgin name were going to bring better service, not just a sexier brand name. This was a big job, as Virgin’s director of internal comms., James Weekley, had owned up that the cable company had a history of "crap service" and ”very tired people".

Well, the first month has proved to be bumpy to say the least. I wonder if the company’s management are looking as stressed and dishevelled as Uma Thurman does in the weird Virgin Media advert? (see below What is that dripping from her chin in the image on the right?!)

Only a week after the high-profile Valentine’s Day launch, backed by £20million of advertising, news broke that Sky were going to pull some of their key channels, including Sky One. So, nice adverts, but no more Lost and 24 for Virgin Media customers. This led to an expensive, public mud-fight between Sky and Virgin fought through advertising. This could have been great timing from Sky to scupper the competition. But wouldn’t Virgin have known this contract re-negotiation issue was coming up? If they did, why not sort it out before the re-launch, even if this meant a delay? Lack of killer programmes is one of the many reasons for the failure of easyCinema…they launched, then found out the Hollywood studios didn’t want their blockbusters being aired in a cut-price orange cinema.

Well, perhaps customers are ready to forgive Virgin on the programming issue, seeing them as taking on  the bully boys from Sky. But what they won’t forgive them for is crap service. And this is where it gets nasty. Rather than service improving, it seems for many customers service has got worst. Here are a couple of quotes from Moneysupermarket:

"I have been with NTL upon inception. They themselves were not up to scratch customer service wise, and it all seems to have gone pear shaped since buyout by Virgin."

"Virgin have the worst Customer Service I have ever come across, they do
not follow up on any complaints – if you telephone they cut you off or
say they will phone you back and don’t, if you write they do not reply,
they debit your account for a non exsisting service then refuse to
reimburse you. I will be cancelling ASAP, save youself the hassle and
try other providers."

And these negative comments are pretty representative. When I analysed all 43 ratings of Virgin Media’s customer service, this sorry picture emerged:

Now, I’m sure there’s a "demand was so big we’re experiencing some teething problems and hiringmore people" sort of excuse. But surely this could have been predicted? The Virgin brand does raise expectations of great service, and so initial interest was always going to be high. But why not invest some of that £20 million in people and training, and let satisfied customers be your advertising?

I’ll leave the last word to one blogger who summed up well the problems  so far of this "re-branding" story:

"Should I give them a chance before stamping on the re-brand? No, because it’s not a re-brand, it’s just a name change, and so that would be meaningless."

P.S. Look out for next Monday’s post on why Virgin is one of the worst (and best) examples of brand extension ever