Virgin Media show how to create a word-of-mouth campaign *against* your brand.

Note: This post might be a little dated. It was published in April 2007.

Word of mouth happens when customers become really passionate about your product or brand. The thing about passion is that is has two ends: very happy, and very angry. Here’s the story of my last two points of contact with Virgin Media customer services.

Story 1:

My landline telephone service was being very dodgy, about once or twice a week I’d find the line was completely dead, and then suddenly it would fix itself. Eventually it started annoying me so much that I called customer services. The conversation went something like this:

“My telephone service keeps breaking intermittently. Right now its broken, can you send someone out to take a look at it?”

“Yes sir. […] We can send an engineer between 9-12, 12-3 or 3-6”

“3 hour slots? So I have to take half a day off work? I guess I don’t have any choice so…”

(we arrange the appointment)

“The service is free, but I have to warn you, if the engineer finds nothing wrong, you will be charged” (the amount was something like £20-£30)

“What? But the problem is intermittent, one day it’s broken, the next day, it’s fixed! Surely you can waive the charge in this situation?”

“I’m sorry sir. Do you want the engineer or not?”

“What do you suggest I do?”

“That is up to you sir?”

“Argh!”


Story 2:

Recently Virgin media TV lost their Sky Channels – Sky One, Sky Two, Sky three, and Sky news. Sky One is a pretty damn good channel – they show new episodes of Simpsons, 24, Lost, and all of that kind of thing. This channel was the main reason I signed up to Virgin media, so I’m stuck with a TV service that now isn’t the one I signed up to.

So I called Virgin, asking to have a discount on my package. I wasn’t expecting much, just a few pounds off a month. The conversation went something like this.

“I’m really upset about the loss of Sky One and the other Sky channels. I am now paying £40 a month for a service that I didn’t sign up to. Can you reduce the cost of my bill?”

“No. We can give you a good deal on a bigger package if you extend your contract by another 12 months though”

“But I live in a rented flat that I might move out of in 7 months. What happens if I move to an area not serviced by Virgin? Will you allow me to end the contract without charging me?” (Virgin is a cable TV service)

“No. You can pay it off early, but you will have to pay the full amount for the remaining months of your contract”

“Hmm, that’s not fair. This leaves me in a difficult position. Since Virgin aren’t giving me the channels I signed up for, it seems I have to terminate my contract now.”

“Yes, I can do that for you today sir.”

“Great!”

“But, you will need to pay upfront for all the remaining months of your contract.”

“No, I don’t think you understand, I am going to stop paying because Virgin have violated the contract. You aren’t giving me the channels I am paying you for.”

“I can offer you a good deal if you extend your contract by another 12 months sir”

“argh!”

So at the expense of a few pounds a month, Virgin Media have engineered a situation where some of their customers start to seriously dislike them, and start trying to spread the word as widely as they can. There’s a lot of talk these days about creating passionate customers, who spread the message via “word of mouth”. This is exactly what they’ve managed to do here. In exactly the wrong way.

Virgin don’t have an easy task, since they offer such a huge range of services (TV, Broadband, landline telephones, mobile telephones, Gyms, air travel, and so on). Upset a customer at one of their touch points, and risk damaging their reputation for all of them.

> Read various rants from upset Virgin Media customers

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