The Virgin Letters

I am frustrated with the Canadian mobile phone industry. I would say “today” but this is an ongoing hate/hate relationship. I spent that last couple weeks dealing with Virgin Mobile Canada customer service for several issues (data overage charges, inability to upgrade my plan online, missing data service after signing my iPhone 4S up to a Blackberry plan, missing voice mail and call display features, and then random overcharging) unrelated to my current beef but today I was motivated to tweet:

…and collect them all in a Facebook post

…and then further collect my thoughts in a letter I wrote to their Managing Director:

My issue with Virgin Mobile Canada is that as a current customer (or member, as your company refers to me), I can’t pre-order an iPhone 5 online or over the phone. That may sound like a “first world problem” but you are offering these standard, modern convenience to new customers only (or “hook ups” as you refer to them). These are people you don’t know their name, address, phone number, email or credit card information. You already know all of these things about me, yet I have to physically go to your store (or in my case in Halifax, a lonely kiosk) and place a pre-order in person, leave the mall and then wait for an undisclosed amount of time as you ship the phone to my door. That seems like a pretty lousy advantage for being a member of your exclusive club. I’m not against the wait or shipping, I just think that I am an easy sale and should be treated with equal respect.

I hate to pile all my dissatisfaction on your shoulders, but I was disconnected three times by your customer service staff and given very little help besides being late for work and going to mall. The weird thing is that this is exactly why I left Rogers in 2010 after 10 long years of contracts. I decided to leave before my contract ended to get an iPhone 4, so I had to pay a premium to stop the crappy service and was excited at the options you offered. Now, it seems Super Tab is no longer and option and I am in the same position I was before. Rogers didn’t have pre-ordering then but I still felt that a new customer showing up in person during a delivery of phones was better off than me, as a contracted Rogers customer.

It is my observation that Canadian cell providers mostly expect contractual, committed long-term spending and continue to provide preferential service to new, fresh customers off the street. I would literally be able to pre-order a new product right now if I didn’t already spend hundreds of dollars for two different mobile plans (a Super Tab and a month-to-month) with you since 2010. I still question how you well you would end up treating these new customers (i’m not that jealous of a three-year contract), but in this instance I am at a disadvantage as a member. Even if I buy an unlocked phone, which I did with the iPhone 4S, the service plans are the same as the ones for people paying a subsidy. So, where does my subsidy go?

Long story short? It is 2012 and I don’t want to go to a mall kiosk across town (I think you only have one kiosk left) to pre-order a phone that you will end up mailing to my door. You should be conscious and aware about how narrow-minded and near-sighted this service is to your locked-in customers. There is no reason that we can’t at least be treated like a potential long-term revenue stream, beyond that years of your limiting, constrictive phone plans.

— Iain K. MacLeod

I’m shocked I didn’t post before about my previous dealings with Rogers, but I was about to welcome our second child into the world and was a bit busy. Basically, I was customer for many years and wanted to get the iPhone 4 and some sort of plan for my older 3G. Visiting in person got me little to no help or advice plus I was continually told I would just have to keep showing up to see if they get the iPhone 4 delivered. There was no pre-ordering and if a non-customer stopped by during a delivery period, they would get a phone before me. I thought that this was unacceptable and decided to switch to Virgin because they happen to have the phone I wanted in stock.

The problem I am having now is similar, but at least the carriers have figured out that pre-ordering is an option. The problem boils down to taking their customers for granted. Here is what Virgin has to say for themselves:

…and through e-mail:

Thanks for the note and I apologize for the inconvenience. The
unfortunate reality is that our online systems cannot facilitate upgrades.
We are woking on provisioning this but it’s a complicated build.
Our kiosk in Halifax or our store in Dartmouth will be able to facilitate
your upgrade if eligible.

Andrew Bridge
Managing Director
Virgin Mobile Canada

This is intentional…in the sense that current customers are not as much a priority as getting new customers. It is insulting to read these responses, blaming it on some sort of crazy technical problem. A temporary fix would involve using a pencil and a piece of paper.

The real problem I am faced with is that there isn’t much choice. Our government is propping up an oligopoly and there is no evidence that the major players are competing with each other. Rogers seems better equipped to pre-order now (my issues were pre-pre-ordering), but just try using their phones outside of Halifax or dealing with their staff.

The other idiotic thing is that even if you decide to buy an unlocked phone instead of getting a cheaper “subsidized” phone from a carrier by committing to a 3 year contract, you will end up paying about the same amount per month for service. You will have the freedom to change carriers, but what is the point if Rogers, Fido, Bell Mobile, Telus, Koodoo, and Virgin aren’t looking for anything more substantial outside of a “hook-up”?

Update: Sounds liks a similar story over at Bell:

Looks like existing Bell customer are unable to pre-order the iPhone 5 through their website at this moment. We’ve received word from a Bell customer via twitter that only new customers can order the iPhone 5 online, while existing Bell customers need to call their helpline or visit in-store to pre-order an iPhone 5.

Bell iPhone 5 Online Pre-Orders Are Now Live | iPhone in Canada

Update 2: I took a screen shot of the offer made by Virgin Mobile Canada on Facebook. I am just realizing that there is another problem with this. Only the middle ($279.99 32G) and high-end ($379.99 64GB) version of the iPhone 5 is being offered to customers (aka “members”) while new customers have the entry-level iPhone 5 ($179.99 16GB) as an option. These prices assume 3 more years of contracted service from Virgin Mobile Canada, where I can only assume they will be working overtime on incentives for new people to sign-up instead of taking care of there current customer base that actually fell for Virgin’s friendly yet deceitful marketing.

Membership has its disprivileges. MT @virginmobilecanada: It's not preferential treatment.

Update 3: This was mentioned in iPhone in Canada. I have also contacted Apple, the Better Business Bureau and The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) with my story.

Update 4: Better Business Bureau isn’t interested because it looks like they “already made a reasonable effort to resolve this matter.” …if you think me paying out the remainder of my SuperTab/Contract and becoming a Telus customer is reasonable.

Update 5: The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) reviewed my complaint about not giving existing customers the same treatment and they said “It is our assessment that the subject-matter of your complaint relates to general operating practice(s)/policy matters. Further to Section 4.3 of our Procedural Code, CCTS is not able to issue Recommendations and Decisions that directs or requires a service provider to change their operating practices and policies.” Well, that is too bad. I guess my only options are to stay with Virgin Mobile Canada and hope they change by signing up for a 3 year contract (or buying an unlocked phone from Apple) or moving to another carrier. Hmmm, I guess this is goodbye, Virgin. Sorry if I was too demanding.

Update 6: It’s official. My two numbers/accounts were ported yesterday, thanks to a business rep with GBS Communications that handles Telus service in my area. Cheaper and more flexible monthly plans, brand new hardware and sensible subsidy model. With Virgin Mobile Canada’s Super Tab, I still owe over $300 for an iPhone 4 purchased in 2010.


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Boost Ventilator

Creator and applier of words, pictures, and videos since logging onto CompuServe in 1993. Natural collaborator and BS detector.