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£0.00

It’s staggering to think that a mobile phone company blocked calls, texts and data because a customer’s account was overdue by £0.00, but that’s exactly what happened.

Computers are brilliant, I don’t need to go into everything they’re capable of because it’s common knowledge. They’re fantastic tools, but they’re only as good as three people:
* the person who built it
* the person who programmed it; and
* the person who uses it.

Most of the time in your personal life it will be the latter. We shake our heads aghast at the person who turns their screen round so the computer can ‘see’ the printer, in the ignorant hope that the error message well go away.  The person who wants to know why the printer doesn’t work when it’s ran out of toner or ink.  The person with a wireless mouse who presses the buttons harder when the batteries are dying.  The fact is that if you’ve used a computer, you’ve almost certainly fallen victim to this sort of thing.  I know I have.

EE Blocked 0.00

Screenshot of my account. Only altered to remove account and phone number.

In business though, it can be embarrassing to the company when something goes wrong. If, say, a company automated the system which blocks an overdue account then you’d expect a bit of logic, such as if the account is at least a full penny overdue then block it. You’d not expect a block activating due to an overdue balance of £0.00. Unfortunately EE did just that.

I’ve only just had it lifted after EE charged me for hidden charges they promised wouldn’t exist, but here we are again.  I’m confident that it’s a value like a quarter of a penny or something like that, but it doesn’t excuse the action of blocking calls and texts. It really concerns me that this sort of thing can happen.

I rely on my phone as a panic button.  If something happens, I need to know I can rely on my phone to do what it’s designed to do – get in touch with people.  After EE’s last let down I opted for a secondary panic button system. It’s been a bit of a wake up call.  We all assume we can depend on companies providing communications services, and not just because of a disability, but because of security.  Confidence that we can reach our kids, elderly family members and people we care about. In order to preserve that, companies need to know when they’ve made a mistake.  If we don’t tell companies they’ve let us down then they won’t know they need to change.  It looks like I need to call EE. Again.

@EE – how not to do it

I’ve been with Orange since January 1996.  When you’ve been with a company that long you expect a certain amount of hiccups.  Nobody’s perfect, and where there’s humans, there’s human error.  Unfortunately, since 1996 Orange has changed hands a few times and each time the level of customer service has deteriorated.  None more so than when EE took over.

May 2013 was a frustrating time.  I’d been forced on to a 24 month contract because Orange no longer recognised their own contracts.  I started the month on Everyday 50, a 12 month contract charging 50p per day for 50 minutes of talk time.  Add to that £5 a month for 500MB of 3G data and it covered everything I needed.

The trouble came when I tried to upgrade.  Orange had become EE and with it brought new software.  Unfortunately, the programmers didn’t think to incorporate all active tariffs, (presumably only the ones available to buy at the time).  As a result, EE refused to let me upgrade and keep the talk plan.  They grossly miscalculated ‘a customer’s value’ because I was on a daily tariff, not monthly.  This was stupidity worthy of Vodafone.

It was only when I asked for a PAC (necessary to port my number elsewhere) that EE sat up and took notice.  I was offered a 24 month contract with extra talk time and data thrown in.  I took down the details and went away to consider my options.

When I called back, I’d expected notes on my account outlining the offer.  After several calls I’d found:

  • Some people couldn’t find the notes, or the person I’d spoken to (including a team manager at North Tyneside call centre who suggested if I didn’t take her basic package I should go).
  • Others could find the person, but not the notes.
  • Some found the person and the notes, but couldn’t find the gratuitous extra minutes/data.
  • Some found the person, the notes and the extra minutes and data, but couldn’t activate them.
  • One person found the person, the notes, extra minutes and data but could only activate part of it.

Ultimately, the person who offered me the package got back to me and activated it.  He really was very helpful, and checked everything over before submitting.

I have fallen victim to too many of Orange’s little mistakes over the years.  I was adamant it wasn’t to be the case this time.  I asked if there were any additional charges, hidden charges or anything else.  There would be none.  The line rental was all I’d pay unless I used more minutes or data than in the bundles.
But, thats just not true.

The trouble is, EE (a company I now lovingly refer to as Exceptional Extortionists) failed to mention that I’d be charged for delivery receipts on texts, for calls to freephone numbers (ironically, they’re not free or even included in your monthly minutes) and worst of all, a fine of £3.58 every month for not giving EE control of my bank account via Direct Debit!
None of the above were mentioned.  I even received the wrong phone.

When this was queried, an apology was made, a refund for the Direct Debit payment was applied to the account and I was told she would make sure I wouldn’t get any more, but only for the duration of the contract.  Once the contract is up, the fine will apply.  It turns out the fine has applied ever since.

When I called, I discovered the question of whether EE see you as a valued customer or the means of making money, was answered.  It turns out you can pay EE to jump their queue!  Your call isn’t important to them; your money is!
Although I was repeatedly told “the credit to the account wouldn’t be coming from his pocket”, he didn’t actually credit the account.  He promised the bar on the account would be lifted within 20 minutes, and hurriedly explained it was the end of his shift and had to go! 35 minutes later he called back to explain the buck was to be passed back to the woman who had credited the account and who’d promised I wouldn’t get charged for the remainder of the contract.  The phone call I was promised at 14:00 the following day didn’t happen.  When the buck was passed I’d expected a call back the following day, not to have to wait days for their member of staff to wander back in.

While the bar was into its fifth day I called EE – I’d waited long enough for them to call me.  [I hadn’t told EE but this phone is part of a ‘panic button’ system due to a disability so having it barred has the potential to impact on us a fair bit.]  After having to repeat everything only four times I managed to speak to someone who took on board my complaint.  He apologised, credited the account for what I was incorrectly charged and is sending a letter of apology.  I’m £12-odd in credit.  I suppose that’s what happens when you keep rounding up your bills to the nearest whole pound.

I thought that would be everything sorted, but the bar was still in force.  I called EE on the sixth day to query why it hadn’t been removed overnight.  No reason could be found.  I chalked this one down to either an interruption before it could be done, a technical failure or it was simply overlooked.  What really annoyed me is after explaining everything I’d gone through, the excessively cheery woman told me to “be careful not to go past my (allotted) minutes in future” [something I’ve never once done with this contract] and to “be sure to promote EE to all my friends” and to “tell everyone how good they are”.

So, I’m going to do exactly that.

EE are good at:

  • Making promises they can’t keep
  • Repeatedly letting customers down
  • Giving incorrect information
  • Not advising customers when promises can’t be kept
  • Poorly composing a brief for software developers (active tariffs)
  • Badly training their staff
  • Valuing everything above their customers
  • Ignoring what a customer tells them
  • Self promoting

and they excel at being unable to make calls to customers, and keeping those customers up to date with relevant information.

Why is it communications companies are unable to communicate?