Friday, May 23, 2008

Another case of billshock

Billshock is an oft-used term in mobile circles to describe what happens when you use data services without having any kind of data plan in place and you suddenly get stung for a bill of, what can be, hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.

I've had billshock in the past and it wasn't pleasant. But it wasn't extreme as the case Ian Delaney is currently experiencing.

In short, he was sold an upgrade by one of Carphone Warehouse's telesales team and sent a swanky new Nokia N95 on trial for 14 days. In getting the upgrade, Ian also committed to a monthly data plan. Ian uses the phone to its full effect and tried out lots of lovely new data services. And was enjoying what the mobile internet had to offer.

What he wasn't counting on was having his service cut off very suddenly when trying to make a call and to be told that the reason was that he had a bill of around £500 to pay. On investigation, it seems that the data plan wasn't immediately effective and so billshock ensued, to the tune of £500 or so.

Ian has been trying, so far in vain, to get this sorted out. And he describes, in some detail, the hoops he's had to jump through. I think he's justified in getting annoyed about this because as far as he was concerned, he had an unlimited data plan and no-one told him any different. Of course, navigating the customer services people at Carphone Warehouse is proving very tricky as you'll see from his blog post.

I don't condone what Carphone Warehouse and O2 is doing. They're both at fault.

1. There is no point sending out a fancy new phone with a new contract in place but not have that contract actually in place for another two weeks. That's just daft.

2. O2 should not be allowing its customers to run up such uncharacteristically high bills for data usage. Why not send a courtesy text message or phone call to alert the customer as to what's going on? It's not that hard to do is it? It's common courtesy.

3. Carphone Warehouse should take responsibility for this and apologise to Ian and find a way to cancel the debt owed and start afresh. I'm guessing that it's actually O2's billing system that's at fault and that it's just not that easy to write off a debt of this nature. The reason pre-pay has been so popular in the UK is that, historically, it was harder to get a mobile phone contract than a credit card so it was just simpler to go to your local supermarket, Superdrug or phone shop and get a phone off the shelf without worrying about credit checks and onerous contracts.

4. Customer service is hard to manage when you have no control about the kinds of decisions you're allowed to make to keep the customer happy and to do the right thing. I've been a retail manager and I know what it's like to be dictated to as to what you could and couldn't do to make things right when they sometimes go wrong. You get a lot of responsibility but no control or autonomy. And that's very stressful. There are so many processes and checks to follow that it becomes very long-winded and almost impossible to manage.

Ultimately, both O2 and Carphone Warehouse need to sort this out. And not just Ian's individual case, but the whole issue around billshock and data charges. To still be suffering this nonsense in 2008 when we've had mobile data services for several years now is just plain daft and it's hampering growth in the mobile data sector.

I wonder when Ofcom will do something about this?