One of the things I love most about Social Media is that it gives everyday folk a voice that can be heard by even the largest brands – as cable TV giant Virgin Media discovered this week.
Facebook user Jim Boyden took to Facebook to write an open letter to Virgin Media after the firm “fined” his recently deceased Father-in-Law for not paying his bill.
If this wasn’t bad enough, Virgin Media even applied an additional “Late Payment Charge” after acknowledging the bill payer was indeed deceased on the same bill and after being informed of the same by Mr Boydens wife.
Clearly frustrated with Virgin Media and their handling of the situation, Mr Boyden turned to Social Media to voice his “bitter disappointment”.
Corporations Need to Bring Back the Personal Touch
Firstly, Mr Boyden acknowledges that the bills and “fines” are: “probably automatically generated by machine and unchecked by any caring human heart.” However, it still surprises me that Virgin Media do not have controls in place to prevent such situations.
Second, given the potential vital nature of Social Media, brands such as Virgin Media should be prepared to deal with complaints online much more efficiently. At the time of writing there are a number of posts on the Virgin Facebook Page claiming Jim Boydens complaint was removed and a number of Virgin Media customers have vented their disgust as a result of seeing the viral post. Whilst Virgin may well have resolved the original complaint (it is not currently clear if this is the case or not) the ongoing vital nature of the post along with customers and potential customers being very vocal about its contents, damage is still being done.
Before the age of Social Media, firms could perhaps get away with upsetting individual clients but as this example shows, in the age of Social Media, a single badly handled situation can gather pace quickly and have significant affect if it goes viral.
Virgin may very well have removed Mr Boydens post from their Facebook Wall but thanks to Social Media it has become permanently documented in Internet history thanks to the 65,000 people that shared one Virgin Media customers complaint. This should serve as a warning to companies of all sizes.
Many companies heavily use Social Mediato engage with customers online and to promote their products. However, without strategies in place to deal with situations such as these, there is a real risk viral complaints could become more frequent.
UPDATE: This post has been up now for well over 6 months and in that time it’s received a significant amount of visits from all over the UK, most notably from those searching for the Virgin Media complaints department. What I find interesting here is that not only did Virgin attract an awful lot of flak via Social Media because of the virality of Jim Boydens post at the time but also, thanks to the Internet and Google, blogs such as this documenting the event will prolong the exposure indefinitely especially as firms such as ours, search engine optimise content to achieve high rankings in Google.
Jim Boydens Viral Facebook Post:
Dear Virgin Media,
I’m really sorry for my Father in Law not paying his bill last month, but what with him being dead and all, it’s probably slipped his mind. Some people, eh?
You, however, are to be publicly commended for swooping in with all the sensitivity of a charging rhino and instantly fining him an extra ten pounds for having the unheard of nerve to be dead and therefore being unable to pay you (some people really have no idea of priorities do they? It’s your profit first, THEN anything else. The cheek!).
You also win extra points for noticing his bank had returned his Direct Debit informing you he had passed away, THEN still slapping on a fine anyway. That’s a special kind of meanness right there. Oh, and despite my wife telling you our sad news as well. I am intrigued – how exactly did you imagine him paying this extra fine from beyond the grave?
You also deserve a further honorable mention for promptly sending us next months bill as well. I’m simply not paying it, as ever since passing away, I have noticed a sharp decrease in the amount of television my Father in Law has been watching. I simply cannot think why that would be.
I might pay it if you can prove to me he’s been watching any of your channels in heaven, but given that British Sky Broadcasting is beamed in directly from the clouds I think he’s much more likely to be enjoying that. Your infernal cable pipes seem only to come up from the ground (same location as Hell – spooky coincidence) where I imagine your train people in the art of customer service.
I am bitterly disappointed in your attitude, probably automatically generated by machine and unchecked by any caring human heart. The only saving grace is that my Father in Law had an excellent sense of humour and is probably laughing his arse off about this as we type, giving you the Vs, waving ten pound notes around, planning to haunt you and enjoying the content of Sky TV.
Update: Virgin Media apologise to the family:
“We obviously apologise for the bill and have spoken to Mr Boyden to bring this account to a close more sensitively,”