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Virgin On The Ridiculous


Last week, Lynn Hawthorne took Richard Branson's side in the Virgin v Sky media war. Now she's been forced to think again.

Last week I wrote a piece about the dust-up between VirginMedia and Sky , with the loss of channels for cable TV customers. I was supportive of Virgin, applauding their stance and their refusal to be ripped off by Murdoch and his cronies (to read the article click here).

That was, however, before I discovered how much dosh that had saved Virgin (around £25 million) and before I received a letter from Virgin regarding changes to the cost of my telephone package. Now the gloves are off!

Apparently, the ‘phone line rental will stay the same. The monthly charge will be reduced by between £1.55 and £4.05 per month, dependent on package. So far, so good. But call charges are changing. This is what they say:

Instead of charging to the nearest second, calls will be rounded up to the nearest minute. So, for example, a call that lasts 4 minutes and 50 seconds will be rounded up to 5 minutes.”

So, presumably, calls that last 4 minutes and 1 second will also be rounded UP? I rang to check. I waited 25 minutes on the ‘Thinking of Leaving?' line before someone answered. I asked the question.

“Oh no, that's not right, “ said the operative. “When I was at school (a fatal statement to make to a teacher, let's face it!) you rounded down if it was below halfway and up if it was over halfway.”

“Mathematically, that's true, “ I replied. “But your letter states very clearly only ROUND UP.”

Muttering, he went off to check. Eventually, he returned and said, shamefaced (or so it sounded), “You're right. That's what it says and that's what they're going to do. But I've done training on this and this isn't what we were told…”

His voice trailed off and he floundered, because he obviously hadn't been trained on what to say if the customer points out, correctly, that your company is about to do something that isn't in your script.

Well, VirginMedia, this is a pretty pass, isn't it? So it's going to cost me even more to check up on the latest events in 24 by ringing a friend who has got Sky or checking on the Fox Network website. Marvellous!

Do I need to install a 24-style clock next to the ‘phone so that I can see the minutes and seconds ticking away and thus terminate my calls before they spill over into the next charging period? Do I stop speaking to people altogether and resort to environmentally-friendly carrier pigeon?

Come on, Mr. Branson, play the game. I've always respected you as an astute businessman who cares about customers and staff, but this is too much.

At least when Barclays Bank round up your debit transactions and put them into a savings account, you get your money back. What do I get from Virgin? Poorer choice at higher cost. Not what I signed up for, Mr. B.

Nor did I expect my hard-earned cash to be ‘invested' in sponsoring the next series of Big Brother. You used to be creative, Mr. Branson, with your record label putting out new, credible talent at the forefront of change. So why the nosedive now?

Remember your ethos, Richard. Listen to the customers. Seek their opinions. Be a leader in the field, not a follower. And put your money - no, our money - into something worthwhile.

Also on this subject, just click here to check out The Stirrer's column in last Thursday's Birmingham Mail; and add a comment on the Branson's telly Service thread in the Miscellaneous section of our messageboard.

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