El Torro

The Holiday

I was on holiday in Spain, watching the sun rise into a cloudless sky.

I had bought my lap top and my 3 pay as you go mobile dongle with me.  I even had the sense to put £20 credit on it before I left home.

I got up early to do some work.


I had a live internet connection, and a little warning flag.  It would cost me £1.24 per MB of data.

I made myself a cup of tea and read the paper.

I came back to find that my internet connection was no longer working, and, in very small print on my “3 connect” application there was a note that said “texts(3)

I read them, they said:

06:26:15 You have spent £ 5.24 on internet since 19/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobile1.three.co.uk/sdf/iao

06:34:00 You have spent £ 10.17 on internet since 19/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobile1.three.co.uk/sdf/iao

06:42:59 You have spent £ 15.20 on internet since 19/09/2011 You could save money with an internet add-on. Click here for info http://mobile1.three.co.uk/sdf/iao

The £20 text didn’t make it through, I guess receiving it cost me £1.  I couldn’t afford it.  It was stifled at birth.

The phone call

I phoned their call centre and explained to the agent that they had charged me £20 for 32 minutes.  He agreed it was “expensive”, (getting on for 1,000 times the going rate).  He then did what he could to defend the situation:

  • In 3’s defense they had told me it would cost £1.24 per MB of data.  (I know what a dozen eggs looks like, not so sure about 1MB)
  • In 3’s defense they did text me 3 times to warn me “in very small print” (unfortunately it was hidden behind my cash guzzling internet browser)
  • In 3’s defense it was their Spanish partner’s pricing policy, not 3‘s (clearly 3 have no buying power or accountability)

I asked how much the add on was, unfortunately he couldn’t sell me one, they are only valid for mobile phones.  The text they sent me was in error

The conversation did not go well.

Of course I may be being emotional

At least I had a pay as you go account, imagine the surprise of the contract bill after a fortnight’s holiday.

So what?

This post is not about service improvement.  I can’t help but think that 3’s system works exactly the way they wan’t it to.

I could harp on about the way that 3 charge their customers, I am not going to do that, I can always find a better mobile phone supplier

The thought I would like to leave you with is how did the call centre agent feel after he had taken my call?  Did he enjoy following the script, trying to justify the unjustifiable?

Feeding me a load of old torro?

What do you ask your staff to do?

3 Customer Service

Read another opinion

Image by Tomas Fano



  1. Hi James,
    Sorry to hear about your experience. Maybe your last question touches on why there is such a high turnover rate in call centre staff?


  2. James

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Call centres recruit to a very high standard. Really, they do. Certainly in the telecomms sector. Then they invest even more in ‘customer service’ skills training. I’d guess he said ‘no’ extremely politely.

    Suppose the agent had said ‘This is wrong, I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, I’ll credit you the cash.’

    You would still be a happy customer, possibly thinking even more highly of them even though they’d only done what could reasonably be expected. You wouldn’t be recommending GiffGaff instead (I agree with that recommendation, by the way, and they make it dead easy to port your number across). The lifetime value they derived from you would dwarf the small credit, and the word-of-mouth recommendations would be a bonus.

    But your point is well made. It’s not the call centre agent who’s to blame. It’s the person who made him feel that he would be punished for breaking the rules rather than rewarded for using his initiative (and retaining a customer). And another person who should hang their head in shame is the person who hasn’t corrected the incorrect information in the texts. Because I’d wager a lot of money they’re still wrong.

    Sadly it’s the norm rather than the exception.

  3. Hello James

    Maybe the day will come when there will be no human beings to talk to in the call centre because they will be replaced by machines that spew out the pre-programmed scripts.

    I remember that as part of some Kaizen training I was told that asking / making a human being do what a machine can do is not only a waste of valuable resource but also robs the human beings of their dignity. Put differently, you should use human beings only in situations where intelligence is required to figure out which response is the most appropriate. It seems to me that call centres recruit people to do machine tasks.

    How do the call centre agents feel? The turnover figures tell you all that you need to know! And of course you know that answer already!


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