“Orange wants to give you excellent customer service,” says the recorded message.
That’s nice. I’d like to either get a replacement for my not-quite-a-year-old Sony Ericsson K600, on which the backspace and # keys have stopped working (the latter means I can’t pick up voicemail on the phone; the former that I can’t correct any error in a text message or phone number I enter, so have to either start again or continue - in a text - with the error).
Orange. How joined up is it? I call the operator on 100. “Call 152,” he says. I call 152. “This number has been discontinued. Please call 150,” says the recorded voice. Yes, that is slightly typical: left hand, meet right hand.
On 150, there’s the option to compla.. I mean, find out about your mobile or your broadband. Avoiding that latter pit of pain, I poke various numbers until I get through to someone who tells me my contract, nearly a year old, has another 6 months to go.
Curse these 18-month contracts; Orange has joined those companies that are at war with their customers, as Simon Caulkin - for my money the most perceptive writer about how management keeps failing to listen to its own good practice - points out.
The first person I speak to at Orange on 150 says that they’ll need my IMEI number so they can proceed, because they need to know it’s the same phone that’s on the contract (OK, makes sense) and then it can all be worked out. However, getting the IMEI, which unsurprisingly (because it’s the least-useful number in the universe until your phone gets stolen) I don’t know off by heart requires taking the battery out which means that I have to end the call.
OK, that’s slightly annoying, if understandable - just about - from both points of view. The woman tells me how to navigate through the menu to get quickly to the people who’ll do the phone replacement. (It’s 1,3,2,2 if you’re interested.)
So I end the call, dismantle the phone, get the IMEI, phone 150, 1,3,2,2. The person there says that they can give me a fault code, and then I can get in touch with Sony Ericsson and see if they’ll replace it, since it’s inside the year.
Er, no, it’s inside the year, so you can send me a replacement, and you can have the wrangle with Sony Ericsson, I say. Sale of Goods Act.
No, he says, for the first six months it’s our problem, and then it’s between you and the manufacturer. Sale of Goods Act. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Ridiculous, I say. If I bought a DVD from Dixons and it went wrong after 11 months would Dixons be telling me to take it up with Toshiba or whoever? Of course not.
Orange man won’t be swayed. He can give me a fault code number and I can get in touch with Sony Ericsson. Which of course I’m really eager to do. Not.
The trouble is that I don’t at the time I’m having the conversation I’m not utterly certain of the SOGA, but I’m sure I recall plenty of letters in Guardian Money on precisely this sort of topic.
“Look, I’ve been a customer for a long time with you, and this could be a dealbreaker here,” I say. He won’t budge. “I’ll call your contract cancellation people in the morning,” I say. And at the same time, I realise: it doesn’t mean anything to them. They don’t care how long I’ve been with them; that’s all money in the past to them. They’ve spent it. All that matters is whether I’m signed up now.
Loyalty? Doesn’t exist for them. Now, maybe they wouldn’t make back the cost of the phone (about £249 at retail, no doubt a lot less at wholesale) in the next six months. But they could be sure - or have more confidence - that I’d think they did offer excellent customer service, which you’ll recall is where we came in.
Instead, I’m now looking at how costly it’ll be to buy myself out of this contract and get an all-the-net-you-can-eat phone from 3..
Update Weds 2130: done in the interests of full disclosure. Orange’s press office got in touch. Apparently what I was told on the phone was correct; but they are going to send me a replacement phone that they happen to have lying about the office. Well, OK. Gift horses, mouths, that sort of thing. I hate to be playing the journalist card (hmm, I would have linked to a Wikipedia article on it - looks like I’ll have to create it myself). But the comments this piece has attracted indicate that all the companies have some way to go. A long way. For instance, one quick way to endear yourself to customers would be to extend the warranty on contracts to a year - would it cost that much?
But the other thing that’s clear is that loyalty simply doesn’t matter any more (as I’m sure Simon Caulkin wrote in that piece). It’s degraded, pointless, stupid: to be a loyal customer is to be a foolish one in this modern world.