I could moan about how poor the mobile reception I get with Orange is – it shouldn’t really be beyond the abilities of a modern mobile phone company to ensure decent coverage in the inner suburbs of a major city like Leeds. Having to stand in a particular part of the house by the windows or in the garden is a throwback to the predecessor technology of Rabbit phones from 20 years ago, but at least they led on to DECT cordless handsets for landlines. But, those are relatively minor moans.
Today, I tried to upgrade with Orange. They have a great deal allowing existing customers to get an iPhone 4 and an iPad 2 for £99 on a £65 monthly tariff for 24 months. That’s only a little more than I pay monthly for my iPhone 3GS and I’m not too bothered about the length of the contract as I’ve been with Orange for over 15 years so, until today, was not too likely to want to switch networks. If nothing else, the free home broadband made them worth staying with. I know the iPhone 4 hasn’t got great call reception, but my expectations are low in that regard and the 4S on its own doesn’t really do enough more that I’m bothered about. I know that an iPad is an inessential toy. I’d just quite like them.
So, while out in Leeds I went into the Orange shop on Commercial Street where the pleasant and helpful assistant, Lisa, tried, in vain, to process the upgrade. After the laborious ID checking process (thanks Al Qaeda, criminal gangs and money-launderers!) the computer said – NO. Apparently, despite having seen through my last 24 month contract (not to mention the previous 13 years of contracts) I wasn’t due an upgrade without a penalty charge for another 4 months.
How could this be? Well, first of all, the computer helpfully said that it was because I was a high value customer. Way to go on customer service! So, being a high value customer means that it costs more to volunteer for a higher tariff? Hmm, that didn’t sound right. So, Lisa calls up the customer service department. It turns out that the apparently nice thing that Orange had done for me when my 24 month contract expired wasn’t so nice. What they had done was to change me to a SIM-only contract. I saw that on my last statement and thought “that’s nice, they’ve lowered my monthly charge because I’ve come out of the end of my 24 month contract”. What I didn’t see was that the new, cheaper contract, tied me in for 6 months.
Now, this would have been OK had I actually called them up to switch to a lower tariff. But I hadn’t. I never call up to do stuff like that because I’m rubbish at that sort of thing. Just as I never quite get round to switching energy tariffs or doing all those other things that make competitive markets work properly. It means I wouldn’t have minded had nothing happened and I’d stayed on my old tariff through my own inertia.
So, instead now I feel lumbered with a phone contract I never signed up for and which puts me in a worse position than I was previously in. Not only can I not upgrade without being penalised – a relatively minor problem – I can now not decide to cancel or switch to another phone company without paying for the priviliege of “breaking” my new, unwanted and unasked for contract. Who wins here? Not me, not Lisa, who is an upgrade and sale less near to her monthly sales commission target, and not Orange, who get an annoyed customer paying less than they would have done for the next six months.
I suppose I’ll just have to navigate my way round their undoubtedly Kafka-esque call handling systems and think myself lucky if I can persuade them to let me pay them more money sooner. I just hope I don’t hear that the automatic change to a “cheaper” tariff wasn’t due to some misguided consumer protection regulation from Ofcom…