The sham of corporate social media customer service

On one level, hapless corporate social media accounts that aspire to the monicker ‘customer service’ are simply one more part of the grey noise of the Internet that we simply tolerate. They exist because the companies have an online presence, we communicate online more and more, and so there is a box to tick.

However, the reality is that most of these accounts are worse than useless. More than just grey noise, they help condition us to accept mediocrity and ineffectiveness as normal when it comes to customer service.

They all follow a basic modus operandi, too.

A superficial sense that the company is listening is often created with a rapid initial public response, sounding concerned, and inviting a private DM so the matter can be properly investigated. Invariably, the person behind it at the time signs off with a cheery first name – ^^Dave or ^^Lisa or similar – in an attempt to affect a sense of informality and personal connection and that the company they represent really does care.

Having already invested time in airing the matter, the customer duly invests another ten minutes in setting out the concerns. This may well invite some security questions, to make sure they are speaking to the right person and intended to create confidence that this is ‘official’, and then various other questions to validate the information already provided in the initial tweet or DM (from recent experience, often simply a repeated request for the same information). Of course, at no point is it clear why any of this required any security whatsoever and couldn’t have been dealt with in public, other than to spare the company some blushes.

After lengthy exchanges (laughably, the most recent, with a well-known hotel chain about a broken coffee machine, and taking four days), the person behind the account, who may very well not be the person who started the exchange, explains that your comments have been passed on to the team concerned. A little more questioning and it turns out there is nothing else they can do (e.g. find out an ETA or why it’s been not functioning for three months). Then comes the excuse. It’s because they don’t hold the data, or because it’s the responsibility of the local team, or because they don’t have authority to access account details, or because blah blah blah.

In reality these corporate social media customer service accounts have a limited, very clear function and it is nothing to do with actually servicing customer needs. They are designed to present a facade of customer concern, while moving exchanges from the public sphere to the private, and minimising the human and financial resources put in to actually addressing customer concerns. They take advantage of an online culture of medicocrity and social management to ensure expectations are managed down. In doing so, they reinforce the sense you are wading debilitatingly through amorphous, pointless gloop. And of course, they get to tick the necessary customer service box for internal performance purposes.

It’s all fuel for a good chuckle down the pub or over dinner. However, it is also indicative of a certain corporate culture that is about cynically managing customers rather than dealing with the issues they raise. And it’s no surprise to see it in a country where public services are denigrated and run into the ground, meaning that even shoddy customer service compares favourably.

Anyway, here’s looking at you Premier Inn and Virgin Media.

Do better.

Exiting Virgin Media: the hell of modern customer service

The experience of disconnecting from Virgin Media broadband, phone and television services has been a salutary lesson in appalling customer service, exarcerbated by broken tech and pointless social media accounts.

The process is entirely impersonal, prefaced by intrusive data harvesting, presumably for aggressive marketing, and inconsistent online advice from its postcode checker. When it finally confirms it can’t facilitate a transfer as there is no service in the area, workload overload directs you to online chat that then directs you to WhatsApp.

You don’t know if you are talking to a person or a bot. The responses are generally so robotic that they could be a bot, but showing very occasional responsiveness to answers that suggests a human being. The end of experience survey – which will not make for pretty reading – also talks about an ‘operator’ implying it is a human being you have been ‘conversing’ with.

There is also a curious episode with a form that takes you out of WhatsApp and feels insecure (even if it isn’t).

Having been told why I was getting in touch, the bot/operator went through a bunch of questions before telling me it can’t help and referred me to the Movers team (the whole point of the initial contact, fully explained at the outset). The Movers team then asked a bunch of questions, including about the address I am moving to, confirming – as I already bloody knew! – that I couldn’t receive services there.

Eventually, it confirmed cancellation, a modest charge for the remainder of the month, and provided a link to a service that showed me where I could take my equipment for return.


The link didn’t work and the subsequent email indicated I was liable for a charge for exiting my contract early.

Considering I have been with them for four and a half years, and paid them thousands, the idea I am exiting early is a bloody outrage. As is the fact they couldn’t even provide a working link in their chat for the return of their own equipment. (The link in the subsequent email did work, but that is not the point.)

Of course, they can waive the charge if I can prove my new address (and thereby the fact they cannot provide services). For this, they require to see one of the following:

Bank statement
Mortgage information
Rental agreement
Driving licence
Insurance policy
Utility bill

I have none of these available.

Apart from the fact that in 2023, most of this is now done online and so there are no bills ot statements to photograph and upload, the property I am moving to is in someone else’s name. The utility bills are in their name. The house particulars are in their name. The insurance is in their name. My banking is online. My driving licence is with the DVLA and who knows when I will get the new one back. The fact they will even take a driving licence is ironic. You need to provide no supporting documentation when you change your address with the DVLA on the government website. Yet Virgin Media accept it as proof of identity, while refusing the information on the same basis it is provided to the DVLA.

During this torturous process, in which the bot/operator refused to provide a working link (but told me not to worry because details will be in the box they send out), and which took over 2.5 hours, Virgin Media’s customer service was absolutely tone deaf.

The bot/operator was cheery, simply ignored basic questions, and was clearly determined simply to extract as much information as possible while attempting to sell additional services. By contrast, @virginmedia on Twitter were robotic, unsympathetic and made clear they couldn’t help, while patronisingly directing me to the resources I had used to contact Virgin Media in the first place (while also telling me how much they valued their customers).

The fascinating thing for me is how, in 2023, when technology is supposed to make these tasks less time consuming, can it take 2.5 hours to cancel a broadband contract and involve so much poor quality information provision? When I moved from Essex to Leeds in 2018, it was a five minute phonecall and the job was done. How is it that companies such as Virgin Media are so contemptible of their customers, apparently seeing no value in trying to encourage them back in future by proceeding empathetically and constructively? What is the point of a social media team that cannot help and simply patronises by redirecting to the resources most people will have looked at in the first place? And why is there such a lack of trust in their customers, when they have a clear and clean record of payments over a period of years?

Virgin Media demonstrate exactly what is wrong with a tech-driven corporate future that depersonalises the customer experience and conditions us to mediocrity and delay.