Faced with mass defections by angry subscribers, mobile operator Orange has torn-up its plans to impose swingeing price increases on so called "out-of-bundle" calling. Orange was determined to triple the price of such calls; customers were equally determined that they wouldn't be paying. Result? Collapse of stout party and a victory for the punters, as Martyn Warwick reports.
The whole farrago was yet another prime example of operator arrogance and ill-thought-through planning that resulted in Orange actually being in breach of its own "Terms and Conditions."
The original notion was that Orange would increase the price to a raft of numbers and services that, apparently, fall "beyond the bundle" from five pence to 14.7 pence a go.
Once upon a time Orange prided itself on, and was renowned for, innovative, flexible tariffs and first-rate customer service. Trouble is that in terms of the history of mobile telephony in the UK, that golden age is now as remote as the Jurassic era.
In recent years, Orange has garnered a reputation for poor business practices, abysmal communication with its customer base, bullying and apparent contempt for its subscribers. It has always been particularly keen to nail dissenting customers to the floor by quoting and ruthlessly applying the smallest of small print provisions hidden away in the swathe of legalistic verbiage that is its contract documentation.
It's all the more fitting then that in this case Orange has been hoist by its own petard. By imposing the changes in the way it did, the carrier breached its own T&C's and is now paying the price.
Consumer outrage at the price increases was channeled and focused though the consumer website "Bitter Wallet". A visit to its home page shows that the group chose the name "because the overwhelming, depressing, soul-sucking experience of being a UK consumer is eroding our consumer souls... Yeah, our wallet is bitter and the words ‘Thank you for your custom’ ring hollow".
When the complaints about Orange began to flow, first as a trickle and then later in a torrent, Bitter Wallet produced an online guide showing disgruntled Orange customers how to terminate a contract that had been broken not by them but by their service provider.
Orange's initial reaction was, of course to bluster and posture although, depending on who a subscribers got through to at an Orange call centre, some contacts were cancelled and terminated.
However, as it become evident that something like a mass protest was gathering momentum, more and more subscribers were faced with stonewalling by the operator and, in some cases (take a look at the Bitter Wallet website to see a stream of examples), outright refusal by Orange to terminate contracts that it itself had breached.
Not only that, but there is plenty of evidence (again, see the Bitter Wallet website for examples) indicating that Orange agents told consumers calling to demand the termination of their contracts some outright lies, including oft repeated claims that Ofcom, the UK's regulator of telecoms and media had approved changes to Orange's terms and conditions of service.
This was not and is not the case and soon Ofcom was in contact with Bitter Wallet. An Ofcom spokesperson said, "I’ve looked into this and can confirm that Ofcom hasn’t approved any changes that Orange has made to its prices. We are in fact now talking to Orange to stop their customer service advisors from telling that to consumers."
Finding itself over a barrel and on a hiding to nothing, Orange's Executive Office then, very grudgingly, issued a statement saying, “A business decision was made” and that “further to feedback from several customers, Orange has decided not to go ahead with the proposed changes - Orange appreciates these changes were not communicated as well as they could have been.”
However, the company still tries to wriggle and weasel its way out of responsibility for the mess by, basically, blaming its own customers for not having nous enough to understand Orange's strategy. The statement continues, "Orange apologises to those customers who found the messages unclear and any subsequent misunderstanding this has caused. We will be reviewing all policies and procedures for price changes to make sure that they are clearer in future."
Thanks a lot. Several customers? Thousands more like. Why is it that for these arrogant executives spin is always the norm and "Sorry" really is the hardest word?
In a nice twist, Bitter Wallet also advises that as Orange is in breach of its terms and conditions, it is legally unable to require the return to it of subsidised handsets provided with the defunct contract.
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