The nightmare that is Vodafone España — Ordering an iPad microSIM

I am about to tell a story that, for me, is simply surreal. If it hadn’t actually happened to me, I probably wouldn’t believe it. It’s about my recent attempt to acquire a microSIM card for my iPad, from Vodafone España.

Update 2010-09-01 — Vodafone call quality.

As I remain on hold for over 30 minutes, speaking with someone at a call center in Argentina trying to cancel (for the third time) this account, I thought I’d record the music they’ve been so gracious to play for me. If you listen to this MP3 clip, unedited, you can get an idea of the quality of telephone line a customer has to suffer when dealing with Vodafone. (Just imagine listening to that, looping over and over, for 30 minutes…)

When the attendant finally confirmed my request to cancel the account, I asked for a reference number corresponding to my request. (I have reference numbers for my past two cancellation attempts.) He said he couldn’t give it to me on the phone (why?), but promised to send it via SMS to my mobile phone.

Here’s the message that arrived (translated from Spanish):

Vodafone informs: Your request has been processed. Business service management.

Sigh. No reference number. Nothing at all to indicate what my “request” was, to which account it was applied. Nothing.

What I would give to have the opportunity to get in a room with a Vodafone executive, with the door locked and a video camera.

Update 2010-08-31 — It gets weirder.

A few days ago, a Vodafone representative called me, saying that she has noticed that my iPad card never shipped. I explained the whole situation to her (the same story as outlined in this article). Amazed, she said, “Well, the only thing I can do to help, is register another attempt to cancel this Vodafone service. Here is your new cancellation number XYZ, and I’ll call you back within two hours to confirm everything’s OK.”

Two hours later, no phone call.

Today, I received an SMS message from Vodafone that my iPad card — which I no longer want, and have canceled twice — has shipped. 🙁

Update 2010-08-11 — The nightmare continues.

Quick background (full story follows the updates): In May, I tried to order an iPad card from Vodafone in their Online Store. A data line was created and activated, but the iPad microSIM card never shipped. I spent days on the phone with Vodafone — with the Online Store saying it was Customer Service’s responsibility to send the card, and Customer Service saying it was the Online Store’s responsibility. I literally called each department probably 30 times.

After I received a first bank charge of 6 € in May, I said to myself, “Screw trying get this damn iPad card”, and called  and asked for the account to simply be closed. I was told the 6 € couldn’t be refunded, but did receive a confirmation of account closure, and an “incidence number” for further reference. I thought the nightmare was over.

Well, yesterday, we noticed that Vodafone had charged 37 € in June! We called Customer Support, and they said we could only cancel this account in a physical Vodafone store. I visited the Marbella Vodafone store, and was told that we’d been misinformed — that Vodafone stores can’t do anything. (Furthermore, they noticed that I’m about to be charged another 37 € tomorrow!)

I got back to the office, and tried calling Customer Support an, again spent almost an hour on the phone, being passed from department to department, each finally concluding that they can do nothing.

So, here is the situation:

  1. Everybody at Vodafone — Customer Support, Online Store & Physical Shops — can see the account, and see that I requested its cancelation request back in May.
  2. The account hasn’t been canceled, and I am now getting charged 37 € per month!
  3. Each of these three areas of Vodafone tell me that one of the other areas is responsible for the problem, and that they can’t help.
  4. And nobody can give me the name of a person with a bit more authority in the company who might could help.

When I ask these drones, “What on earth would you do if you found yourself in my situation, which appears to have no possible resolution?”, they reply, “I’d call Vodafone.”

And when I ask, “How can I find somebody in this company who might care that this has happened to a customer, and be willing to do whatever’s needed to be done to help?”, they reply, “I’d call Vodafone.”

I’m pinching myself to prove that I’m not in the Twilight Zone!

Update 2010-06-15

Today, I got an alert from my bank, that Vodafone has charged my account for something. Grrrr. I called Vodafone, and after a round-trip between Customer Service, and Tienda Online, I finally found someone who claims to have cancelled my order. They can not, however, see the bank charge on their side, and therefore can not refund what’s been charged.

Hopefully this saga is now closed. I’ll consider the bank charge lost (since there’s no way I’m going to call Vodafone again), and will go tomorrow and get a microSIM from Orange.

Update 2010-06-11

Today, out of the blue, I received a phone call from a representative of Vodafone. The lady said she was calling about a new “data line,” that seemed to have been established in error.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” I thought, somebody has noticed my problem and is calling to help!

But then, as my luck would have it, the bus I was riding in entered a tunnel, and the call was disconnected. Later, calling Vodafone back, I couldn’t reach anyone who knew anything about the situation.

— . — . — . — . — . — . —

Background.

I live in Spain, and have been a Vodafone España customer for more than five years. Recently, I purchased an iPad in the United States, and tried to order a Vodafone microSIM card and data plan.

Ordering the iPad SIM, and the document ID problem.

On May 28, 2010, I began process to order a microSIM at Vodafone.es’ “Online Store,” by clicking on the option: You already have an iPad, and need a microSIM card. (This is opposed to the option, “You bought an iPad with microSIM, and need to activate it.”)

I was asked whether I was an existing Vodafone customer, and clicked “Yes.” Later, I was a little concerned when, at no point during the order process, was I asked for any information that would associate me to my existing Vodafone account. (I was expecting an interaction like, “Oh you’re an existing customer? Then please first login before continuing.”)

Anyway, on the “Enter your Personal Information” screen, I was asked to enter an identifying document number. I tried to enter my passport number, which is the document associated with my existing Vodafone account. I had hoped this would establish the account association, but that failed; the web form would only accept one of two Spanish ID types,— “NIE” or “NIF”. With no other alternative, I entered my NIE number, and then finished the order process.

A day or so later, I received a “Your order has been successfully processed” email.

Please download your contract. Sorry, we can’t find your contract.

Today, June 7, I received an email within a link to download my new data contract. I clicked the link, arrived at the Vodafone website, and entered my NIE, and was told, “We can’t find any order associated with that number.”

And that’s where the ordeal begins…

Calling the Online Store and Customer Support.

This morning I called the Vodafone Online Store. After asking for my NIE number, they immediately found my order, and reported that it had been processed, was now out of their hands, and that for further status information, I’d need to call “Customer Service”.

I then called Customer Service, who (as they do) recognized my Vodafone account from the mobile number I was calling from. They checked, said they could find no order associated with my passport number nor my NIE number. Furthermore, they said they have nothing to do with iPad microSIM orders, and recommended I call the Online Store again But when I called the Online Store back, I was again told to call Customer Support.

I repeated this back-and-fourth literally three times each time, the Online Store would claim that the order was complete, and now in the hands of Customer Support, and Customer Support would say they have no knowledge of the order and have nothing to do with the process in the first place.

(During one of these circular trips, a girl at the Online Store said that Vodafone do not sell micoSIMs for the iPad. I asked if she’s ever seen the Vodafone website, and she hung up on me.)

The identification document problem again.

Finally, a girl with Customer Support said that the problem might be related to the fact that I used my NIE, and not passport number, during the order process.

I told her that the order form only accepted NIE and NIF; not passport, and she replied that if I first login to my Vodafone account and then start the order for an iPad SIM, I would be offered the “passport” option (since my account is already associated with my passport), and then the order would be associated with my Vodafone account and correctly processed.

Placing a second order, this time “logged in”.

OK, back to the online store I went, ready to place a new order. This time, I first logged in, and then started the process.

My hopes began to sink a bit when, once again, I was asked whether I was an existing customer. (I’m logged in and my name is printed on the top of the screen; isn’t it obvious?) I clicked “Yes”, and my hopes began to rise again, when on the next screen, “Personal Information”, I saw that all the fields were pre-filled with my account details. At this point, I was optimistic.

But then, I noticed the error message.

There was a red flag next to the “Identifying Document” field, where my passport number was pre-filled. The error message read, “This is not a NIE or NIF number.” The drop-down type menu only contained options for NIE and NIF. My existing ID number — pre-filled from my own existing Vodafone account — was considered invalid.

So I was stuck. The Vodafone Online Store will not allow an iPad microSIM order to be placed from an existing account associated with a passport number.

Try canceling your order.

Once again, I called Customer Support, and tried to explain the increasingly complicated situation. (Can you imagine an unskilled first-line support person trying to understand this? I’m lucky if you, one of my brilliant blog-readers, have gotten this far and can still make sense of it all.)

The girl suggested that, at this point, I immediately call the Online Store, and cancel my original order.

Calling the Online Store, and trying to cancel my order, I was told, “Your order with us is complete, and activated. It can’t be canceled by us now. Only Customer Support can cancel it now.”

I insisted, almost desperately: “As I’ve told you, they don’t have record of my order, and will simply tell me to call you back!” Like a mechanical robot, the guy replied, “Sorry, please call Customer Support.”

I’m not authorized to let you speak with a supervisor.

Pointing out things have obviously gotten complex and, evidently, unresolvable, I asked to please speak to a supervisor, and was told, “I’m not authorized to do that.”  I asked if one was even there, and was told, “Of course there’s a supervisor here, but I can’t let you speak with him.”

“So what should I do?” I asked. “Call Customer Support.” I repeated (for the fifth time) that Customer Support have no information and will tell me to call them right back. “Call Customer Support”. I asked again, “Can I please speak with someone, like a supervisor, who can act outside the protocol manual?” “Sorry, I’m not authorized.”

Try calling Apple?

In final desperation, I did call Customer Support one last time. After I explained everything (and after being told that Customer Support are also not authorized to pass me to a supervisor) the girl suggested, “Why don’t you visit apple.com/ipad, and see if they can help?”

Summarizing…

  1. I’ve got an email confirming an order for an iPad SIM that the Online Store believe is complete (and that I’ll soon be charged for). Customer Support, however, report having no record of this order.
  2. The Online Store tell me that, at this point, my only option for additional information is Customer Support.
  3. Customer Support tell me that my only option, is to call the Online Store (and that, furthermore, they have nothing to do with iPad microSIM orders.)
  4. I can not order a microSIM from my existing Vodafone account, because the personal information web form won’t accept a passport number — even one Vodafone already have associated with my account.
  5. Neither Online Store, nor Customer Support will allow me to speak with a supervisor, nor will they suggest any other means to resolve the situation.
  6. Customer Support’s final recommendation is that I call Apple, to see if they can help.

What’s particularly horrible is that the Vodafone process allows a customer to find themselves in an unresolvable situation without any recourse. I can understand that organizations this large must operate call centers with unskilled workers operating from protocol manuals — but it seems inexcusable to me that if a customer finds themselves in a situation like mine, that these call center workers are not allowed to communicate some procedure for escalation.

19 thoughts on “The nightmare that is Vodafone España — Ordering an iPad microSIM”

  1. My goodness Matt, even by the standards of your Spanish customer service experiences, this IS impressive.

  2. No es ningún consuelo, pero este “funcionamiento” no difiere de otras grandes compañías, bien de comunicaciones, eléctricas, bancos…

  3. Pingback: And so it begins with Orange — Crazy iPad experience. | This User’s Experience
  4. In those cases the conf call feature of all iPhone is pretty handy – just make a 3-way call with online store and support…

  5. Well I had a very similar and equally appalling scenario with Voafone España. I bought the iPad at a super Apple shop in Granada, then ordered my microsim via voadone web site, hard work, then they eventually delivered it, it didn.t work, needed ‘activation’ which the Apple shop did for me as there was no help from Voadfone….it stopped working 2 weeks later, back and forth shop to cuts Serbs in end I got cuts to pull their finger out and call the online shop to cancel my account. They were all disconnected and did have any idea about customer service….I wish I knew how to reach the head of vodafone in Spain. Moral, don’t use vodafone, they sell and don’t service.

  6. As a Vodafone customer with a mobile contract I would advise anyone not to go there, stupid expensive if you happen to call another mobile. I feel your pain!

  7. I too bought an iPad when iT came out in Alicante. I registered by phone for a micro sim and nothing more has happened since. Iam going to check my bank account and authorise them to block all payments to Vodaf–k. I use Mas moviles for my iphone. Tbey are cheaper than most. 5 cents minute. I am ordering a micro sim from them. Their data rates are very cheap. Vodaf–k deserve to be the subject of a class action lawsuit.

  8. Yeah, so we ordered a new iPhone 4. Vodafone sent us 2. How is this company still in business? Every single interaction we have had with them requires some pain, mixed up information from different staff, and… Hey, they sent us an extra phone! What to do, what to do…?

  9. Mike,

    I saw a report recently about the general number of consumer complaints received by the local ayuntamiento. The huge majority was related to the mobile telephone services.

  10. I had the same trouble with every institution in Spain Endesa (electricity), Vodafone, Orange (my god…), Santander, Spanish TNT, Spanish DHL and a couple of others. Seems like the drones in Spanish companies have no customer respect or feeling whatsoever. I’m from the Netherlands originally and in NL this would not be possible; companies doing that would be on consumer shows, dragged through the mud until no clients would be left. I like Spain, but people working in consumer services/support are really the most horrible I ever encountered.

  11. I just read the question ; ‘how are they still in business’. About that; I noticed that the Spanish employees of logistic companies are so incredibly lazy and incorrect they hardly ever ask for your passport when you ordered something online. So basically you can claim you never got it and get it twice, second time for free. Why is that not abused on a massive scale.

  12. Having exactly the same issue with Vodafone Espana online shop, although my order was for the IPhone4, after going round and round in circles and 3 months of calls I now have the phone but no sim card etc, so can’t use it. Vodafone taking the monthly payment from my account but none of the departments are able to help send a sim card out for it. The highstreet shops say that it’s not their problem either so will not contact anyone for me. Vodafone are a disgrace, but don’t seem to care, as the fat cat bosses will still be collecting their money each month.

  13. I am sorry but I read your article and laughed out loud, I’d thought it was only me who had those kind of problems with Vodafone.es. I too have been trapped in the passport/nie cycle. (also with online shopping at Eroski, telefonica and a couple of others) I have also been on hold with the same result. I have a uk vodafone sim on a rolling contract in my iPad but as I am back in Spain I want a Spanish one. I may see what other providers are offering. PS the girl who works in our local shop is great if you can handle the queue that comes out of the door every day…

  14. Hi Matt,

    Here goes one more for the pile…. As i arrive to Madrid with my iphone4 (unblocked) that i bought in Sydney, first thing was to get into a Vodafone store and ask for a prepaid sim-card. Right away the girl goes and gets one for me.. I inform her that i have an iphone4 and it needs a microsim ..please. No way, only for postpaid … ok, i ask for the sim card scissors … the alternative way to make microsims… available in any store in Australia ….no way.. they don’t have one.. you have to cut it yourself…

    So, one less Vodafone and people her tells me that in Spain, prepaid costumers are descriminated ..are considered minor costumers…. ABSURD .. i work on mobile internet and prepaid costumers actually give a lot of revenue ..preciselly because they don’t want to, 1. be identified, 2. be bound to a contract, 3. pay a montly fee, 4. like me ..they are foreigners who are in the country for a couple of months per year ..but still consume both voice and data …

    I’ll try Movistar now !!!.. let’s see what happens.. at least they say they have the scissors….

    Cheers P

  15. I was thinking about getting an iPad and then ask for a MicroSIM from Vodafone later, but reading this…

    Phone companies here are like hell. I’ve heard of one with a funny name, Pepephone, which seems to be the best company in Spain. One friend of mine has it, and now I regret renewing my contract with VF.

    I’ll never go back to Movistar. And I had Orange for some time, they were not bad in my case, though there are some stories around, too.

    Take care, and thanks for the great report.

  16. ok peeps. in general, vodafone is no better nor worse than the other major mobile operators in spain.

    for the record, when i got my iPhone4 i simply went into a voda shop in madrid and asked for a micro SIM for it. they did it right there and then and i had it in minutes. all very smooth BUT note that i also am a “diamate” (diamond) customer of theirs which is the highest level.

    my advice to anyone looking to use an iPhone4 ot iPad in spain, go pay as you go (pre-paid). ok, yes, as pedro noted above, they do not offer the micro SIM on pay as you go but i found an alternative solution, see http://www.spainsim.com/microSIM.htm .

    those guys sell the micro SIM on pay as you go AND offer data packets and continuing top-ups services.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?