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More gaff than giff: The consumer-run network falters

by Dan Lane on 24th August 2010

If O2 was a comedy club (and sometimes I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t) then giffgaff would certainly be the equivalent of Open Mike night…

Or Amateur Hour.

When giffgaff launched their service last November I said “Watch this space to see giffgaff become a tremendous success… or a horrific disaster” and unfortunately 9 months later it pains me to say that it seems to have ended up the latter, at least from my point of view.

Once giffgaff announced their Goody Bag bundles I decided to embrace the service and ported my main mobile number to them – everything went completely smoothly and I was initially very impressed – after I ported I even had a call from a friendly giffgaff staffer to make sure everything was OK. Then we ported my girlfriend’s number so she could ditch her SIM-only contract and take advantage of the free giffgaff data on her iPhone… everything went quite well but she didn’t get the courtesy call once she ported.

giffgaff Goody Bags

Happy with how well things had gone so far I started to recommend the service to other people, I ordered some SIMs so I could hand them out and the first 3 went almost instantly. I even signed up a couple more for myself so I could use them in secondary handsets (for testing etc).

Then I recommended one to my friend Will. Will is a developer with a keen interest in mobile and VoIP, he currently works for a telecoms company and was keen to try out the free data service on giffgaff. I sent him a SIM.

A giffgaff SIM. A few of these have hit the bin recently...

Will’s SIM wouldn’t activate and he had the most calamitous customer support experience trying to get it working – stupid questions from giffgaff support about supplying his username and information about how he performed his first top-up (impossible since he couldn’t activate his SIM) followed by instructions about signing up before activating (in contrast with their website which has a big “Activate a SIM” button which doesn’t require signing up). Eventually I got in touch with giffgaff’s Robbie Hearn (Member Experience Champion) who explained to me that there were a small handful of SIMs that were broken when they were sent out and that it was so rare that the customer service guys hadn’t been trained how to deal with it (it doesn’t quite explain why they seemingly took pot shot guesses as to what was wrong though).

Then Will messaged me to say “Hey, good news! my SIM card started working but their system won’t accept my payment”. Apparently they claimed his address didn’t match his card even after he rang his bank and confirmed the spelling of his address and was finally told that he’ll have to buy his top-up in store. This was the deal breaker and he rightfully decided to stick with his current provider.

Next up is an old friend and colleague of mine, Jay Fenton. He’s a smart chap and even holds telecom infrastructure patents – he couldn’t get payment into giffgaff either and found their customer support lacking to the point that he threw the SIMs into the bin and sent me a bit of a snarky e-mail.

Basically these are two professional people who trusted my recommendation and were let down, making me feel like a bit of a lemon for recommending giffgaff but today was the last straw.

Houston... We have a problem...

Today at around 4-5pm the giffgaff network appeared to completely die for at least 30 minutes. No calls or texts in or out for that whole period. When I checked, the giffgaff forum had a handful of member posts complaining and speculating about the issue – some people suggested it was an O2 issue but calls from an O2 SIM were working fine for me. It’s now 11pm and there has been no official mention of any outage on the giffgaff blog… not even a “something went wrong, we don’t know what but we’re looking into it” and that is completely unacceptable. As is this Twitter apology which is lacking somewhat:

Not really enough information for a major outage...

It doesn’t matter how good your offering is, how “fluffy” your ethics are or how friendly your staff are, if your service is half-assed then you might as well pack up and go home and that’s my advice to giffgaff “Gaffer” Mike Fairman – drag your staff into a meeting and tell them to up their game…

A network run by its customers probably needs some grown-ups checking the serious bits from time to time too...

If they don’t then pack up your things and go home, there is no room for amateurs here. However, cute your adverts are.

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