Friday, 1 August 2008

Sixty seconds...

Neil Armstrong famously landed Apollo 11 on the moon with less than 60 seconds of fuel left. I seem to be in the same place with credit remaining on my phone every time I finally get to the top of the queue to talk to a callcenter person in the UK...

I've just burnt through another 200kr top-up card provided by my Swedish mobile operator Telenor SE while on hold for Vodafone UK callcenter people.

It has taken several attempts to talk to them about unblocking the two SIM cards I use, one for my usual contract number and the other for mobile internet access. It seems that after a very slow start, the roaming charges for mobile internet access all arrived on their system in a big burst, resulting in the suspension of both SIM cards while they investigated "usage irregularities" on my account.

They tell me they sent me an SMS message warning me about the suspension just before they put it in place, but I didn't have their SIM card in my mobile for much of the time in Norway, and both cards were blocked when I tried them on entry into Sweden.

It seems to be a similar story with my bank, who also stopped my debit card for a while because they want to issue another one to me. Fortunately they handle calls from abroad much more efficiently than Vodafone (with a seperate priority queue) and all is sweetness and light with them again. Plus they call you back rather than popping you on hold while they investigate further.

It's not that the funds are not available, it's just a question of working around the anti-fraud systems they use, which naturally stop any activity unless it follows a pattern that predates the trip.

The alternative to all this expensive calling should be a set of well-designed web pages to allow both sides to sort out this kind of problem asynchronously. Vodafone's website falls pretty short of what is required here, by asking customers to provide them with five or six easily guessable security questions. If you register with their site, make absolutely sure you travel with the answers to each question, written with the exact punctuation and captitalisation you used when setting up your account, or you'll be back to languishing in their callcenter queue while you burn through your recently topped up Swedish mobile phone card's credit, waiting to ask them to unlock their website for you too.

Neil Armstrong's heartbeat was around 151 per minute for the last few minutes of the lunar landing apparently - but at least he was in control of the situation...

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