As a recent [quasi-]immigrant to the UK I’ve enjoyed learning the differences between American and British culture. Sometimes these gaps are obvious, making it possible to clearly discern where American expectations are inconsistent with the norms of this society and other times more subtle where our shared language doesn’t equate to a shared lexicon (e.g. pants vs. trousers). In most cases a bit of time, or some help from a translator, sorts the confusion but yesterday I had an incredibility bizarre interaction with Virgin Media which, after initial assessment, it occurred to me that perhaps this was just another thing that I don’t understand. My hope is that you can help me classify the experience.

We have a Virgin Media TV/Internet/Phone bundle. Aside from some initial confusion around the phone scheme, and the sluggish TiVO (CableCARD is a beautiful thing) I’ve been really pleased with the service itself – it’s never down, Internet is fast, plenty of sport to watch, etc. In the last month we’ve upgraded with some add-ons like Sky Sports (football), Sky Sports HD (you need to buy these separately, in tandem), and extended phone service (to fix the first problem).

Yesterday we received a call from Virgin Media requesting an urgent callback to resolve an issue with the account. Unfortunately since we were out exploring Stonehenge it was missed until late in the evening, but returned after noticing the voice mail. Here’s where it gets weird – Virgin Media was demanding an immediate payment of £111 (the total bill due October 10 was for £119) to restore service. Even more bizarre is that the account is configured to auto-pay so they have my bank details on file. If there was a problem with the amount of the bill (past bills were 1/2 this amount) it would have been simple to send an email, make a non-threatening call before it was a problem (the amount hasn’t changed in several days), verify funds, debit the account, flag an issue on the website, or frankly any number of alternate approaches to what actually happened.

I’ve had some strange customer service interactions with utilities in the past, but I’ve never had one where they’ve demanded partial, incidental payment before the bill was due. Help me out – is this the pinnacle of poor service or just another thing I need to learn?


My first thought when I heard the call was that this was scam because it seemed so absurd, and that sentiment has been echoed on Twitter, but it was not. I should have mentioned that we called Virgin Media from our land line via “150” (similar to calling 611 from a US cellphone to talk to the carrier) and their website confirms the payment today.


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