Virgin - can morale get lower?

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 27 June 2008

When Telewest/NTL bought Virgin, great things were expected, and Virgin publicity staff made much of how important it was to Sir Richard Branson that his name was associated with it, and how he would personally ensure... and so on. Letters from readers, however, tell a different story.

When people start quoting the Data Protection Act for their inability to do things, I always smell a rat. It's a rat known as "corporate culture melt-down" - what it means in reality, is "If I do anything, as an employee, it will be the wrong thing. So I'm going to do nothing."

One reader contacted NewsWireless after installing "triple play" TV, phone and broadband for his son, a student in a remote University town. Things were OK until the father moved banks, and made a mess of the direct debit. He wrote:

"We originally went for Virgin because we happened to be visiting our son the day a Virgin salesman called, and they told us it was a special deal."

"I filled in the forms, gave my bank details, and set it up. Then, when we moved from Halifax to HSBC, we slipped up with some form - and the payments fell behind."
"Apparently, only the 'customer' can make payments or other transactions and the customer is the person who uses the line, not the person who pays the bills. So they refused even to tell me how much was outstanding on the bill."
"We told our son to dial 150 and ask for a new password, but he was in a very poor way, and simply couldn't do it. So we asked Virgin to set up a system where the bills came to us. They refused, saying that it could only be done by the customer, and that it would cost an extra 20 pounds to set up remote billing."
"We paid a hundred quid, and thought that would be it. But what we didn't know - because they wouldn't tell us - was that they were making a 'service charge' for every month the line was suspended. What kind of "service" is it to refuse service?"

The interesting thing was that not a single Virgin employee, at any stage, attempted to justify the morality of what they were doing. They were "just obeying orders" they said. "We can't divulge... we cannot accept... we have to..." and at every turn, the Data Protection Act was invoked to justify the mindless bureaucracy.

This is not the way a corporation likes employees to behave when it is growing. It's normally a sign that nobody has any hope of a good future, and is purely focused on one prayer:

"Please don't let me break some trivial rule and get fired."

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