Let me tell you a story about Tesco Mobile. I recently bought myself a iPhone to mark my graduation into the worst job market in decades, and changed my network to GiffGaff, as my previous provider Tesco Mobile didn’t do unlimited mobile internet, without which there would be little point in having an iPhone. So, I set everything up with GiffGaff, and then called Tesco Mobile to get my port authorisation code (PAC), so I could keep my old number. They told me that I was on a twelve month contract I hadn’t actually signed up for, and I would have to pay a cancellation fee. Not much I could do about that, having never known I was on a contract (their rolling one month contract is the same price, and that is what I had asked for, having a tendency to go abroad for months at a time). Notwithstanding that discovery, I then got a standard transfer to the Upgrades department where the nice guy at the other end admitted that he could hardly sell me a product that Tesco Mobile didn’t actually offer, and he gave me my PAC and everything was lovely. Then it turned into the customer service enquiry from hell.

“Please hold, your call is meaningless to us.”

When I gave said PAC to GiffGaff, I got an email back a day later saying that they had tried to use it and Tesco Mobile had refused it, and I needed to get another one. So I rang up Tesco Mobile again, and met an agent named “Chris”. “Chris” asked me down the phone for my password. As I have been long taught by every company on the internet ever to not give my password out to anyone, I refused. I can’t actually recall being asked for it by the other guy, but I am pretty sure he didn’t ask me for my password. However, “Chris” was adamant that I either had to give him my password or “for data protection”, he wouldn’t go any further. I hung up the phone and wrote a complaint to Tesco Mobile (who, incidentally, don’t provide an email address on their website, but it is support@tescomobile.com) about what I thought of customer service agents who try to get me to give out my password.

Someone from customer support then got back to me to say that it is Tesco policy to make all customers give out their passwords over the phone. I wrote back to point out that this is entirely at odds with internet security best practice and, indeed, my previous experiences with their own agents, and the fact that they have a secondary security procedure where you give out your bank details (also unsafe, and which I had also refused to give out) surely demonstrated the extent to which their customer base had refused to give out their passwords.

I got an email back basically politely saying “fuck you, we’re not changing our policy”, but offering to give me my PAC over email if I sent them parts of my card information. This I did, but forgot to put my card’s expiry date. When they pointed this out and I replied with the date, however, I then received no reply for two weeks.

Having carried around two phones for about a month, I therefore sent ANOTHER email with the entire conversation to date copied in, asking for my PAC. The customer service agent got back to me to mutter an apology, and also to tell me that they couldn’t issue PACs over email and I had to call the Upgrades team again. Honestly, a team of script-writing manatees would probably have done a better job at customer service.

“Hi, I’m your manatee for the day, how may I help you? Why certainly, here’s your PAC, sorry to see you go! Have a great day.” IT’S NOT HARD. 

So I called the Upgrades team AGAIN, and told a chap called Aaron that I wasn’t going to be giving them my password but at this point, I was willing to give them my bank details if that’s what it was going to take to get my PAC. Aaron then disclosed that he could see my password on the screen in front of him, but I wasn’t giving up now, and gave my account number and sort code – again, an insecure thing to ask of me, but I just wanted the damn PAC by then. Aaron then asked me why I was leaving and fighting the urge to say, “because your customer service is the stuff of nightmares”, I said that I wanted mobile internet, and Tesco Mobile didn’t offer it. Aaron then proceeded to tell me that, apparently, Tesco Mobile does offer mobile internet and on the same contract I was on (I subsequently discovered that he meant that you get 500mb included in their 12 month contract, which I suppose would cover, ooh, cover me up to about lunchtime on the first day of my allowance?), and there was a surreal moment where I asked him to just please give me my PAC and he blithely continued through his script until he reached the end and hit my stony silence. And I got my PAC.

[By the way, Tesco: I’m sure your staff are trained “to the highest standards” and customer satisfaction “is your primary concern” or whatever, but you know what you should add to your training curriculum? When to shut up and give the customer what they want. I understand that you probably make a lot of money dissuading your customers from leaving by offering them better contracts, and that’s why I usually patiently listen to sales staff who are only doing their job, but when you have an increasingly irate customer at the end of the phone who has made it clear they have already switched networks and have been put through the “please don’t cancel, we love you” spiel at least once, every extra second you let your monkeys burble on about your awesome deal that I’ve already cancelled is another percentage point added to my determination to never, ever buy from you again. Just a thought.]

Off went the PAC to GiffGaff, and 24 hours later, my phone number had been transferred and I was one happy Giffgaff customer. (Check them out here. No fixed contract, £10/m, 250 minutes, unlimited texts, unlimited internet, and not making me give out my password down the phone? Yes please.)

Given this, and a similarly horrific experience with Tesco Bank (in which they made it so hard to access my account I never succeeded in putting any money in it and it took me over two years just to shut it down), I’ll be damned if I am going to be taking out a Tesco product again. I was sold a contract I didn’t want, had to call three times and send five emails just to transfer phone numbers, none of the people I spoke could get their story straight, and did I mention again how they tried to make me give out my password that they had already given in full to one of their employees?

There are some places I’ll accept poor service because what I’m getting is worth the inconvenience (Harvester, Barclaycard, the University of Manchester), and there’s some who taken themselves to a whole new level, that could offer me thousands of pounds to go with them and I’d tell them where to stick it (Santander, Bath public toilets, the Church of England). Tesco Mobile has found itself in the latter category. Never again. No wonder their profits are falling.