Once upon a time British mobile phone networks had their customers by the proverbial danglies because once you’d spent years giving out your mobile number you wouldn’t want to lose it by switching providers.
This meant networks could charge the earth for their services while treating customers with that special form of contempt which only companies with captive customer bases dare exhibit.
But around the start of the millennium something truly wonderful happened – customers moving to another network gained the right to take their number with them.
This was a revolutionary development because it tilted the balance of power towards the customer and away from the networks.
Customers wanting to keep their number simply need to request a PAC code from their current provider and give it to their new network who then requests the number be handed over to them.
Should the customer choose to move again, they can repeat the process. If you want it, your mobile number can be yours for life.
We British love the power number porting gives us – telecoms regulator Ofcom tells me that last year 56% of mobile switchers took their number to their new network. That’s a lot of savvy customers moving backwards and forwards, sniffing out the best deals and making the networks earn their custom.
The first time I ported a number I did so because Orange ballsed up the delivery of a new handset.
Around 5 years ago I moved the same number from T-Mobile to O2 after T-Mobile refused to process a contract renewal 36 hours earlier than it suited their computer system.
After O2 delivered my shiny new iPhone I called for the PAC code, at this point T-Mobile decided they wanted my custom after all and so wasted a considerable amount of my time trying to convince me to stay.
But why would I want to allow accompany which was so unhelpful to keep billing me for another year or more?
Earlier this year I moved my business Blackberry from another, publicity undeserving, networ, to O2 and getting the code from then involved an hour of being passed around and mucked about by inappropriately named ‘customer service’ agents.
Eventually I squeezed the code from them and the port completed – as it now has to – within 24 hours.
This 24 hour rule is a recent addition to the customers’ arsenal of rights and is very important because it limits the amount of inconvenience experience by those switching network.
But while O2 has largely treated me well as a customer, and while I grabbed a great deal for my Blackberry on the network, it’s become time to move my iPhone 5 to another provider.
This is largely because hardware choices made by Apple mean many of the UK’s new 4G networks – including O2 – are incompatible with the handset, though they work just peachy with the new iPhone 5c and 5s.
While they look like nice updates, I’m not ready to ditch a handset I paid over £500 for just over a year ago and I’m pretty keen to squeeze as much value as I can out of the handset.
So having had a look around I decided the best deal was to be had by moving my iPhone to Three who promise to upgrade customers who own compatible phones to their 4G service later in the year at no extra cost.
But of course, before I could move my number I needed to call O2 and request my PAC code.
And it’s here that we approach point of this lengthy article.
The agent I spoke to was very helpful, quickly providing my code and then, very politely, asked if I minded him enquiring why I wanted to move.
When I explained my phone was incompatible with their 4G network and I didn’t want to spent £40 per month on a new handset and contract he showed me the respect of not wasting my time with pointless sales patter, apologised that they were unable to match the price or service, explained the whole PAC process, what I’d be charged and when for the remaining weeks of my contact and thanked me for my past custom.
Now, you might well think this is the minimum a customer service agent should do but in my experience it’s sufficiently exceptional to be publicly acknowledged.
And because my last contact with O2 for the number in question was a positive one, I’ll happily consider going back to them in the future when what they can offer and what I want coincide.
Everyone’s a winner.