Dear Virgin Mobile:

Dear “Virgin Mobile” pranksters:

Thank you for an entertaining couple of days. You really had me going! At the end, I expected some “Candid Camera” guy to pop out from behind my sofa, or at least to have a YouTube video of my odyssey go viral.

How did you know that I’d fall so easily for the “pay-as-you-go MiFi hotspot” come-on? Well, as you know, it worked. I found your beautifully faked-up web site with a picture of the “MiFi 2200” on it and the tempting “Buy Now!” button. I was just sure I’d heard of Virgin Mobile, and it never occurred to me that you might not be a real company. Perhaps I was confusing you with an airline.

Nice job leading me by the hand through the multiple pages of forms. You got my name, a couple of addresses, my phone number, and my credit card information. Then, that beautiful page with just the headers and footers and nothing in between. Brilliant! Any kind of error message might have tipped me off, but the page showed clearly that you had received all my information but didn’t offer any confirmation or rejection… perfect! At that point I had no way of knowing (still believing, as I foolishly did, that “Virgin Mobile” was a real company) whether or not my credit card had been charged and my order completed, or was lost in the ether.

Good going, too, on the total lack of contact email addresses. You so beautifully captured the insanity of having to fill out yet another form and then type the entire help request into a 1 x 1.5 cm box. It drove me wild! Not to mention the “required field” pop-ups with questions that I was unable to answer because, since I was trying to create an account, I DIDN’T HAVE ACCOUNT INFORMATION YET! The video of me seething in frustration must be hilarious!

Of course, I was just getting an inkling that the whole thing was a hoax, but the friendly and professional-looking “help ticket” you sent me by email was soreassuring that I was sucked right back in. Just like a real company, your answer to solving problems with on-line transactions was to force the customer (who presumably was ordering on-line for a reason) to call on the phone. It was perfect: only a real company would be so professional yet so un-helpful. Even better was when the message-on-hold repeatedly exhorted me to try to solve my problem by going to the web site. Hilarious!

Now, having both phone numbers you gave send me into endless voice-jail loops with no live person and no resolution — that was pushing it. Having the automated attendant (what was his name, Alex?) hang up on me three times was a bit over the top. I should have had the ruse figured out by then and, having been at it for most of the day, I did give it up for a time. You cleverly sent me that little “please rate your customer service experience” survey — reading my response must have made your day!

When I came back to try again, you must have figured out that you completely had me. Getting an actual person to answer the phone today doubtless took some work, but you had plenty of time to get her ready as I once again tried to navigate your “say ‘I’m gullible’ if you want customer service” phone system. Do you believe that I actually let her transfer my call three times, each time waiting minutes on hold while being told that I could quickly resolve my problem by going to the web site? Well, thinking I was being clever, I was bouncing around your realistic-looking web pages but not finding any useful information. Then, behold! A blurb that your broadband2go products could be purchased at Sprint stores. I could go see a real human being! You even offered a link to a realistic mock-up of a Sprint web site, and offered to let me make an appointment!

Of course, I was getting wary by this time and thought I’d call the store to make sure they actually had the product. But you were way ahead of me! It never occurred to me that the Sprint site and the phone number were counterfeit, so of course I fell for the infinite voice-jail-wait-on-hold gag AGAIN! Uproarious!

Did you ever dream that I’d fall for the blank confirmation page ploy again? Well, you must have, because you used it to good effect on the make-an-appointment page. THEN suckered me by sending an appointment confirmation by email only AFTER I’d fumed about the blank page.

So you actually got me to physically go to the Sprint store, with an appointment. How much did you have to pay them to arrange to make me wait around for twenty minutes and then let your stand-in “help” me. “I’m sorry, sir, it’s my first day here.” Classic! Of course, he had no idea what I was talking about. He insisted that the MiFi 2200 only came with a $60/month contract. I made him go to your web site, but he couldn’t hide the smirk. Your back-up man quickly spotted the trouble, and stepped in with the “we offer all the broadband2go items except the MiFi 2200.” Sure, it wasn’t the most clever recovery, but he still deserves a bonus for thinking on his feet. By then, though, the jig was up. You can’t really blame the guy with the smirk — you all did a fabulous job of keeping straight faces for the entire two-day funfest.

You made my day (or 2). While I’m waiting for Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile to offer a no-contract MiFi box, I’ll just have a good chuckle whenever I see the name “Virgin Mobile” (that should have tipped me off right there!) and know that you pranksters are still doing your best. What a hoot!

Ron – 03 Jul 2010