Lindsey’s father is not very well just now, so I’ve been trying to help her parents with one or two things recently. One of the problems they’ve been having is with their phones. It can sometimes take them a little time to reach the phone when it rings, and their voicemail service was often activating before they could answer. They asked me if it was possible to extend the number of rings before it cut in, and if so, to arrange it with their service provider.
How difficult can it be to extend the number of rings before voicemail cuts in? Well, if your service provider is Virgin Media, it can be VERY difficult!
The first time I phoned Virgin I listened to the five initial options – “If you are phoning about your account, please press 1; if you are phoning about a fault, please press 2…” etc. People of Lindsey’s parents’ generation hate these options because they find them confusing, which, by the way, is one reason why the excellent Saga services don’t use options. None of the five Virgin options seemed relevant to extending the number of rings before voicemail hits in, but I chose to press 4 for ‘Question about your installation’.
There were a further four options: “If you want to blah, blah, press 1; if you want to blah blah blah, press 2; if you want to blah blah blah blah, press 3; if you want to change your settings…” So I pressed 4. “Oops…it seems you have pressed the wrong option. If you want to blah, blah, press 1; if you want to blah blah blah, press 2; if you want to blah blah blah blah, press 3; if you want to change your settings…press zero”
Well, I ask you…what company in their right mind uses ‘zero’ for option 4? But that was my mistake, for not being patient enough to listen to the full message.
Option zero got me through to a real person, who wanted to know the password. Lindsey’s Dad has forgotten his password, but the operator was eventually satisfied when I gave him the name of the bank that paid his direct debit to Virgin.
“I’d like to extend the number of rings that this phone makes before the voicemail hits in” I explained.
“I’m afraid that you can only extend the number of rings before voicemail hits in if you use the Voicemail Plus service, and I’m afraid that your current account is only for the Voicemail service.” The operator exaplained.
“In that case, I’d like to change to the Voicemail Plus service.” I replied.
“The Voicemail Plus service costs an additional £2.40 per month, is that OK?”
“WHAT! Another £2.40 per month just to extend the number of times a phone rings before voicemail hits in? You cannot be serious!”
“What I can do for you is change your communications package. I can offer you an upgrade from 2MB/sec to 10MG/sec on your broadband, and also include Voicemail Plus, and I can offer this package for a reduction on your monthly bill of £3.60”
“So” I enquired, “Instead of paying an additional £2.40 for Voicemail Plus, I can get Voicemail Plus AND an increase in broadband for less cost?”
“Weird, but lets go for that, then.”
“It will take 24 hours to make the changes.”
“After 24 hours, the number of times the phone rings before voicemail hits in will be increased?”
“Yes. The number of times the phone rings before voicemail hits in will be increased to ten”
“OK. Let’s do that.”
26 hours later, we tested the service, but it was still only taking 6 rings before the voicemail hit in. So I phoned Virgin Media once again, went through all the options correctly this time, and spoke to an operator. He explained that for some reason the changes had not been made correctly. There was also some discussion about whether I wanted the phone to ring 10 times before voicemail hit in, or rather 15 times, becasue if I wanted 15, then it would initially have to be changed to 10, but could later be changed to 15.
“Let’s go for 10, then.” I suggested.
“Alright, Sir. The changes have been made, and it will take between 2 and 24 hours for them to take effect.”
Two days later, I tested the phone again. It was still only taking 6 rings before the voicemail hit in. I tried for the third time to arrange an extension of the number of times the phone rang before voicemail hit in. Unfortunately, this third time I tried to sort things out, I did so from my own phone at home, rather than Lindsey’s parents phone, and this seemed to make a difference to the Virgin operator, who despite being told that Lindsey’s Dad had forgotten his password, would not instead accept details of the name of the bank that paid his direct debit to Virgin. He wanted to ask me further security questions, the answers to which I obviously wouldn’t know, and as I was at my home rather than Lindsey’s parents, could not easily ask them. He also would not give me an incident number.
Eventually, however, when I started to fume, I was passed on to a lovely sounding Welsh woman, who calmed me down. She explained that if there were more than three phones in Lindsey’s parents’ house (there are four) that something called ‘REN‘ would prevent it from being possible to extend the number of rings before voicemail hit in.
This turned out to be complete codswallop, because the Welsh Virgin operator eventually passed me on to another Virgin techie called Jackie, who actually seemed to be on top of the entire issue, and who explained that increasing the number of rings before the Virgin voicemail plus service hit in might depend on whether the phone which was connected to the main jack was a cordless, or corded, phone.
At this point, I became completely calm, because I mentally determined to contact both Citizen’s Advice and also the Phone Czar, if there is such a person.
Jackie told me that she could see from her records that I’d been trying to extend the number of times that Lindsey’s parents’ phone rang before their voicemail hit in, for some time now, and she apologised for all the wrong advice that various Virgin operators had given me. She said that she had now activated the maximum number of rings, and that it did not take 24 hours to take effect…she had done it now. Because she could not test it there and then (because I was phoning from my home, and not Lindsey’s parents’ home), she gave me an incident number.
An incident number! You always know you’re getting somewhere, when you get an incident number.
Anyway, Jackie assured me that the number of rings before voicemail hit in had been extended to its maximum, which is ten, and not fifteeen as I’d previously been told, and that the only reason this might not work would be if a cordless phone was connnected to the main jack. I said I would test it, and get back to her if necessary, armed with the incident number.
So I phoned Lindsey’s Mum, and asked her to let the phone keep ringing the next time I phoned her. The next time I phoned her…deep joy!…it took 10 rings before the voicemail hit in.
The morals of this story are: a) Don’t believe a word any service operator says. If all else fails, they will try to baffle you with technical jargon such as REN, and REN is definitely baffling “Note that the REN of modern telephone equipment may be significantly lower than 1: as a rough guide, externally-powered digital-ring phones may have a REN as low as 0.1, while modern analog-ring phones (where the ringer is powered from the phone line) typically have a REN around 0.8.”; b) Keep banging your head against the wall until things work to your satisfaction. It may take several hours of effort spaced over almost a week, plus numerous phonecalls, to do something as simple as extend the number of rings before a voicemail cuts in, but you’ll get there eventually.
Lindsey’s Mum is now very happy that she no longer has to rush to the phone.
All of the above took place after Lindsey and I had made a complete overhall of her parents’ phones, and had discarded their old phones, which had too many options and small buttons, and which could somehow too easily be replaced on the handsets the wrong way round (meaning that the lines remained ‘busy’) with new phones with fewer options and larger buttons, and ones which refuse to be replaced the wrong way round. How any phone manufacturer can design a phone which can easily be replaced on the base station the wrong way round, resulting in lost calls, is beyond me. It’s obvious that most modern phones have far too many needless options, and that many of these options can end up confusing eighty-odd-year-olds such as Lindsey’s parents. No one in their right minds wants to change a dial tone on a home landline from ‘brrrrrrrrr’ to ‘brrrn brrrn’, or use the myriad of other possible choices that all phones seem to come with nowadays, so why design them that way? By fiddling with these useless options, it is actually possible to end up with a dial tone which sounds, to the older generation, like an engaged tone. This is what had at one time happened with Lindsey’s parents’ phone. Explaining useless options also makes the manual into a much more daunting document than it needs to be.
In addition, there was also a recent malfunction to Lindsey’s parents’ phoneline, which was sorted by Virgin.
Hopefully, here endeth their phone saga.
Lindsey's parents' simple new phone, which, as you can see, cannot be replaced the wrong way round
Some of Lindsey's parents' old phones