I believe it would be an appropriate tonal setting of this post to open with “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!”.

That’s better.

Not *much* better, mind you.

It’s with a fairly monotonous sense of regularity that I find myself pondering why nothing in this country seems to work properly.  So if you’ve got the stomach for reading on you’ll see a(nother) good illustration of the sort of thing I mean.

I’ve had a phone contract with a company – let’s call them “Purple” – for a while now.  When I signed up for it I owned my phone handset, and I just needed a SIM plan with a reasonable data allowance.  The plan I signed up for gave me – among other things – an allowance of 500mb of mobile data a month.  As it happened, that was more than enough when I had my HTC Desire phone, as its onboard memory was so appallingly small that you couldn’t browse more than 2 webpages or read 3 emails or tweet twice before its cache filled and rendered it impossible to connect.  Upgrading to the HTC Desire S gave me some brief respite from this, however my affection for it waned as the touchscreen started malfunctioning and clicking on stuff I hadn’t clicked on, as well as the cache filling up and rendering me unable to view anything online.  But in the peak of its workiness I averaged about 300mb a month.

A few weeks back I stumped up the quids for a shiny new Google Nexus 4 phone – a new device full of promise, and vastly improved internet capability.  The result being that last month even though I’ve throttled everything back as far as practical and keep a watchful eye on things with data monitoring apps, I used just over 600mb, and this month I’m up to 550mb, with another 4 days left in the billing cycle – truth be known I hit 500mb about a week ago, and have kept the damage minimal by spending most of my time indoors and not using my phone.  Debating the merits of all that is a whole separate issue, but the relevant point of this is that I need a plan with a chunkier data allowance.

Weighing up the options around, I decided that one company – let’s call them “Sturgeon” – had the best plan to suit me: primarily because it includes Unlimited* data, unlimited phone minutes, and unlimited text messages.  All for about a fiver a month less than Purple charge me, and hopefully without their occasional text messages offering me cheap tickets to gigs that they mistakenly think I’m interested in.

After last month’s bill in fact I’d decided it time to jump companies to the more relevant plan, so I hopped onto the Sturgeon Mobile website and signed up for their phone plan, and I was delighted to get their confirmation telling me that my SIM card would arrive in the post shortly.

Asking Liz very nicely to keep her eyes on incoming post for this wondrous arrival, my enthusiasm waned as the reality that “shortly” probably meant “within 10 working days” set in, and so 11 days later I found myself at our Bristol flat with no sign of any SIM card.

Mobile phone shops are an ever-present fixture of all shopping areas in the UK – one shudders to think how many phones some people go through in a year to necessitate there being so many.  Nevertheless, my logical analysis of the problem was that if there was some delay in the processing of my order then perhaps the happy chappies at my local Sturgeon Mobile store would have access to the system and be able to give me a more concrete answer.  Or, better yet, they could cancel my online order and issue me with a SIM card in store.

Stop laughing.

After explaining my situation to the scruffily-bearded youth with the obligatory short sleeve shirt & shiny tie (it’s SO hard to resist saying “You’ve got red on you”), he tapped away at the keyboard and then informed me that there was no record of my order in the system.  I showed him the confirmation email, and he agreed that that indicated I’d placed an order, and his suggestion was that I call customer services.  Up until that point I’d been convinced that the primary purpose of shop staff was to provide a service to the customers, and applying pressure to this definition he reluctantly agreed to let me use the shop phone to call the 0845 number (rather than incurring charges on my Purple phone contract).

FFUUUUUUUUPredictably the Customer Service operator was as useful as a mint-flavoured suppository, however they were able to confirm that though my order had gone through the system, no account had been created and therefore no SIM was on the way.  It occurred to me to ask how long I would have waited before being given this information (it’s possible that some people apply for a new mobile phone account and then having done that just happily keep on using their old one safe in the knowledge that that’s another task off the To-Do list), but figured it more prudent to get straight onto a workaround, and within about 15 short minutes of discussion were able to conclude that I could apply for a SIM in store without fear of being double-billed.  He also agreed that the service I’d received was substandard, but due to me not having a Sturgeon account, he was unable to credit me with any sort of refund by way of apology.  Mmm… minty…

So, Mr Shiny Tie agrees to sign me up for the SIM plan which I was looking for, and asks his youthful assistant to take care of business (him having instantly become too busy with something – not that I was complaining, as youthful assistant was quite smiley and helpful).  She asked me all the questions someone would ask through the course of a phone account application, until we got to the credit check part.

“You did say you lived at number 32, didn’t you?”

“Yes”

“Hmm.  According to this, it doesn’t exist.”

“I can assure you, it does.  I slept in it last night.”

She beckoned me around the other side of the screen, and sure enough in the “credit check” part of the process there was an Address Finder screen which resolves your street number and postcode to an address for matching & fraud prevention purposes.  It’s something which every bank application, online shop, government agency, and… oh, I don’t know, EVERYTHING uses.  Only according to this piece of software the address which all of my bank accounts, my driving licence, mortgage, etc. doesn’t exist.  Flat 31 does, although the people at Flat 33 will be equally distraught to know that they’re homeless too.

The girl (who had an excellent name, it has to be said, but I’m not telling you what it was) looked exasperated for a second, then started tapping away at something else, and looked puzzled.  “The address exists on the Royal Mail website”, she said. “As indeed it does in real life”, I added.  “Is it a new flat, perhaps?”.  “Well, the building was put up in about 1900”.

She phoned the call centre and explained the conundrum to someone there, then started nodding with semi-certainty, scratching notes on a pad and saying “riiiiiiiight”, before hanging up and looking at me with an expression that said “Please be prepared for the fact that this answer is going to be of no use to you whatsoever”.

The source of the problem is that my address doesn’t exist in the 3rd party credit checking software that the Sturgeon application screen uses.  Therefore in order to be able to place the order, the customer needs to contact the 3rd party software vendor and correct the problem.

Yep, that’s right.  In order to get a phone contract, I have to contact a credit checking software vendor – which will no doubt involve navigating their departmental and telephone structure, and explaining the problem to an unknown quantity of confused call centre staff – to ascertain why my perfectly legitimate address doesn’t appear in their database, and then have that corrected.  Whether this subsequently means contacting Sturgeon Mobile and being put through to the software team that looks after version refreshes to make sure that THEIR system can see my address too is as yet unclear.

Optimistically I phoned the 3rd party provider to discuss the issue, but found myself quickly routed through some option panel menus to be ultimately dealt with by someone who didn’t look after an area relevant to my question, and they proved their resilience in getting back on-script no matter what the customer tried to say to them by insisting I register on their website for my free credit check, or I could order a postal copy from them for only £3.  I tried arguing that there were certain problems in ordering a postal copy from a system which doesn’t think your address exists, but now was clearly not the time for facts or logic to enter the discussion.

Quite why it’s not possible for someone at Sturgeon to follow this up in the pursuit of acquiring another customer is a bit of a mystery to me – presumably they’ve already worked out that if a customer can’t be signed up within 10 minutes then it’s not cost effective to get them on board.  It still doesn’t answer why my online application went through to completion & I was issued with email confirmation though.  I can only surmise that the reason they didn’t write to me to tell me my order had been cancelled is that they can’t, because my address doesn’t (apparently) exist.

Any suggestions?

* “unlimited” here presumably means that it’s subject to some sort of limit, although background reading on the topic suggests that it’s not going to become problematic until I start hitting 3-4gb a month.  So, can’t wait for that episode in the saga…