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Three UK is First Mobile Operator to Shut Most Call Centres UPDATE

Thursday, Mar 26th, 2020 (7:51 am) - Score 15,591
three uk mobile broadband

Mobile operator Three UK has become the first of the major Mobile Network Operators (MNO) to shut most of their call centres due to the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), which occurred shortly after they closed all of their retail stores. Instead customers are being redirected to online chat that is often unable to resolve key issues.

At present most of the major fixed line broadband ISPs and mobile operators are still keeping their call centres open, albeit often at reduced capacity due to the impact of COVID-19 on their workforce and the need for social distancing in the office. Part of this is because telecoms staff are considered key workers, although in fairness the Government’s advice about who should and should not work has been as clear as mud.

However, operators that rely on outsourcing for much of their customer support have been left more exposed to the impact of lockdowns in other countries, where different rules may apply. In some cases providers have eased such challenges by adopting remote working systems (i.e. answering support calls from home), although it doesn’t appear as if Three UK have been able to fully implement that.. yet.

We understand that the operator is currently putting a lot of effort toward getting their call centre staff to work remotely from home, in a secure fashion, and some are already doing this. We’re expecting another update on their progress with this in the very near future.

Three UK Statement

Following guidance from the government, our stores are now closed and contact centre staff won’t be able to get to the office as usual. Please use the Three app or our website 24/7. We are working hard to be able to provide support for customers. Thank you for your patience during these difficult times.

The situation has resulted in plenty of problems, not least since live chat services often aren’t as effective as telephone support. At this point we’ve probably all experienced, at one time or another, the “you need to phone our contact centre” reply when using such services for certain issues, but surprisingly this is still happening for some Three customers, even though most of their call centres are closed.

Hopefully Three can get on top of this by establishing a more effective way of tackling more complicated account or billing issues etc. Clearly some operators will need to review their “disaster strategies” after COVID-19 is over and come up with a more effective response.

The current situation is certainly unprecedented in modern times but, much like major solar flares from the sun, significant events do tend to happen at least once in a generation or so.

UPDATE 12:51pm

According to Three UK they haven’t shut all of their call centres, although they have shut almost all of them except one in Glasgow and are endeavouring to improve remote working.

A Three spokesperson said:

“Following guidance from the government, our contact centres across India, Ireland and Scotland have been impacted and our people won’t be able to get to the office as usual. This impacts our ability to manage calls and live chat from customers however we are doing everything we can to set up our staff to work from home and continue to serve our customers. Customers can use the Three app 24/7, use Three Store Now which is a new service at www.three.co.uk/three-store-now on which customers can ask general questions between 9AM and 6PM.

To help us to protect our most vulnerable customers, such as those currently without service, we would ask our customers where possible, to hold off on calling us or using Live Chat, and to use our digital tools as much as possible.

Please be assured that we are working hard to be able to provide support for customers and thank you for your patience during these difficult times.”

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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35 Responses
  1. Avatar photo dave says:

    As far as I can tell, O2 has closed their online chat some days ago.

    I can’t find the option anymore anyway.

  2. Avatar photo Santi says:

    yeah, their initial banner said that it was down to the Indian government Coronavirus response, so basically they are saying they have all their call centres in the same location in India. Pity their clients, the network simply doesn’t work and now they have no one to talk to.

    1. Avatar photo luvvy says:

      Three have call centre based in Glasgow too but Scotlands on a tight lockdown as well.

    2. Avatar photo Archie says:

      Butt hurt comes to mind. Three are cheaper and better than the others by far.

    3. Avatar photo Alex says:

      I think the whole of India is in shut down so wouldn’t matter where it was there.

  3. Avatar photo Gary large says:

    Alot of hassle the online chat not clear to change to sim only as contract finishing next week not paying money out unnecessary

    1. Avatar photo Disgruntled says:

      Can I just point out that the communications state Three Store Now is for general product enquiries? How people interpret that to kean customer services is beyond me.

  4. Avatar photo Ixel says:

    I guess they don’t have the facility in place to allow some call center staff to work from home remotely, unlike some other companies who have arranged this.

    1. Avatar photo David says:

      Sky dosen’t seem to have that feature either – all their staff who have come on the forums as as useful as the customers who post. Luckily my Bank is well keyed up and only has staff who work from home anyway!

    2. Avatar photo Darren says:

      Most call centers go out of their way to make sure that no one can work from home. They don’t want someone accessing customer records away from the office. GDPR issue. Plus they can’t monitor people and put them back on calls.

    3. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

      @Darren. GDPR should not be used as an excuse. Many people (including my wife) deal with very confidential information working remotely/home using either local disk encryption or remote desktops and there is no reason why someone cannot be on an office extension via IP. Access to records should be controlled and auditable. These are technology choices. This happens to be a pandemic but key services should have plans business continuity and resilience. We all understand restricted service in the present circumstances but having no plan is not acceptable.
      Those without any income are being advised to contact their providers to discuss differing bills etc.

    4. Avatar photo Oliver says:

      Spot on Meadmodj!

    5. Avatar photo Darren says:

      It’s not controlling the data that is the issue. It’s easy to get a laptop and encrypt it. The problem is for example someone taking a call and taking card details. That person could write it down on pen and paper. In an office there is cameras and all sorts monitoring you that limit that ability. Many other details like that means most set up to really restrict where people can work.

      Plus someone can take their phone and out and screenshot lots of data. Look up famous peoples contract data etc. Who they call and at what times. These people are all on minimum wage with little checks for credibility.

      Every call center I worked at has backup sites. They regularly tested these out. Even dumping work overseas for a few hours as a test. However never would it be authorised or desired to let people access data from home.

  5. Avatar photo Linda Cooney says:

    I recieved my new mobile wifi from three on monday but not working. Put sim in, put battery in, charged however bars red no signal, signal checker for my post code is excellent. I’ve reset and kept it off then back on still no signal. Spoke to 4 different online staff who cant resolve because they cant access my details from home. So I am left with no internet and working from home.

    1. Avatar photo fizz says:

      I’m not 3 support but do use 3 mifi devices quite a bit. It looks like a signal issue. I assume you have a white Huawei one with no digital screen. If you have smartphone/tablet then download the app it will give you a better idea.you can also access the service text messages.

    2. Avatar photo Linda Cooney says:

      Fizz yes that’s the one. I tried all that I am getting no where

    3. Avatar photo DaveyO says:

      Linda to be brutally honest with you just cancel the service as soon as you can. 3 can’t provide or support you with the service your paying for.

    4. Avatar photo Helper says:

      Linda, take the SIM out of the mifi, place it in a phone, wait till you receive 2 messages. The 2nd message will instruct you to now turn the phone and on off. Once done. Take SIM card out and place back in mifi box. The SIM card needs activating via a mobile

  6. Avatar photo Arthur says:

    Threes call centers are in India the country is on lock down 1.3 billion people
    That’s why three had no choice but to close

  7. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

    What I find interesting is how this crisis has exposed the deficiencies of technology companies. They rely far too much on their call centres, with no contingency such as working from home or having their online systems being able to handle a range of transactions such as package changes (I’m looking at you, Virgin Media).

    1. Avatar photo Oliver says:

      I was with GiffGaff for 18 months and I only had to use their online forum once to query an erroneous charge on my bill. Solved nice and quick.
      They don’t have any call centres! Somehow it just works. Ok, they don’t have the complexity or range of advanced services or business customers, but surely 98% of consumers could be served in the same way as GiffGaff and I’m pretty sure automation could be used to service the others. IT’s all about managing call centre demand. Most consumers don’t want to speak to a bloke in India reading from a script anyway.

  8. Avatar photo walkerx says:

    There should be no reason why an operator cannot have staff working from home and answering support queries via phone or chat services.
    If they setup the required secured vpns, jump servers, etc they should have no problems with providing support even if with reduced staff levels.

    1. Avatar photo Luvvy says:

      That’s exactly what’s happening at Three. encrypted laptops are being sent out in order to allow Three Store Now staff to transfer relevant customers to contact centre staff with these laptops who can look up their data.
      Not allowed to install the systems on own personal computers due to GDPR risk.

  9. Avatar photo John says:

    Three does not have a call centre in Scotland, it is their executive complaints office who deal with high level complaints and have limited resource, maybe one person, to support vulnerable customers. It is not there to deal with day to day customer support so their update is misleading.

    At every level Three fail to comply with Ofcom regulations and treat their customers with utter distain. No grown up CP would have all of their customer service in one site in Indian. Three customer service is provided by Tech M, which is owned by their parent company Hutchinson Whompoa, it is done on the cheap with an arrogant management in Maidenhead who have been in place far too long and in desperate need to bring in some talent from outside the Group. Poor Leadership and Ineffective risk management has led to this situation. Management phobia about home working and inadequate use of modern technologies such as Sharepount and cloud technologies mean staff can’t access information adequately. Hence the comments about the laptops. A shambles of a company.

    After things have been resolved with the Virus, Ofcom need to launch an investigation into Three UK and their failure to put into adequate procedures to ensure ongoing customer service and business continuity. How can we have a situation where I cannot contact Three in any capacity?

    1. Avatar photo martin says:

      by “Tech M” i suppose you mean Tech Mahindra who actually bought Hutchison Global back in 2012: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/techm-buys-hutchison-global-for–87.1-mn/997873/

  10. Avatar photo Andy says:

    Nice to see 3 can’t enable the staff to work from home but apparently had no problem whatsoever in telling me my bill is about to increase. They say inline with RPI, however the ONS gives a very different figure.
    Well done 3, usual level of BS

    1. Avatar photo Alex says:

      RPI inflation was 2.5% are you sure you weren’t looking at CPI which was 2.1%. Even the government says RPI is a discredited measure but they have to publish it by law.

      All the networks have picked on RPI as it is generally higher than CPI and so they can say “inflation increase” and have the highest measure of it.

  11. Avatar photo Michael Friebe says:

    After they put up charges.!

  12. Avatar photo Dumbo says:

    Three are being forced by circumstances to move their Call Centre support to the homes of its UK Shop staff, which should make all the moaners here very happy. Unbelievable how in the face of a pandemic and death people are being so selfish. This is not anyone’s fault. I bet all those kids that work in the shops cannot wait to get full access to all that juicy information held on their databases. I’m quite sure none of them will be tempted to sell on any information or harvest any details for improper use. Apparently the above posters know that this will not happen and the correct checks and balances are in place. My mind is at rest. Why not cut them some slack and don’t add even more pressure to a understandable tough situation.

  13. Avatar photo Dannielle says:

    I can’t pay my bill and want to make an arrangement how do I do that? Will three cut me off ?

  14. Avatar photo Simon says:

    I want to cancel my three contract. I don’t went well to move it to another company. But there is no option to do this

    Only thing o think I can do is cancel my direct debit

    Can’t speak to a human and the online chat could not help

    Any ideas?

  15. Avatar photo Andrew WALKER says:

    Paid my bill by internet banking but still being threatined to be cut off

    No one to talk too
    Live chat not really going to chat about my bills there

  16. Avatar photo Steo Davis says:

    its not about being selfish its about staying connected. when you cannot login to your account, cannot pay your bill because there is no way to pay it nor topup account then its a problem. i can no longer login to my3. it just takes me to a page to register and NO password is sufficient.

  17. Avatar photo Ian says:

    UK official RPI is 0.9% yet 3mobile has added 2.7% to Bill’s- why?

  18. Avatar photo Mark says:

    Ever time i ring 3 ive never got to talk to anybody in scotland or ireland its always gone to india why havent they got more call centres in the uk

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