About the organisation
Virgin Media owns the UK’s largest ultrafast broadband network and is part of Liberty Global, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. Our network covers more than half of the country and we currently connect more than six million customers and businesses to ultrafast broadband, landline, mobile phone and TV services across the UK and Ireland.
What challenges were you trying to address?
The government has classified many of Virgin Media’s people as ‘key workers’ because of the essential work they carry out to run, maintain and build our network – a critical piece of UK infrastructure. Millions of people rely on us, especially the vulnerable, so if we didn’t serve them, they wouldn’t be able to work, stay connected or self-isolate properly.
What goals or outcomes did Virgin Media want to receive?
The decision to keep asking some of our people to continue their daily work, including visiting customers’ homes and businesses during the pandemic, was not an easy one, but their work is critical. We wanted to play our part in helping people and businesses navigate through this national emergency in the best way possible, whether that’s by continuing to work from home, being able to stay in touch with their family and friends, being able to access government support programmes online or watching TV to keep informed and entertained as we spend more time at home. Our phone and broadband services are particularly crucial for vulnerable customers who rely on us more than ever to stay connected and protected during periods of self-isolation.
While a lot of our work is currently focused on maintaining our network and fixing faults, we also wanted to ensure that we could continue installing new services during this difficult period. Virgin Media is the biggest competitor to Openreach with an expanding network that reaches more than half of the country and when people switch from an Openreach provider, like BT or Sky, to Virgin Media, they are also switching onto a new network. In some cases, this can mean we need to install a new cable into the home which is something that can’t be done remotely. The decision to continue new installations was crucial in order to make sure that the many people who have already decided to switch to Virgin Media are not left without connectivity – a situation which could put them at risk – and to support households whose broadband service needs have changed now they are spending more time working, learning, and communicating online.
What was your solution?
Lots of our work can be done without the need for anyone to enter a property. Our engineers will only enter a home if they need to in order to fix or install services and will adhere to social distancing guidelines when inside. Connectivity is vital, so leaving our customers without service is not acceptable to us.
We have taken steps to minimise the amount of in-home work we need to carry out to protect our people. This includes:
- Encouraging self-installation wherever this is possible, for example installing a new router in a pre-wired home, or even using video calls to help customers install equipment or fix any issues they may be experiencing
- Prioritising fixes for vulnerable customers and those experiencing a total service loss or significantly slower broadband speed
- Limiting the areas of a home an engineer needs to enter by focusing on installing our main services and not installing boosters around a home or fitting multiple TV boxes in different rooms, for example.
We are frequently checking the health and wellbeing of our engineers and any engineer who falls into the vulnerable category, as per the latest government guidance, is working from home and taking calls from customers to support our contact centre colleagues. We already had hygiene measures in place for engineers before the coronavirus pandemic occurred - this includes anti-bacterial hand wipes and latex gloves as a standard issue kit.
We’ve also had comms that have gone out to every employee and a dedicated microsite created with daily admin updates. We carry out video calls with teams in the wider business and it’s the same with our customers as well, we’ve tried to communicate with them as much as possible, just to make sure they know we’re still there to help them.
Our customers have been very cooperative and understand that these are difficult times. If we do need to enter a customers’ home or business, we do everything we can to minimise the amount of time spent in a property and ask customers and engineers to adhere to social distancing guidelines. If a customer does not want an engineer to enter a premise, or an engineer doesn’t want to enter, they won’t.
I am extremely proud of the work that our employees have been doing during this national emergency to help the UK stay connected. From network engineers who are working to keep our network resilient to contact centre people who are on the other end of the line to solve customer issues, our people have been working tirelessly to ensure that individuals and families across the country can stay connected, continue working from home and are able to access government guidance online to stay safe. Digital connectivity has never been more important, and I am proud of the role Virgin Media is playing as we navigate this new normal during the pandemic.— Abby Thomas, Executive Director, Consumer at Virgin Media
How did you roll out your approach?
We carried out an internal risk assessment to ensure that we had measures in place to minimise the risk for our staff. We also contact customers three days ahead of any visit, as well as the day before, to confirm that no one at the address has been asked to self-isolate or has flu-like symptoms, a system which has already led us to reschedule more than a thousand appointments.
On the day of a technician visit, customers will receive a call around 30 minutes before they arrive. The same process as above is followed.
Meanwhile, for our contact centre employees who have been unable to work from home, we’ve put in place additional safety and hygiene measures, like implementing social distancing in our office spaces.
What have the results been?
The coronavirus pandemic has really highlighted the hard work and dedication of our incredible people all across the business. Our network has remained resilient despite traffic increasing up to 150%. Whether they’re answering phone calls from customers to help solve issues, expanding and maintaining our network to give more people better connectivity, or out on the ground fixing problems, Virgin Media teams are working day and night to keep the country connected.
Some of these people, like Lee, work out in the field. Last week, he was alerted to an elderly customer in St Helens, whose phone and broadband had stopped working, leaving her isolated from the outside world. The customer’s children are frontline NHS workers so could not visit her, and she was understandably worried she could not contact help if she fell ill. Lee immediately went out to visit the customer and was able to fix her services there and then, ensuring she was safe and could call for help should she need it.
In addition to our engineers and technicians, our contact centre staff are vital for keeping some of the most vulnerable people connected. While working back-to-back 12 hour shifts last week, our contact centre employee Denny helped an NHS nurse and her disabled partner get back online after their services went down. With the customer in a vulnerable position, Denny was able to arrange a same-day engineer visit to fix their services, something the customer described as a “massive relief” in an email she sent to thank him.
With many small businesses not properly set-up for remote working, our teams are also working to support those customers that are trying to move their operations online and keep their business running. Last week, Nick took a call from Vicky, a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor, who was no longer able to visit her clients and was trying to work remotely. She was trying to carry out consultations and classes using video conference software, but her connection wasn’t up to the job, leaving her unable to continue working. We were able to upgrade Jenny’s services and offer advice on how to best use video conference software – a simple step in itself but one which means she will be able to keep her business running.
While many of our people are simply doing their day jobs, these jobs are making a huge difference to us all. We are enormously proud that, together, we’re helping the country to stay connected.
What advice would you give to other businesses looking to do something similar?
It’s very important to follow the guidance from the government. We’ve engaged with the government a lot to make sure what we’re doing is safe. Communication is also key because there’s been a lot in the press about telecoms employees not being happy about having to continue working. We haven’t felt that internally because we’ve communicated with employees and shown them why the work they’re doing is so important. With customers, when you have to go into their homes or carry out work in the street, communicate why you’re doing it because understandably some people might have concerns seeing engineers digging up the roads when people should be self-isolating but communicating to them that this is the way that we maintain our network and ensure reliable broadband is very important, which is why we have carried out an extensive comms campaign alongside our wider work.