Dead customer Virgin Media bill goes viral on Facebook

By Zoe Kleinman
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionCompanies need to respond quickly to social media complaints, experts say

A broadband bill sent to a deceased man, which included a fine for late payment, has been shared more than 53,000 times by Facebook users.

Social media experts say it is a reminder of the importance of responding quickly and publicly to complaints made on social networks.

The man's son-in-law, Jim Boyden, posted a photograph of the bill, along with a message addressed to Virgin Media, on the social media network.

Virgin Media said sorry to the family.

Alongside a £63.89 charge the bill stated "D.D Denied-Payer deceased", a reference to the fact the dead man's bank had refused a direct debit payment. Under this Virgin added a "late payment charge" of £10.

"We obviously apologise for the bill and have spoken to Mr Boyden to bring this account to a close more sensitively," a spokesperson told the BBC.

At time of writing Mr Boyden, who put the bill online on Monday night, had not visibly mentioned the apology on Facebook himself.

"I've just placed a little reminder on their Facebook page. This actually amused me to start off with, but their complete lack of response irks me somewhat," he added as a comment to the original complaint last night.

Virgin Media publicly apologised on the site this afternoon.

While the unfortunate action of bills being sent to those who have recently died is far from new, the viral nature of this complaint should serve as a warning to companies, said one social media expert.

"Corporations are very good at promoting themselves, they recognise that everyone needs a Twitter and a Facebook account, they are aware the networks exist but they don't have the strategies in place to deal with the issues that can arise from those networks," said Dr Lisa Harris, head of the digital marketing masters programme at the University of Southampton.

"If they do make a mistake they should say that they are human using the channels they have created themselves."

"A lot of people as a result of seeing this will now think, 'I had that problem as well' - it can mushroom. Companies need to recognize that people have more power than they used to."

BT Head of Customer Services Warren Buckley told the BBC that 40% of its customer feedback now originates on Twitter.

"Clearly we are dealing with customers who aren't happy, and we are doing that very much in public eye, but lots of customers respect the fact that we are on Twitter at all," he said.

"The key is to be honest."

Account closed

In an updated statement for the BBC, Virgin Media said the account has now been closed.

"We offer our sincerest apologies for the wording that appeared on the bill. Automated responses from banks should not appear on customer bills and we're investigating how this happened," said a spokesperson.

"We have a team in place to ensure bereavements are managed sensitively and will ensure this wording is removed from our billing system. As soon as Mr Boyden brought this to our attention, we looked into this matter straight away and can confirm the account has now been closed, with all late payment charges removed."

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