CRM upgrade downs online services at Virgin Mobile

A team of people is working on restoring services

A CRM and billing system upgrade project at Virgin Mobile has gone south with the mobile carrier unable to offer most of its online services including sales and account management.

This is the second outage in as many months at the telco, both due to planned system upgrades. The last was from January 29 to February 1.

Information about this “extended delay” will be posted on Virgin Mobile’s website every three hours.

As of 3pm today the message was: “Our sincere apologies for the ongoing delay in completing our major system upgrade. We understand this is affecting our customers, and we thank you once again for your continued patience.”

The company has identified the “key issues” causing the delay and is “making good progress in resolving them”.

While it cannot give an exact estimate for completing the upgrade, it is the number one priority and “a large team of people” is working to restore the online services.

Mobile phone services are not being affected by the rocky upgrade, but almost everything else is, including recharging of pre-paid voice and mobile broadband services, account access and balances, premium services, service reactivation and bill payments.

A spokesperson for Virgin Mobile told TechWorld the company is “getting there” with the upgrade and she will have more information tomorrow.

In August 2008 the company announced it had chosen RightNow SaaS CRM for multi-channel customer service. Virgin has not released any details whether this outage is related to RightNow.

A spokesperson for RightNow has confirmed the company's software had nothing to do with this outage.

System administrator, blogger and Virgin Mobile customer Russell Coker has been trying to purchase a new handset since last week.

“Since last Friday the entire Virgin sales infrastructure has apparently been down. It started with just declining my attempts to purchase a new phone on a separate account, but when I decided to add a second phone to my wife’s account the Web site told me that they are upgrading their CRM system and it should be fixed on the 22nd of Feb (yesterday),” Coker wrote on his blog.

“So for most of a week potential Virgin customers have been turned away. It could be that Virgin stores are processing sales on paper, but they offer some significant discounts for Web sales – the plan I want is a $39 per month plan and I’ll get 3 months free for buying on the Web. I’m not about to visit a store and lose $117!”

According to Virgin Mobile it is upgrading the hardware, operating system and database of the CRM platform uses to ensure it “can service our members even better for years to come”.

As to why the upgrade period is going to take so long: “we are giving ourselves enough time to ensure it’s done properly and runs well from day one.”

Coker says Virgin didn’t have a “decent test environment” to allow testing the upgrade process before doing it on the live data.

“I can understand a routine small upgrade going wrong and corrupting data in a way that takes some time to resolve,” he wrote. “But when everything is upgraded then everything should be tested, and tested before going live!”

To restore its credibility Coker recommends Virgin publish what went wrong.

“One thing that Virgin could do to regain some credibility is to publish what went wrong and what they learned from it. I would be much more happy to trust my personal data and my business critical phone to a company that learns from its mistakes and publishes plans on how they do better than one that just does PR.”

Virgin Mobile has set up a temporary page on its Web site explaining the problems.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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Tags crmoutagevirgin mobileRightNowbilling systems

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