I called Vodafone customer service again. The first time, they’d robotically refused to listen. Some excuse about spoiling their bank holiday; not wanting to hear what I had to say. It nearly worked, I nearly didn’t call back. But I had to get it off my chest; had to say what I had to say.
So I tried again. This time, I wasn’t to be put off. I had to do it.
An Irish man answered. Friendly and welcoming. I felt awkward; he sounded happy; I didn’t want to spoil his day. I asked when my current contract ended.
“No problem, I’ll just check when your commitment ends.” He said it, not me: my commitment. He told me my commitment ended on the 23rd May 2011. There was a slight pause where neither of us knew quite what to say next. “Um…do you want to upgrade?” he ventured.
“I’m leaving. Can I have my PAC number please?” I gabbled. Just to get it out. There was another pause. A slightly taken aback pause. I felt bad. He’d been so sunny and warm until I’d phoned him like a rain cloud across his day.
“We’re…we’re sorry that you’re leaving.” He made an effort to smile again; to put on a brave face. “Okay, so you’d like a PAC number?”
“I’ll have to check if the department is open. It’s, you know, bank holiday, so not all of the departments are…er…open today. Because of the bank holiday you know.” It was his turn to gabble.
“Yes” I said. “Of course.” Then, suddenly, to reassure him: “I’m sure I’ll be back. At some point.”
I paused, then added: “It’s not you; it’s me.”
As I listened to the ‘hold’ music, I relaxed a bit. I’d done it. it was nearly over. I was going to get a PAC number and then I would be free to move on. Free to discover a new network.
“Hello, Laura?” said another male voice. More efficient, slightly less friendly this time. Yet still polite.
“Yes” I said.
“You’d like a PAC number?”
“Yes, please,” This was it; I was nearly there.
“Can I ask who you’re leaving us for?”
My heart sank slightly. He was going to make this difficult. Why couldn’t he just accept it? I wasn’t trying to play hard-to-get. I just wanted a PAC number so I could move on from this old relationship to a new and vibrant network. He thought I was just trying to get a better deal.
“giffgaff” I mumbled.
He’d never heard of them. I felt a sudden sense of derision towards him. Granted, I’d never heard of giffgaff until last week but then I don’t work in the telecoms industry. I’d just asked on Twitter if anyone had any recommendations about Vodafone vs O2 coverage and SIM-only deals from each of them. I hadn’t even been aware of the quiet dark stranger standing in the corner, waiting to catch my eye.
@oldmanuk had been first to point him out. He’d not known him for long but what he’d seen, he’d liked. @oldmanuk had suggested talking to @maygg or @thomasj; both were with this newcomer, and they might be able to put in a good word for me. If I was interested.
Instantly, I had glimpsed the excitement I’d felt in the first couple of weeks of my current commitment, a long two years ago. Then, it had been less about the relationship and more about the gift of the new handset that had arrived to my home. About removing the box sleeve to reveal, inside, the shiny dark-blue touchscreen phone, its smooth surface unsullied by the bumps and scratches of my old phone. The novelty had faded over the two years but I wasn’t ready to give it up, despite the tempting offers from Android.
giffgaff wasn’t offering me gifts like that. He wasn’t offering them in return for a fixed-term commitment. All he asked is that I check in briefly every 3 months. If I wanted more, more was there. If I didn’t, there was no pressure. I liked that about him. I liked his easy-going nature.
“giffgaff?” asked the Vodafone customer service representative. “Are they a third-party website?” The slight derision I’d felt grew into coldness towards him.
“They’re another provider. Running on the O2 network.” I was annoyed with myself for feeling like I had to explain myself to him. I didn’t owe him anything. Yet I felt guilty, like I was being unreasonable, like I was playing around on a rival network.
“Oh” he said. “Can I ask what they’re offering?”
I held the impatience out of my voice as I replied: “Um…they do…um…kindof goodybags – they call them goodybags – that last a month. For £10 I get 250 minutes, and txts, …um…unlimited txts and data. And cheaper prices outside of that. And they…um…have…um…an interesting business model.”
I was gabbling again. In silent anguish I added: “why won’t you just let me go?”
He paused. I wished I were still talking to the first man. I’d felt bad for hurting him but at least I’d been able to talk to him. This man was colder, more experienced, more distant. I just wanted to get away. At the same time I understood that he was doing all he knew just to keep me. But I didn’t want him any more.
“I can give you 300 minutes for £9 a month,” he offered. My stomach tightened. I shook my head even though he couldn’t see me.
“No, it’s okay. I just want to go,” I said. Firmer this time. I had to make myself clear. I wasn’t just angling for a better deal. I wanted a complete break. I wanted to be able to to see giffgaff, without the ties, without the costs. Without the guilt.
“So you just like the look of this company?” He was trying to be calm and polite and rational. But, to me, he seemed to be suggesting that I was flighty, that I was falling for appearances, that I was being irrational.
“No, I like their business model. They’re community-focused.” I knew I probably wasn’t making a lot of sense to him. I was being defensive. I just wanted to get this over with. I wanted to move on.
“Okay, so you need a PAC number.” Relief slid down my tummy. Finally, he seemed to understand. My hand shook slightly as I wrote “PAC:” on the front of my giffgaff origami envelope and then waited for him to speak again.
He slowly read out the letters and numbers as I wrote them down.
“Thank you very much,” I said, as I hung up.
I looked down at the PAC number written before me, among the bright decoration of the giffgaff origami envelope that contained my SIM for the future. I was free.
My future was bright; my future was giffgaff.