Like A Virgin, Sold For (Almost) The Very First Time


Ever feel like you’ve just been bought and sold?

The recent “Liberty to offload Virgin Media Ireland” news headline certainly left me feeling like I was about to become a makeweight in someone else’s deal. Again. The details of the story itself were humdrum, standard fare for global deals, although the description of the current owner as a ‘cable cowboy’ only added to my sinking feeling.

As a Virgin Media customer since their buy-out of UPC some six years ago, I’d become used to, fond even, of my new owners, although their original letter to me at the time announcing that I was now ‘their’ customer (without so much as a ‘buy your leave’ as my mother used to say) didn’t exactly set my heart aglow.

Now, don’t get me wrong, UPC were no great shakes and ours was at best a marriage of convenience but still, no-one likes to feel like a cow, prized or not, offered as one small part of a dowry to an eager new buyer. Nobody had the courtesy to ask me if I liked the look of this ardent suitor, even if it was that sweet-talking Richard Branson, who had promised to do “great things together with Liberty and shake up the Irish market even further.”

In my line of work, I’m always a more than a little uncomfortable when I hear owners talk of buying and selling businesses and the customer accounts that make up much of their value. Of course, I understand the appeal to a buyer of knowing that my purchase includes proven relationships with a great many customers in the market. But looking at the deal from the customer’s side of the shop counter, particularly in a business which trades on its strong relationships, it seems more than a little presumptuous to take my custom for granted. Whilst we all understand that businesses and their owners come and go, as do customers, we also appreciate a little humility on the part of both new and old owner. At least, make a genuine effort to win me over, too.

Without wishing to over-romanticise the past, I’m reminded of how my then 17-year-old mother left a small town in Cork to work some 180 miles away in the accounts department of the ESB, Ireland’s national electricity supply board. She recalled how she would sometimes happen upon her family’s electricity bill and would write a short greeting to her mother, along with a few pieces of news, before sealing the envelope and sending it home.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the owners of Virgin Media send me little love notes alongside my monthly bill, but I would like to feel that I’m a little more than a numbered account, one to be bought and sold like a wedding dowry to my new owner. With all the big data and small data available to them, there’s much they could do to reassure me that the new arrangement will suit me even better too. Unless, of course, that’s not part of their considerations.

Ever feel like you’re about to be bought and sold?