Number portability: text-to-switch isn’t working

In 2019 the UK regulator Ofcom brought in new rules to enable customers to switch service provider more readily. Previously, if you wanted to switch mobile network and keep your phone number, you had to contact your CSP for a PAC. When you did, the CSP invariably made attempts to try to get you to stay. The new idea was simple. You could text a free number and get a code provided automatically.

Except few things in life are that simple.

Today I decided to find out how easy it is to get a PAC code via text. So I texted my provider. The reply (from another number) was: Oops we can’t process your request at the moment due to a system issue. Try again later or visit XXX for more information.

After 5 spaced out attempts I gave up and decided to go to my account, where apparently I could also request a code. After logging in, I was then confronted with a page of information about special deals they could do for me – exactly what text-to-switch was meant to avoid.

To get help I then had to repeat all the information I had just entered – my name, email, DOB etc to be permitted to talk to an assistant. From a CX point of view the stupidity of having to re-enter data while inside your own account, about that account, is beyond belief. What is this? 1995?

The chat assistant said they would be happy to help me get a PAC but I’d also need to tell them my security word and a few more details. Why? I asked. You’re supposed to provide this number on request to my mobile (that’s their legal duty). And, I haven’t used this special word in years so I don’t know what it is. He then sent me a long list of instructions on how to find the special word from the depths of my account….

I terminated the chat. Waited an hour and texted again. This time, mysteriously, I received a PAC (on the sixth attempt).

Whether all of this is due to technical incompetence or a deliberate attempt to frustrate the system I don’t know. The fault could lie with the vendor rather than the service provider. But I do know I’m not alone. A quick search of customer forums shows other customers who’ve had the exact same problem. When I asked around, multiple friends and colleagues expressed they’d encountered the same problem as well.

Which begs the question: is Ofcom actually monitoring if text-to-switch is working? No customer should have to text six times to get a number or revert to customer service. Wasn’t that the whole point?