Thursday, 5 November 2009

Broken Britain - 11: Another BT Rant

If you read my last blog about EDF Energy and thought it was a one-off, let me recount something that happened on Monday with BT (British Telecom - yes, them again; see my entries November 26th, 2008 and October 4th, 2009 ).

Overseas readers my not be aware but we in the UK have been hit by a series of all-out Postal Strikes, lasting about 2-3 days each time and severely disrupting our e-bay deliveries and especially our bills.

So, on the afternoon of Monday 2nd November I received a batch of mail which included two from BT: one, dated 25th October was a bill for £51.61 for line rental; the other was a, somewhat threatening, chaser letter “Your payment is late”, dated 29th October). This was a little odd considering both letters contained the words “please pay by Wednesday 4th November” - this being, after all, Monday 2nd.

I also noted that BT had failed to credit me £3 from my last bill, which they’d promised to do. So I phoned up the ‘Customer Services’ (sic) number and, after countless “if you wish to sell your Mother, Press One; if you wish to smash your head against a brick wall, Press Two….” options, I got through to someone…in a Call Centre…in Delhi (this is standard for BT).

He claimed he was aware of the postal strike but still said the bill remained outstanding.

Anyway, I decided to just bite the bullet, walk across the road to my bank, and pay the bill (in cash).

Much later that evening (the 2nd, remember) I noticed my telephone line could not dial out. There was a pre-recorded message to phone an 0800 number to discuss this Restricted Access. However, it said I could phone them “anytime between and”….. it was now

Next morning (Tuesday 3rd) I was phoned on my mobile, by BT, a pleasant-sounding American woman (I don’t know her location). I kept my cool and simply asked what the hell they were doing restricting my line. I mentioned my previous (successful) run-ins with BT, I mentioned OffCom, I mentioned Otelo and the ‘Alternative Disputes Resolution’ (that term always sends shivers down their spine). And then I added:

“May I draw your attention to three simple facts?:
1 - There is a postal strike in the UK, 2 - I didn’t even receive a bill until yesterday afternoon, and….er…., 3 - That bill was paid yesterday”.

There was a long, long embarrassed silence at the other end, and I enjoyed drawing out this theatrical pause.

Then I said, very calmly: “Would you like to take this opportunity to make a profound and grovelling apology to me?” She sounded sheepish and said she would restore the line.

You would think that was the end of the story. But that’s not the way BT do things here.

A few hours later (Tuesday afternoon, remember), the line was still not restored, I got a call from BT, from their Delhi Call Centre again, asking why I hadn’t paid my bill yet.

I just let rip and said “just wait for my next blog”. Their (barely comprehendible) Customer Assistant told me “it would take up to 24 hours to restore things”. How preposterous. I finally said to him: “Look, don’t bother apologising. We live in an apologist society - the more you apologise, the less meaning it has. Just fix the line, OK? - Now”.

Finally, by late Tuesday night, the line was miraculously working again.

….and it never occurred to me to query why they were treating me like this when the bill’s payment deadline was…er…Wednesday 4th.

As you can tell, dear Reader, BT are always eager to cut you off(even on such a meagre sum as £51) yet not so keen to actually deliver a decent service. [And what of all those corporate clients who have outstanding bills running into thousands of pounds? BT are not so enthusiastic to bully and throw their weight around with them, are they?

Again I say: you tell me this country isn’t broken?


Ray Frensham said...

From James Robert Harrison (UK):

Ahh, BT strike again. They've actually simply taken money out of my bosses bank accounts before now without reason...

Jake said...

I've had a similarly amazing experience with BT. A few weeks ago I was notified by o2, my broadband provider, that they were about to suspend my broadband access because my BT landline was being cut off.
Naturally surprised, I called up BT, worked my way through the multiple layers of options and spoke to a very clueless gentleman in India who, after a lot of confusion about orders being placed, and cancelled, eventually determined that my phone line had been cancelled because they had never received any payments. Amazingly, they had managed not to bill me for over two years before noticing the error. I had not noticed myself because I never use the phone, and I assumed the small monthly line rental was being paid by direct debit. Of course, when they did notice their spectacular error, they didn't warn me, but simply cut off my phone line.
I wouldn't have minded losing the phone, but as my broadband access relies on a landline, I asked them to restore the line as soon as possible, and was told it would take three working days.
Three working days later, I had a phone connection again but under a different 'temporary' number. o2 cannot provide broadband to a temporary number, so I had to wait a further two days to be given a permanent number.

One week later, I got a nice man from Virgin to install fibre-optics, so I have them for phone, broadband and TV, and need never use BT again.