We recently ran an article on a survey by Motive which raised the interesting - and pertinent - point that progress towards Broadband Britain was being hampered by the poor quality of the customer support and helpdesk activities on the part of the major telcos. This was identified as a problem that was only likely to get worse as more and more inexperienced users took advantage of self-install to get on the high speed internet.
Well, on the basis of the performance by BTOpenWorld this week, those predictions look horribly true. It wasn't even as if I had a particularly complicated query. My email box had started bouncing messages back to senders and informing them my account was full. It patently was not at the client end, which meant that for some reason the BT server was not deleting messages. I was unable to sort this problem from my end, so I needed someone at BTOpenWorld to delete the data from the company's end.
So far so simple, but not as simple as the person who answered the phone it seemed. It took five attempts for him to get my name correct, which caused him to declare triumphantly on more than one occasion that I didn't have an account with BTOpenWorld. After he finally managed to type correctly, he then said he had no idea what the problem was. I told him that he needed to clear the server account, but this appeared to be a strange and alien concept to the little lamb.
But then in one bound he was free. "You're using broadband," he declared. "Yeeeeeessssss..." I said cautiously, horribly realising what his next move was going to be. Sure enough he happily followed up by declaring that I needed to talk to the BT Broadband customer support. Unfortunately for him I was ready for this one. It's not a broadband problem, it's an OpenWorld problem, I told him, the broadband connection is working just fine.
You've got to give him brownie points for trying. He made two more attempts to get me to call broadband support. God loves a trier! "This is an OpenWorld email issue," I snapped," and this is the contact number for email problems on the BT OpenWorld web page." The answer was classic BT and full marks to my little chum for delivering it with commendable po-faced sobriety: "There isn't an email helpline contact number, sir." A top performance all round, displaying an admirable ability to ignore irritating little things, like reality and the fact that there's a contact number on your own company web site.
At this point I lost it and demanded to speak to someone in charge. It took five minutes of insisting down the phone before he finally put me through to someone else, who took 30 seconds to realise what the problem was and put it right. I complained about the person I'd been talking to originally only to be told happily: "Oh, he's new - you can't expect him to know everything."
Well, maybe not, but if he doesn't know how to deal with customers, then what's he doing answering customer calls? Is BT now training its helpdesk staff by simply throwing them at customers? Convenient for them perhaps, but less so for the poor punter paying 25 pence a minute to be fobbed off with excuses from someone who doesn't know what he's talking about! Maybe it's a new revenue stream for BT? Put people who are guaranteed to slow down the process onto the premium rate helplines and watch those pennies roll in...
Mind you, at least I did get my problem sorted within half an hour. I'm currently waiting for Apple's customer care to come back to me about a query I submitted to them 7 and a half weeks ago. They're getting back to me "tomorrow" apparently. At least that's what they said 7 and a half weeks ago. And then four weeks ago. And then last week. Still never mind, I'm only paying hundreds of pounds for extended customer care, so that doesn't matter, does it? And they are awfully polite in their indifference.
There's probably some rational explanation why the worst culprits for atrocious customer help desks are the information technology and communications companies who so frequently boast about the superior quality of their support services, but I'm beggared if I can see it. Maybe there's a helpdesk number I could phone to ask...