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Complaint management in action: How will BT keep my custom?

8th Jul 2011
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When BT's customer service left him flummoxed, Stuart Lauchlan took it up with the CEO's office. So how does the executive level complaints team at a business giant like BT deal with such issues?

I've just come off the phone to my third BT call centre person of the week and I'm not a happy bunny.

This week alone I've spent the best part of 3.5 hours trying to sort out a 21st century issue. It's still not resolved and I won't know if it will be for another two weeks.

What is this enormously complicated challenge I've set the finest minds that BT has to offer? Well, call me overly ambitious, but I'd rather like to have the phone line I ordered work and to have some nice broadband coming down it. Silly, silly me.

My nightmare began when I foolishly had the audacity to want to move house, from one Brighton street to another a few roads away. I thought – and how mad was I? - that broadband is effectively a 21st century utility akin to electricity and gas, so all I would need to do was phone up BT, tell them I was moving house, take my name off the account at my old address and take over the existing active BT Broadband connection that was in place at my new address. Madness on my part, utter madness!

To be fair, it started OK. I spoke to a BT call centre person who took down the date I would be moving and assured me all would be well. Then I was told that I'd need to open a new account at the new address. This seemed strange, but I was told it would be my old account, but the system required them effectively to open a new one –but my email address, login etc would all be the same.

Next step – a letter from BT confirming the cancellation of my entire account and the imposition of a penalty for breaking my contract! This one remains outstanding as an unresolved complaint, but given what is yet to come, I'll brush over that for now. It rapidly becomes the least of my concerns.

We moved into our new apartment. I chased up BT to see what the status is with the phone and broadband. It will be ten days before it can be switched on apparently, states the next call centre person I talk to, who also gives me a provisional phone number. He asks if I'd like a new Home Hub as I'm a new customer. I point out to him that I've been a customer for 12 years and it's down to his company's sheer awfulness that I'm now on the system as a new account. 

But I can tell he's not remotely interested in thinking about this so I just say yes, I'll have a new Home Hub. I figure not taking one is probably going to cause more problems than taking one. Here, not for the first time, I underestimate BT's infinite capacity to mess with their customers.

My call centre chum gets busy with organising delivery of my new Home Hub. It'll arrive on Tuesday, he says, and I need to sign for it or have someone sign for it. No-one will be in on Tuesday, I say, can I get it on Thursday? No, it has to be Tuesday, apparently. But, in what initially seems to be a good piece of customer management, but is in fact a down payment on customer hell to come, I can have it delivered to my place of work. I'll be in Bristol, I say. Doesn't matter, he says, we can deliver it there.

I vaguely wonder why it's possible to redirect it to a completely different address, but not to change the date of delivery, but I just say 'fine' and give him the work address in Bristol. Sure enough on the Tuesday there's my new Home Hub.

I take it home to Brighton, I plug it in and I sit back and wait for the phone line and broadband to be activated. I get a text from BT – your phone line is now up and running. Two or three days later, I get another text congratulating me because my broadband is up and running. Hurrah I think, all systems go.

Except...

  • The phone line isn't working.
  • I've had no documentation through from BT of any kind.
  • The provisional phone number doesn't ring through to anyone.
  • And the promised 15-16Mg broadband registers 1.3Mg on a speed test.

So I phone BT. I get through to India on my mobile phone – no landline remember. I talk to someone who is unable to deal with the fact that I don't have a landline number to hand – no documentation remember. I finally give him the provisional number, telling him it doesn't work, but he's happy with having something to put into the computer. He asks if this is the number I'm calling from. I take a very deep breath, point out that I've just said I don't have a working landline or a BT telephone number issue and that I'm therefore calling on my mobile. 

“No, you're on your landline,” he says happily.

“No, I'm not, I'm on my mobile.”

“No, you're on your landline.”

“No, I'm on my mobile. I should know. It's in my hand. I'm on my mobile. My landline doesn't work. That's why I'm calling India on my mobile!”.

“No, you are definitely on your landline – the number has come up on the screen in front of me.”

“What number? I don't have a number. The number I was given doesn't worK!”

And of course he reads out the provisional phone number that I've just given him and he's just typed in, the one that doesn't work.

Stunned into silence by this proud display of (a) bloody mindedness or (b) bravado (delete as applicable), I am not ready for the next development, one that has an air of terrible genius about it. 

“Let me check your address,” he says.

I give him my address.

“That is not your address, I need your address.”

“That is my address, that is where I live, that is my home, that is where I am now.”

“That is not your address. That is not the address of the line you have taken over.”

I genuinely have no mechanism to deal with this. Seemingly taking my silence to be an admission that his version of reality has triumphed, my new call centre chum goes on to read out my 'real' address – which is my workplace address in Bristol to which the Home Hub was delivered –at BT's kind suggestion, you remember.

“That's my work address, not my home.”

“That is where the phone line is,” he insists.

“No it isn't. The phone number begins with 01273 – where is that the prefix for?”

Long pause. Click click on the keyboard in Bangalore.

“Brighton,” he cries triumphantly.

“And the address you say I live at and where the phone line is would be...

“Bristol!” comes the happy reply.

“Do you see any problem here?” I ask tentatively.

“No,” he says, untroubled by even the merest passing doubt.

This goes on for another 30 minutes, before my headache results in a temporary surrender on my part. 

I phone back the next day to the 'reporting a fault' line. I go through the whole process, this time to a lady in Devon. She looks up my details. She reads out my address – in Bristol!

'No, no, no,” I cry, “that's not my address. That's where the Home Hub was delivered. I live in Brighton.”

“So why is the Home Hub in Bristol?”

“It isn't. It was delivered there because I was working in there.”

“So you're in Brighton?”

“Yes.”

“And the Home Hub is in Bristol?”

'NO!!!! The Home Hub was delivered to Bristol where I put it in my bag and brought it home on the train to Brighton where I live and where plugged it into the non-working phone socket in the hope of some broadband one day filtering through from BT!”

“So why was it sent to Bristol?”

“It doesn't matter, it really doesn't matter, but for what it's worth, BT suggested it be sent to Bristol so I could collect it.”

“Well, that's stupid!”

AAAAAAAARRRRRRGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

After 15 minutes of this, the Devon lady concedes that there seems to be “some confusion”and puts me through to the “moving home” department. These are the people I first spoke to three weeks earlier so there's a kind of symmetry here.

My latest caller gets up to speed relatively quickly. “There seem to be have been a few errors,” he offers hopefully.

“There has been a total balls up from end to end and it's all down to BT,” I correct him firmly. 

“Yes, well, let's try to put it right,” he murmurs in what I assume is meant to be a calming tone.

The long and the short of it is:

  • The address of my home is wrong in the BT system.
  •  
  • The telephone number I was given doesn't exist.
  • The phone line has not been switched on.
  • My broadband hasn't been connected. In fact the previous owner's hasn't fully been terminated!
  • There is no explanation for why I received text confirmations from BT that the phone and broadband had been activated – or whose phone and broadband had in fact been activated. 
  • Absolutely every aspect of this whole process has been cocked up by BT and we need to start again from scratch. 
  • This means of course that it will take another two weeks to get the phone and the broadband switched on, making it exactly one month to the day since we moved in – that's assuming it actually does get switched on.

I've demanded an explanation – I doubt I shall get one.

I've demanded an apology - I doubt I shall get one. 

I've demanded compensation – I'm told a complaint form has been raised on my behalf and “someone should be in touch”. If you're that someone from BT who should be in touch, please make sure you are as I've no intention of letting this one lie.

To be fair, it's nothing new, it shouldn't surprise me. After all I've had years of consistently bad service from BT. I'd hoped when we moved house that I might be able to leave BT behind, but we moved to a listed building and the only option is BT. Oh well, I thought, better the devil you know, eh? 

Except this devil is learning new tricks and new forms of torture to torments its customers. I strongly suspect they still believe I ought to live in Bristol and are just patronising me by pretending to accept I live in Brighton! Perhaps I do live in Bristol? Maybe I'm mad and they're sane? What is up, what is down? I really can't be sure any more. Anyway, if you're in Bristol and you start getting broadband bills for a Mr S Lauchlan in Brighton, let me know... 

It is of course more serious than that. Broadband is a 21st century utility. It's like gas or electricity. It's part of our daily lives. It's essential if we are to turn the UK into a digital economy for the 21st century. I moved into my new home two weeks ago. I haven't had to spend hours on the phone to my electricity supplier; I just took over the account. Ditto the gas man and the water board. That's what you do with utilities. But BT...

All the government's grand ambitions for bridging the digital divide can be forgotten about - BT's never going to let that happen while it's got an Indian call centre left to its name! 

There is probably a company with worse customer management skills than BT out there somewhere. 

But at my age, it's unlikely we'll ever find it in my lifetime...

In the second part of this post, Stuart will explain how his complaint was escalated and how effective BT's executive level complaints team are at resolving his customer complaint.

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Suzanne Stock
By Suzannestock
11th Jul 2011 15:17

You deserve a medal!  I've been there and BT no longer supply our broadband, customer service means such a lot and can mean 'make or break' in my eyes.  Well done for perservering there's nothing like a complaint with BT to make your blood boil!

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By mjhill1967
13th Jul 2011 17:42

How do BT manage to do this again and again? They seem to have an incredibly flawed complaint handling and service recovery process. I'm actually very interested in how you got on with the Executive team as I am experiencing similar difficulties and only recently posted my own story here.

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By rubyroo
17th Jul 2011 13:36

I have just done exactly the same as you, however I did not have to open a new account but they did give me the wrong dates to be connected and the wrong phone number. In actual fact throughout my whole 9 days back and forth with them I have been given other peoples details as well twice!!! I have asked twice for manages to call me back which has not yet happened and when I ask to make a complaint it is conveniently forgotten at the end of the conversation. So I have gone straight to Ombudsman to see if they will help but reading your post and other forum sites today there are a lot of very dissatisfied cutsomers with BT and the staff seem to be putting posts on as well very unhappy. Like yourself I have been 7 days with no landline or boadband and to make things worse I was going to have there BT Vision but can not order it until I am connected. I am shocked at the service from BT again I have been with them for almost 10 years now and sung their prasies but thisis putting me off for life.

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By Creative Transformation
08th Dec 2014 12:33

Having similar nightmares with BT and interested in how the CEO office handled yours but can't find your blog!

 

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