Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The communications business

Of course I was asking for trouble by telling anyone who would listen that British Telecom was not that bad. In my recent and limited experience and up to that point it was true. When I came back to London I spoke to a delightful BT operator with a northern (do not ask me where) accent who called me "Love" a lot and promised she would reconnect my telephone line at a specific hour on a specific date and with the specific telephone number I wanted, then asked if there was anything else she could do for me. Being of little faith and listening to friends' horror stories I was a doubting Thomasina, I but I was wrong. The "Love" lady delivered everything she promised: a working telephone number and a bill to prove it. Signing up for BT's Internet service seemed only reasonable. I was all ready to tell my friend whose travails with BT are recorded at Salut! that he was just unlucky. "Just think," I was on the point of saying: "You could be dealing with my French telephone company, an outfit with a number of unspeakably rude operators that cut you off, that has in the past charged me more than £30 for calling the over-inflated helpline where I have been put on hold and then still cut off. The same outfit that once took six weeks to answer an emailed helpline request and has one from me outstanding from a couple of months ago." Indeed, I was prepared to go as far as to say that, by comparison with them, BT displayed the efficiency of an ant-colony. As I say, I was asking for it. I ordered my BT broadband service on the Internet in France. BT sent me emails and text messages to say my order had been confirmed and was being processed. Everything was on track.

Then hold the phone! It all started going horribly wrong. I received a letter saying my order had been mysteriously cancelled and I should ring a certain number. I did. There was no answer. I found a dozen other BT numbers in the telephone directory and dialed them all at regular intervals until after a couple of hours of automated responses I reached an apologetic and helpful operator who told me she would reorder my order. The broadband hub would be delivered before 6pm the following day, she said. I believed her. In fact, it was not delivered by 6pm, nor by 9pm nor 11pm. I rang and rang and rang, holding on while a cheery and increasingly irritating recorded voice told me how important my call was; so important that nobody could be bothered to answer it. The same cheery voice mentioned that in the event I actually got to speak to a human being, any exchange might be recorded. Fast losing the will to live, I was ready to demand it was, and played back to me for good measure. In between robot responses, the few humans I spoke to told me a) to hold on, b)to hold on then cut me off c) they had already tried to deliver the hub but I was not in (I was, they did not), d) it would certainly be delivered by 8pm (it was, by now, 8.25pm and La Fille who had not been out all day, was stir crazy, the French I was supposed to be cooking dinner for were hungry and I was imploding with stress and rage) e) told to ring another number that did not exist. Finally, I bullied a number for the delivery department from a man at BT's call centre in India. It actually rang and someone actually answered. That someone said she would call up my order on screen, then declared she could not understand why I had been told my equipment would be delivered that day - or even that week - because it had not even reached the depot and would not be sent out until Monday or Tuesday at the earliest. At this point I really had lost the will to live. The French had cooked their own dinner and were having a good laugh about the failings of the "Anglo-Saxon free-market". I decided life was too short to speak to British Telecom ever again save to cancel the order the next day and went to bed.

At 9am the following day the hub was delivered. At 9.30 a nice man from BT India, returned one of the previous day's cut-off calls. I asked him: "What was it all about?". He said he did not know. Needless to say the French friends are displaying a good deal of Gallic schadenfreude.


Anonymous said...

The Salut! experience also included calls giving delivery dates for the Broadband equipment - someone rang Mme Salut (from India?) at something like 2am to say when it would be coming, and then again at 6am to change the details. No one has ever explained why they chose such times, or indeed why our order had also been cancelled, not once but twice, or why service promised for Oct 3 (fixed line) and Oct 5 (Broadband) took weeks longer. All this at heaven knows what cost in phonebox/mobile calls, wasted time and the sheer misery of dealing with the grostesque automated phone system. And that was after shamelessly invoking the press office, which in turn led to "Mike from the chairman's office" personally taking charge of our case. But no one enduring similar problems should get excited; I suspect the "chairman's office" is just an extension of customer services where difficult clients are shunted.

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