Tuesday, July 29, 2008

BT (Hello Geoff)

I am currently connected to the internet using a dial up connection. It's not very good. I'm not a violent man but right now I would cheerfully hurt someone from BT.

In fact my sense of proportion has diminished to the point where I can't work out if it would be in particularly bad taste to suggest that running Kris Marshall over again would be, well, satisfying. Probably.

Still, if he will advertise BT's services - and the latest ad does start with some line about how there's nothing more annoying than a bad internet connection - then bad taste or not, he's only got himself to blame for my disproportionate rage. He's lucky I gave up car ownership a while ago... mind you, if I see him when I'm cycling I might be tempted to give it a go.

Did I mention that my broadband access disappeared three days ago.

I was told it would take 2 days to fix. It didn't. I was told someone would call me with more information when they had it. They didn't. In the last three days, I have spent around 5 hours on the phone to various BT help-desk operatives. They all say the same thing. "The complex engineering team are still dealing with the task." (It's almost as if they're reading a script!!!1!)

Apparently it is going to take four days and not two. Who knows, when the four days are up they might tell me it's going to take another two days? Or another four. It's hard to know when they've already been wrong and nobody is able to describe the mysterious task that is being undertaken.

I have repeatedly asked if there is any way of getting internet access in the mean time. I have repeatedly been told that it can't be done. Which isn't true. You know those usb-modems...? They connect to the internet using a sim-card and a mobile phone line. No landline necessary. No landline = no faulty line-card at the exchange. Easy. I don't understand why BT can't provide me with one of those for a few days. Y'know, just until they've fixed the problem. That they've given me. But when I suggest this to someone on the help desk it seems to fry their brain.

It's impossible to speak to anyone who's actual job is to try and actually solve the actual problem. The poor souls aren't allowed to use their imagination; the rules have been laid out and the policy has been decided. The fact that it's technically possible to provide a temporary solution is beside the point because the customer is unable to speak to anyone who can actually make such a daring decision. But why? How often are they letting people down for more than a day? How much would it cost them to patch up the service in this way? How much profit are they making from each broadband customer in the first place? How much nicer would it be to work on the help desk if you were able to say, "Unfortunately, while our engineers will try to solve the problem as soon as possible, there's no way for us to know exactly how long it will take... but, we're going to try and get you a usb-modem for tomorrow morning which means you won't be without access for long..." Instead of being the frustrating wall that stands between the customer and the facts, you'd be the hero, saving the day as best you can. Their calls would be shorter, so they'd deal with more customers too...

Instead, I've ended up stubbornly locked in eternally looping conversations, both parties growing more frustrated by the second; me because they won't help and the help-desk fella because he can't.
Do you want to help me solve the problem?
You know those usb modems that provide mobile internet access?
One of those would solve the problem wouldn't it?
Wouldn't it?
... well...
It would wouldn't it?
So... can you, BT, provide me with one?
Why not?
Because that's not my department.
So whose department is it?
Could you put me through to the person who is able to make that decision?
I don't think anyone can?
Of course they can. It's possible. The things exist. Someone somewhere makes decisions.
I don't think that's how we deal with the problem...
I can see that. But so far you haven't dealt with the problem. Have you?
Have you?
It's still not fixed is it?
You know those usb modems that provide mobile internet access?
One of those would solve the problem wouldn't it?
Wouldn't it?
... well...
It would wouldn't it?

You can get a courtesy car when your motor is crocked so why not a courtesy internet connection? Especially when the bit that's broken down is at their end of things.

After two days of asking they relented inasmuch as they've provided me with this dial-up connection. Initially, I was told that even that wasn't possible... but it was wasn't it?


Anonymous said...

When I rang BT for a similar thing, I managed to get so audibly frustrated trying to get somebody to actually help me that they eventually put me through to their emergency Irish woman, who's lilting accent is deployed to calm even the most irate customers.

Actually being connected to BT broadband isn't all that much better than not being. I found them terrible: they were slow, and constantly dropped connections. Maybe changing providers would be an idea? Be are good, but I'm sure most alternatives are better than BT. Although I wouldn't have thought any of them would dispatch a USB modem when your connection goes down, even if it is a good idea!

Anonymous said...

aragh! I feel your pain after going through several similar experiences.

Why is customer service so bad over here? Obviously nobody is happy with the "service" we receive.

It's one of life's great questions :D

foilman said...

Just try moving house if you're on a broadband service that isn't BT... we let them know well in advance when we'd be moving and they arranged for a BT engineer to connect us up a new line on the day of the move - so far, great. But then we try to get our non-BT broadband account to start the same day... it can't be done! Despite the fact that all it involves is the broadband company getting an engineer to go to the same exchange and plug us in to a different box there...

You'd think the same engineer could easily do both tasks at the same time. Put a new line in, plug it into the right broadband box. But no, you have to wait a week or two between the two tasks, probably because it's a different guy that does it, or it's just not the way it's supposed to happen.

We too ended up on a dial-up connection.

Anonymous said...


I work for BT and recently my broadband connection (due to tree falling) went down and wasn't fixed for 3 weeks despite desperate trying (and it took down 8 households whole phone line at once).

The part of BT that deals with the infrastructure is Openreach. The CEO of openreach is Steve Robertson. If you stick a dot between his first and surname and an @openreach.com after that you can send your comments directly to him. Also the new CEO of BT is Ian Livingston, but that would be an @bt.com

Also when next on the phone ask to speak to the Escalations Management Team - they are supposed to give you a 'dedicated' person to manage the problem through.

This may or may not help as there is that much red tape in the company you have to fill in 15 forms to breath in and 22 to breath out.

Good luck!

Mike Hatton said...

I share your pain, Dave.

I was without my broadband connection from 6 July until about half an hour ago. (Hence now catching up with reading stuff that had to wait while on dial-up ... sorry, that includes you!)

My account is with VM and although I've been without broadband since 6 July, most of that was my choice as I decided to wait for an engineer to come out while I was off work. I could have had a Saturday call out, I suupose, but didnt want to be tied down to a four-hour appointment window ... much more interesting things to do on a summer weekend.

Anyway, tech came out yesterday and checked everything, supplied me with a new cable modem, but it couldn't be activated until this morning as VM were having a major upgrade to their accounts system yesterday (and Sat/Sun).

VM get such a lot of bad press for their customer support but I found them to be very courteous and helpful and they dealt with everything at their end as speedily as they good.

But dial-up is so frustrating after having been used to high-speed broadband, isn't it?

It makes you realise just how often you think "I'll look at that on the internet" and then think, "Now, that means unplugging a phone cable, plugging it into the computer, listening to those old-fashioned squeaky screechy noises as the modem contacts the network, and then waiting ages for a webpage to load ... I'll not bother."

Just a thought ... have you tried one of those USB modems you can get now?

Sorry ...

Dave Gorman said...

@richard: actually I changed providers to BT because virgin.net were so appalling. One of my pet hates with help-desks is that they start off with the assumption that it's the customer's fault. Every time I called virgin to report a fault - something would happen every two to three months - they would tell me there was no such fault. Then the next day, (presumably when enough other customers had complained to make it worth them sending an engineer to deal with things) they would acknowledge there was something wrong and start to fix it. But they'd never apologise for the misinformation... they were useless. BT have on the whole been better - the service doesn't drop in and out at least - but their help desk is far more frustrating. I'm not sure changing providers would help because this fault is to do with the phone line at the exchange... and surely that infrastructure is actually the same whoever actually provides the broadband...
I don't think they should have to bike over a usb-modem whenever the service goes down... but when they know it's going to be down for more than 48 hours it would be worth it. Not only would it generate goodwill, it would save man-hours for the help-desk staff. Besides, that's not the point... the point is, it's cheap and available and it solves the problem. Pop it in the post special-delivery and for less than a fiver you've made a problem go away...

@anonymousjess: customer service is great here. If you're ringing to complain about not having turned on your computer. They are experts at solving simple problems and user error... and maybe that accounts for 90% of the calls they get... which in turn makes them feel like they're successfully dealing with the majority of calls. It's only those of us who know how to turn a computer on that get bad customer service... if when somethings actually gone wrong that they fall down.

@anonymous BT man: thanks! Much appreciated. I've just spent another hour on the phone to the help desk, insisting that the guy slow down and translate certain phrases. "On the 27th July, the engineering team escalated the fault to the complex team but unfortunately due to a system error the task failed" turned out to mean, "We told the complex team to go to the exchange and take a look at it but they didn't get the message so for twelve hours nobody was trying to fix the problem at all" Which is quite different. And sounds like something they should have owned up to earlier. Because hiding that kind of thing behind technical jargon is just dishonest...
I'll be e-mailing Mr Robertson soon.

DEfusion said...

I think your idea for an emergency USB modem is genius. Just like I'd pay a little extra for car insurance that gives me a courtesy car in case mine is out of action I'd do the same for a courtesy internet connection.

I don't think dial-up quite cuts it as a solution. As I'm sure you're finding out the internet isn't a place for dial-up modem speeds any more.

Anonymous said...

I've got BT Broadband in London too and I haven't encountered a problem yet.. When I do though the anonymous BT man on here will have thanked me..

One of my friends who also has BT Broadband was without the internet for a solid month and constantly complained to me about the poor level of customer service coming from BT, you are not alone apparently..

Anonymous said...

Not much to add apart from saying that BT have by far the worst customer service I have ever dealt with. I was without a phoneline (and subsequently internet) because they didn't process my order correctly - even though they told me it was all done. It took me 6 weeks, countless hours on the phone and transfers to numerous call centres/departments trying to sort it out.

"That's not my department, I'll just transfer you"


The Satire! said...

I also used to work for BT, just as a contractor but for a year on a very big IT project.

Like any very big company, they outsource as much as they can and the people of the helpdesk have neither the training not the interest to help you beyond their basic remit and paultry wages.

We, of course, all know this, which makes it less likely we'll get annoyed with them, which is obviously part of the cunning masterplan. Or maybe not.

My experience at BT was they had very incompetent senior management and lazy unmotivated middle-management, often treading water and impossible to sack as they'd been tuped from the public sector and were protected in unionised cast-iron concrete.

Having said that, I think, as you're finding, everyone has a horror story about their internet provider.

Ultimately, I think they're all needing to drastically increase the bandwidth to accomodate the increase in size and numbers of traffic. But, until that's an absolute necessity, no one's going to break ranks.

Think the courtesy USB idea is great. Hope someone reading this takes it onboard. I would suggest it to Steve Robertson if you contact him.

Good luck and hope you're back up and runnning soon. It is like going into cold turkey not having broadband. The very thought brings me out in the shakes, like beloved Bubble from the Wire.


adrian beaumont said...

Dave, as a 21st century man-about-town you should really have a mobile USB modem of your own, or at least an iPhone, shurely?

BTW - when BT left me without Broadband for a month after cocking up my house move, I finally got through to the escalation team by threatening to park my campervan across the gates of my local exchange with a cardboard sign in the window saying "BT ARE BASTARDS" and drinking tea until they sent a human to sort it out... Rental of my campervan is very reasonable on a daily basis...

Stuart said...

I'm with Be (www.bethere.co.uk) and they're absolutely brilliant. I've never had a complaint about them, and when you contact the customer service you get someone who wants to help (I've only contacted them once).

My point, however, was going to be that Be have a section on their website once you sign in that lists all of the network outages, planned works and historical works so you can see what's going on. It may not be any more helpful than BT give you, but it makes you feel more informed and like a valued customer because they go to the trouble to tell you these things. They also email to tell you about planned and un-planned outages in your area (not much use if you have no internet access, but it's nice).

BTW, it's all done through BTs cables and exchanges so you'd still have the problems, but they'd probably be nicer on the phone.

Anonymous said...


Don't know if you've seen this, but it's an extract from The Now Show on Radio 4, by Marcus Brigstocke on his experience with BT Broadband...

If your connection's good enough, it's good for a chuckle: http://youtube.com/watch?v=hg1CLskFIKQ


rialisis said...

BT have this wonderful system in regards to technical support. The technicians have no contact with the customer what-so-ever. They also seem to have no contact with customer support helplines either.

Its a curious thing to note that the largest company in the UK repsonsible for Information transfer, have very little capabilty "in-house".

And God-forbid should someone think about implementing a work-around for getting customers connected to the internet in the meantime. That would be, well it would be forward thinking.

I understnad your pain though, being away from the information-highway for more than a day is difficult for some of us.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this

I have to say I'm happy with my bt line / broadband however I moved house recently and rather than move my broadband the person I dealt with decided to cancel my broadband and open a new broadband account. So I get hit by cancellation fees (£400) and now over two months later I have got them to agree I'm still a customer but I'm still having to spend hours on pointless phone calls I can only assume they do not want me to give them my £30+ a month.I must add it up but if I could charge them at national minimum wage for the amount of time i have spent they would probably owe me by now. But one thing I have realised is that if you ask to speak to a manager you get a human who thinks rather than just reads but you will get hung up on several times before you get to speak to one.

Anonymous said...

First things first - if you live in an area where Optical Fibre is available go and get it now! You will suffer much less from latency on the line when there are loads of people connected and when it is working should be much faster.

I am with Virgin Media and must admit their customer sevrice is not excellent, however, I also work in IT, and as soon as the person I'm speaking to realises I'm running rings around them am swiftly put through to someone who knows what they are talking about (we should all be so lucky eh Dave?). If you wanted me to make a few calls on your behalf I'd be more than happy :o)

The point of my story though is this. I too was on an inferior connection with Pipex (avoid them like the plague - they're nowhere near as good as the Hoff would make out) and they decided to change my price plan (without telling me) a month frmo the end of my contract and then try and charge me £600 when I wanted to cancel.

Now here comes the clever bit. By immediately changing to Virgin "cable", my BT line was disconnected. Thus Pipex physically could not provide me an internet connection and could not legally charge me for it. My account was closed (with no communication from them I might add), my Direct Debit cancelled and I now have a rather nice and shing 25Mb connection!!!


Dan Metcalf said...

Dave, as you are self-employed, you could probably apply for compensation for your service being down on the grounds that impedes your day-to-day work life. One of my old employers did that and got a good £100 a day out of BT. It may not cut in to their million-pound profits much, or dent their (frankly unfair) monopoly on the UK telecom business, but it feels so darn good when the cheque comes.

steph_angel said...

"The complex engineering team are still dealing with the task."

And they probably also fed you that really condescending line, 'Your call is really important to us.' Or is it just Virgin F'ing Media that uses that one???

I'm convinced that a few small, well placed, explosive devices placed in some of these annoying corporations would be a worthwhile act of terrorism... if there is such a thing :-/

And this is the 3rd time I've attempted to post this, so apologies if it appears loads!!!

Anonymous said...

Dave, I work in IT support and I can assure you that over 90% of BT's calls will be user error, more often than not solved by leading them through the instructions they were sent with the hardware. It can be frustrating being when you are IT literate as you'll have gone through these simple checks before calling them for help, but they wont be able to tell. As much as you get wound up by them asking you these simple questions, they'll be getting as wound up everytime someone calls them and it's solved by these simple steps.

I do have a great dislike for BT though. We manage IT systems for new business developments and getting BT round to install any sort of line is made 10x harder when it's a new building and they don't have the address on their system. More often than not, they will turn up at the wrong place, miles away, and say nobody was there and you'll be bumped to the back of a 2 week queue for another installation date.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how much crossover there is, or if they'd go for it atall, but you could try asking for a complementary BT Open Zone Account to see if that's more acceptable then a modem. (BT Openzone is their 'all over the uk's cafes & shops' wireless system thing, which may also work in your house if someone near you has a BT Router with 'BTFon' turned on.)

You could also threaten to write a terribly amusing stage show, Book and DVD production all about their faults.....

Anonymous said...

Quote: "You could also threaten to write a terribly amusing stage show, Book and DVD production all about their faults....."

Oh please, please, please do it!!! Only you Dave, could make such a single topic seem so highly amusing.

You could calculate the number of miles of BT Phone lines your calls were routed via against the approximate average IQ of the people you were speaking with!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Try Zen Internet. Simply superb service. They cost more than the average. BUT. Richard (MD) puts service before profits, and has invested in wholly UK based support personnel. The customer facing teams are all very-well trained individuals, interested and motivated by their work. They have a "script"... but it isn't a script as such, it's a checklist/aide-memoir, and they have the latitude to use their initiative on any call to sort a problem. There is no concept of 1st and 2nd line teams, the management team essentially merged the functionality into one customer-facing department.

The cost premium can be considered as such; insurance. Its not often something goes wrong (3 faults in 5 years in my case), but when it does one is damm glad of paying the premium!

When you report a fault, you are given a ref number, basic checks are conducted and tests run with you. If further investigation is required you are kept up-to-date via regular emails, access to the fault history via a portal (useful when you can access internet from another location, before peeps point out the obvious!), and *regular* phone updates. Yes, they call back when they say they will. And they will not close the fault until the customer is happy. They aggressively pursue BT when the fault lies in BT's domain.

You can get cheap car insurance. You can get premium car insurance. The difference is when you have an accident, you are damm glad of the premium ensuring a good quality courtesy car, 0800 support, prompt-and-fuss-free resolution. Ditto with ISPs. You get what you pay for, and in Zens case simply the best ISP service in the UK.

Zen customer for 5 1/2 years, and to really highlight their service, yes, I was once connected with them. I left "under a cloud" but still recognise their service for what it is - superb.

Dave Gorman said...

Ta for the Zen recommendation - I have another in my inbox for the same company - but I won't be changing in a hurry. I changed to BT because virgin were so terrible and I don't want to change my address again if I can avoid it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,
Interesting post in light of my 2 hour conversation with BT on Monday, trying to convince them that I really want my existing broadband to be moved when my new BT line goes active on Monday. I (no kidding) spoke to 15 different people in different BT 'teams', none of whom had a clue about something on thier own website, until I found the 1 person in BT who knew what I was on about. Only 15 minutes on hold was then between me and talking to the right team who eventually sorted my move...

I'll second the Zen Internet recommendation, been with them for 4 years with no hassle, and subsequent to my 2 hour call with BT, Zen have been really active in understanding the hassles I had with BT, to try to make it easier for their own customers in future.

A good way to avoid address changing hassles is to use something like Goggle Mail, or to have your own domain, which you can then point at your ISPs mailbox without anyone knowing. That way you are always daveg@thecoolestwebsiteintown.com, no matter who your ISP is...

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Obviously it's frustrating when stuff like this happens, and obviously the sheer incompetence of most of the people you spoke to on the way didn't help, but as someone who works in customer services I can't help feeling that a few of the things you said were unfair:

Mainly, the USB modem thing: Yes, you're right, it would have been the perfect solution to your (and probably many other peoples') problems. However, BT are a large company and these sorts of decisions take time to make and implement. BT would have to talk to all the mobile providers who sell these things, come up with an agreement as to the price of the service, how many they wanted etc, etc, then filter down the changes in policy to the staff, come up with a system to distribute them etc etc, so even though the agent on the phone agreed that it would solve your problem, and if they had managed to get through to someone who had the authority to chage the policy instantaneously, what was this person then meant to do? Pop down to their local Phones 4U, buy one of these things then get it biked over to your house?

Unfortuntely, "The poor souls aren't allowed to use their imagination; the rules have been laid out and the policy has been decided. The fact that it's technically possible to provide a temporary solution is beside the point because the customer is unable to speak to anyone who can actually make such a daring decision." - Well, in a word, yes. It would be more than their jobs were worth to suddenly decide to furnish you with a USB modem at BT's expense, and it's doubtful that any one person would have the clout to make the decision anyway...

Incidentally, Carphone Warehouse, who I work for, DO provide a loan USB modem with their broadband if you lose service - IF you sign up to one of these 'free' laptop deals AND insure said laptop.

Sorry if it sounds like I'm having a go, I'm not, I'm a big fan, I'm just giving the view from the other side of the desk...

Cheers (hope we're still friends)