Friday, 24 February 2012

The BT saga

Moving to the new flat has meant a long saga with BT in order to get a phone line and broadband. Of course I have no idea whether my experience is typical or just a crazy anomaly but it has consumed so much time and energy that I can’t resist trying to write it down. The key question is of course whether I can write it without degenerating into a quivering heap with my blood pressure going through the roof.
The saga began before we moved. I was impressed by Sky’s offer of phone plus broadband at a good price and with all the TV stuff as well. I signed up after talking to some very helpful people on the phone, my old phone at the old house, that is, they sent me a helpful text the next day saying how pleased they were to have me as a customer, and two days later they sent me a text saying they were sorry, but they couldn’t do it after all. I phoned. The nice lady sounded upset and set about investigating and after about ten minutes said she had no idea what the problem was. So we cancelled the order and did another one. Another text next day saying how pleased they were to have me back, and next day a text saying that the refund of my original order was under way, and the next day a new text saying that they were sorry but they couldn’t do it after all. More phone calls and it remained a total mystery.
“There must be something about the exchange,” was the best they could do.”
I went into Worcester and tried to sign up with a SKY operation in the shopping centre. Ten minutes on their computer got the same message. “Sorry, we can’t do broadband at that address.”
So if Sky can’t do it I went back to BT. I ordered a new phone at the new address by filling in the form on the Internet, and then the trouble started.
They sent me emails and text messages, all saying different things. It took me some while to figure out how to export text message so that I can show them on here, so this is just a sample.
Foolishly, I tried to phone them in order to find out which day they were actually coming. That involves working your way through lots of choice menus, which usually start off by asking you to key in the number that you are calling about, tough when you don’t have a number yet. Some of the time I just had to hang on until the computer felt sorry for me and connected me to a human.
How we ended up with multiple order numbers and multiple dates on which engineers were supposed to come and connect us up, with what they expect to be different packages, no one knows. Phoning only makes it worse.
In addition to the various texts and emails I also had a voicemail informing me that there was a problem and they would get back to me.
videoWith the possibility of an engineer visiting on 20th, 24th, or 27th I tried phoning to clarify what was actually going to happen. I was informed that 27th was the only valid date and that my order did not include broadband and could not be altered. Luckily a man turned up on the 24th and installed a phone and a package of broadband kit arrived. The phone worked but the broadband didn’t. I waded my way through the phone menus again and was informed that there was a problem at the exchange and that the broadband would start on 31Feb.
“What about 27th, can you make sure to cancel that.”
“There is definitely not anyone coming on 27th.”
Fortunately, we were in on the 27th when two men arrived, expecting to connect a phone, actually with a different phone number. We politely asked them to go away, after first offering them a cup of tea; after all, they work for an insane organization so they might need some sustenance.
The broadband did actually start working on the 31st and two days later a man phoned asking how to find the flat because he was coming to fit our phone. We explained that we now had a phone, had told a few hundred people the number and didn’t really want another one. As he had not actually made it as far as the flat, we didn’t offer tea.
I decided to leave it a few days before writing this piece, in case anything else happened. Two days ago I had another voicemail saying my order had not gone through and to please contact BT. I note that the phone number they quote does not work from mobile phones, yet they are calling to say that they haven’t connected me. What sort of world do they live in?

I started writing this piece, ready to lay all of the problems at the door of BT, but that would be unfair. Yesterday I caught a piece on the BBC with a quote from Julia Stent, director of telecoms at uSwitch. For those not in the UK, that is the outfit set up by the UK Government to help us all switch provider in order to promote more competition and supposedly better service as a result. She said,
“Britain might be riding the wave of a super-fast broadband revolution, but for 49% who get less than the national average broadband speed, the wave isn't causing so much a splash as a ripple.”
Is it any wonder that BT are hopeless, when one of the key agencies responsible for improving things has not yet realized that about 50% of the population will always get a below average service, it’s the nature of averages. If they can’t get that right, can they even count? 


  1. Ah, I remember back in the days when BT had a monopoly. It took two years to get a phone installed in Islington. I had a friend with connections who got one within six months, to the admiration of her friends.

    And I wanted a black phone for my minimalist 80s workshop. They'd stopped making black, just as it was at its most fashionable. I had to have cream.

  2. For reasons similar to yours, I hate BT with a passion. I have told them this on many many occasions but they still keep trying to get me back as a customer. They tell me they've changed but I haven't fallen for that line since I was a teenager ;-)