Friday, June 24, 2011

Customer (dis-)service: BT

DSC04791Broadband service from British Telecom (BT) switched off without warning three days ago and shows no signs of returning.  My communications are down, impacting the business, but I can still drive to a Starbucks or the public library to get online for brief periods.  It’s harder for others: The local grocer can’t accept card payments, and elderly neighbors can’t use their emergency notifier buttons.

I suspect that thieves have cut a section out of the copper cables again, leaving the village without telephone, television, or internet.  I understand the frustration and expense that BT suffers repairing the system.  But they are absolutely their own worst enemy.

I called this morning to check on the outage, and spent forever navigating phone trees and options while they tried to route me around speaking with a live person.  Some tactics (pausing before giving the operator option, using unusual response numbers to signify “I want to speak with a person.”) are just childish and time-consuming.  And, all the while, the charges mount at 0/.10 p per minute.

The advisor, once I had them on the line, insisted that I connect my computer to the modem with a cable, and that I go through a 3-minute shutdown/reboot of my modem before running a test and conceding that the village has been out for days.  He promised a 24-hour service restoration before conceding that it could take until Thursday.  He sent me a text message threatening a 130 GBP fee if a technician had to enter my home.

All I needed to know was that 1) they were aware of the outage, 2) Could they tell me what the problem was, and 2) Could they estimate when it might be fixed.  A refund for time that I couldn’t use the service and a temporary work-around would have been nice, but not expected.

Instead, there was only evasion and misinformation.

This is a perfect example of where Cloud-based computing is worry some; if everything was stored online, I wouldn’t’ have access to anything.  I use the cloud for backups and file exchanges, but never as my virtual hard drive.

It also argues the risks of eliminating land-line based telecom systems.  Mobile phone coverage is spotty in the rolling East Anglian countryside, and people get cut off when the broadband fails.  BT should establish a call point at the village hall for emergencies and to relay medical and emergency calls.

It should also be an argument for upgrading the network.  If the nodes were more densely connected, single-point outages couldn’t happen.  And if they dug up the copper and replaced it with glass fiber, then thieves would be less interested and BT could sell the copper themselves.

Finally, it proves again the observation that telecom operators and banks in Europe are absolutely the worst service people to deal with.  It’s endlessly difficult and expensive to sort an issue, and the go to extremes to make conversations uninformative.  But as long as there’s no competition and they operate like monopolies, it won’t improve.

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