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British Telecom Sucks – how not to do customer service Part II


OK, so here’s an update on the sorry state of my non-working BT landline as featured on the Ferret yesterday. Having done that blog post, I sat around for a while trying to work out how to get around Catch 22 and get someone to listen to my problem, and finally decided to resort to desperate measures. Here’s what happened:

  • At around 5.30pm I decided to go direct to the top, did a Google search and came up with the CEO Email Addresses site. Having located the name and email address of Ian Livingston, Chief Executive of British Telecom, I wrote a short but descriptive email outlining the problem I was having getting Bangalore to fix my telephone. No ranting, just facts, account numbers, fault logging numbers and such. No mention of my being a journalist (this was just a private Joe request, right?) It was titled Pitiful Customer Service.
  • At 5.39pm I received an email from his PA expressing regret and saying that details of the problem would be passed on to a ‘senior service team’ for investigation.
  • At 5.39, Ian Livingston himself replied with a short two sentence message also expressing regret and again saying it would be investigated.
  • At 6.25pm I receive an email from an ‘Executive Level Complaints Relationship Manager’ expressing sorrow for the problems, saying she’d tried and failed to call me (duh!) and asking for an alternate number. I write back with my Skype number (my broadband is still working thank goodness)
  • At 7.45pm I receive a Skype call from said lady expressing…you get the picture. She tells me an engineer will visit the next day (today) and investigate, and in the meantime I am to feel free to use her as the case handler if I need help.
  • 8.45am this morning I receive another Skype call from a lady in the same department taking over responsibility for the case, and saying the engineer will arrive between 1pm and 5pm to investigate.
  • 9.49am I receive an email from said lady from the ‘Executive Level Complaints’ department repeating the phone call details and confirming that she is now my case handler with direct line contact details.
  • At around 1.00pm I receive another Skype call from said lady to repeat the news that the engineer is on his way. There may have been another handover of responsibility to some other case handler too, but by this time I am a little dizzy with the tidal wave of love and attention coming from the company. Remember I’m just a Joe, not a journalist!
  • At 1.39pm an extremely cheerful engineer arrives, unpacks a bag full of gear and starts running through the tests. Within 15 mins he’s found a broken line 100 metres up the road, and departs to fix it.
  • By 3.30pm the fault has been traced and fixed, line tested and extremely cheerful engineer departs whistling (or maybe that was my imagination).

So here I sit with a fixed phone and a grateful but puzzled look on my face. This is an astonishing example of just how weird corporate personality can be. Despite two weeks of calling, emailing and complaining nothing was done about the fault. But just one email to the top results in a veritable onslaught of customer service attention and care. Surely this is crazy and completely backwards? How much did that process cost the company? How much time, effort and goodwill could have been saved if they’d just acted more effectively from Bangalore instead of logging the problem as fixed and hoping I’d go away?

It doesn’t make sense? It’s customer service all right, but it doesn’t scale, and it must result in massive collateral damage from customer discontent. I’m bemused, grateful that there is a hidden system in place that can get you out of Bermuda Triangle support hell, but totally puzzled why one has to go to such extreme lengths to get the attention we pay for. It’s just a completely bizarre way of doing business.

Thank you Mr Livingston and the numerous service personnel who helped me in this simple quest to make and receive phone calls. I sincerely hope you get your broken customer care system working better very soon, before something or someone nasty comes along to take advantage of your very very strange process!


  • So if it was a broken line 100 metres up the street, surely you couldn't have been the only person affected? Doesn't a whole street of people complaining about the same problem ring bells somewhere in the ivory towers of BT?

    I think all omniscient Telcos are the same. Here in Oz, our biggest Telco got itself excluded from a national fibreoptic broadband rollout because it didn't put it's bid in on time. So the government just excluded it. Pity they own most of the infrastructure.

  • Wow, weird, my Thunderbird junk filter has been putting all the comment notifications into a junk folder. Anyway, yeah Dan, don't know why it took them so long to get around to it, or why they couldn't just see something was wrong from where they were. Got another phone call this morning to check that everything is all right. Weird company.

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