One random customer’s fight against British Telecom

(UPDATED: 23 May 2016)

This is a bit of an experiment. A consumer journal, if you will.

Over the past few years we’ve had some astonishingly bad service from British Telecom. If you’ve ever been a BT customer then you’ll know the score: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and you’ll never get to the end of the ever-expanding list of complaints hoops that you have to jump through.

BT’s customer service policy is quite transparent: Exhaust the customer so they give up.

It’s effective. We’re owed thousands of pounds for downtime and loss of business, but we’ve given up trying to get the money. It’s never going to happen. We’re owed £375 in erroneous charges for engineer visits. We’ll never get that money back. One time BT just randomly charged us £70 for a router. We’ll never see that money again.

But there’s something different about the latest thing that’s gone wrong…

While moving house this month, we’ve discovered that our last move in December 2013 was processed incorrectly. We were signed-up to a 5-year contract for a service called “Featureline” that we never ordered, never wanted, and had never even heard of.

BT’s response to this has been what you might expect: Tough. There’s no record of us ordering this service, either in writing or over the phone, but they insist there’s nothing they can do about it.

Worse, if we move within the 5-year term of the contract (as we have this time) then the contract ‘resets’ and a new 5-year period begins. They’ll only release us from the contract if we pay them £800.

Someone, somewhere, somehow, must do something about BT. This company has got too big, to the point that it can operate like some shady back-street dealer and get away with it. So I’m going to fight them.

Like anyone else who has had to deal with BT’s customer service people, I’m way past the point of being beaten down and exhausted, but I’m going to do this for the greater good.

I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll write to as many complaints departments as I have to. If they come back and say that I have to write to someone else, or do something else, or jump through another hoop, then I’ll do it. And I’ll record it all here.

The point is to create a record of a random BT customer’s experience when something goes wrong. I’ll update this blog post at each step of the process. Hopefully, as it drags on and on and nothing gets done, it will build in to a compelling piece of evidence that other customers, and perhaps Ofcom, can use against BT. One day this monstrosity of a company might be forced to change its attitude towards customers. Someone has to take the first step, and it had might as well be me.


18 May 2016

This “dispute” almost ended before it began! When our new phone line went live, it was a normal phone line with none of this silly “Featureline” nonsense. I emailed our service manager Debra to thank her for resolving the problem. Alas, we were wrong. This was her response. (Several emails condensed in to one quote.)

The feature line data is still being built unfortunately I have not been able to cancel this. When the order closes the feature line facilities will activate. The featureline can be removed and the line downgraded to standard line but you will incur charges for cancellation of the long term 5 year contact. Unfortunately I am unable escalate the dispute regarding the 5 year contract term any further. A new contract for a 5 year feature line will start from the day the line is installed. To downgrade to a standard line will incur charges which I will not be able to remove.

I’ve also spoken to Debra on the phone and the reason why she can’t (won’t?) escalate the dispute is because it has been 2.5 years since the Featureline order was processed. I’m not sure why that’s relevant? Obviously we weren’t sent a bill or an invoice or an order confirmation or anything, because we never ordered anything! So because we didn’t know about BT’s mistake until they told us about it 2.5 years later, we now have to pay for it.

By the way our broadband couldn’t be moved at the same time as our phone line, for some reason. BT gave us this useful link to check our order progress:

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 19.16.14

19 May 2016

Well if I was dealing with any normal company then today should have been the end of this dispute, as we’ve figured out what went wrong. But with BT? No.

Here’s an excerpt from a “live chat” with an agent this morning:

Matthew: on the account we have contact names Mr Adrian Tyler, Mr Oli Smith, Ms Penny Halsaall
Andrew Smith: None of those are me 🙂
Matthew: i know we have you aswell
Andrew Smith: None of those names should be connected to our account.
Matthew: so it could be any of these people that could of placed the order
Andrew Smith: I don’t know who any of those people are, or why they’ve been connected to our account.
Andrew Smith: This is why I need to see a copy of the order, to see who placed the order.
Matthew: give me 1 moment im seeing what I can do for you
Andrew Smith: Thanks Matthew.
Matthew: its coming up as if it was in 25th april 2013 and it was saved under your name

This has been a recurring problem with BT — they have multiple businesses connected to our account. There’s a tree surgeon, a restaurant, a “man with a van” service, plus another one that I’ve forgotten. So maybe one of those businesses ordered the Featureline and it was added to my account by mistake?

It turns out that’s exactly what happened. According to an agent who I spoke to on the phone, someone from “The Mermaid” (a restaurant?) ordered the Featureline on 25 April 2013, and for some reason it was added to our account on 14 January 2014.

Problem solved? Yeah right. According to the agent I spoke to, he went and listened to a recording of a phone call from 13 December 2013 and someone who “had the same accent” as me could be heard ordering the Featureline. He couldn’t explain why an order placed in December 2013 would have been dated April 2013, or why it would be added to my account in January 2014, or why orders from “The Mermaid” are being added to my account.

I asked to hear the recording, but the only way BT will allow me to listen to it is if I pay for a copy of all correspondence, phone calls, emails, account info, notes, etc, related to my account. The agent was just about to give me the address that I had to apply to, when the line when dead. Imagine that! What amazing timing.

20 May 2016

IMG_8017Another day, another problem. That picture over on the right is our broadband router, a full week after our line move was completed. Yep, that’s right, no broadband!

I’d made a point of waiting the full week that our account manager said it might take, but today I rang BT to ask why the broadband wasn’t working. Turns out it’s still on our old line. Our account manager had forgotten to process the move request, and then went on holiday until next week.

But this is actually a good thing. See, the person that I spoke to today told me something that I didn’t know — if the broadband had been moved, even though we were about six months out of our 2-year contract, BT would have reset the contract and we’d be locked in to paying around £30 per month for another two years. That would mean that the only way to upgrade to fibre would be to pay for a £40/month package, whereas someone out of contract can get it for £18/month and get free calls thrown in.

So I cancelled our broadband. The lady who cancelled it for us also put a note on our account to make sure our account manager doesn’t re-order it, and there’s a callback request for her to contact me when she gets back from holiday. We got the full name of the lady who cancelled the order, and which call centre she’s based in.

Considering how efficient BT are at screwing up, here’s a wild guess: As soon as our account manager comes back from holiday, on Monday apparently, she’ll re-open the order and we’ll be locked in for another two years. Let’s see if I’m right, shall we?

23 May 2016

I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but I finally got through to someone at BT with some common sense who seems to have got the entire problem sorted out in one phone call. Allow me to run you through the day’s events…

Debra our account manager phoned. Long phone call. She told me that BT only keep call recordings for six months, so there was no way the guy I spoke to last Thursday could have found a recording from December 2013. As such, BT have no evidence of the Featureline being ordered. They have no idea why it was ever added to my account.

So, problem solved? Debra can cancel the Featureline?

No! Of course not. Debra now claims that because we’ve moved house during the 5-year term of the Featureline contract, that counts as acceptance of the contract. So even if I didn’t order it before, I’ve ordered it now. I don’t know how one human being can say this sort of thing to another human being and not feel deeply uncomfortable within themselves. Debra must be a very loyal BT employee.

Next, just out of interest, and perhaps a bit of devilment, I thought I’d give the Customer Options team another call to find out why one of their agents had lied about listening to a phone call from December 2013. This took about an hour, thanks to calls being transferred to the wrong department, line drops, etc. But eventually I got through to someone and started to explain the problem. And the most amazing thing happened…

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Nathan Wynn. Nathan is someone very special at BT. Nathan listened to me explaining the problem. He listened to me explaining about all the many other problems we’ve had with BT due to the other businesses around the country being wrongly associated with our account. Nathan listened to everything, and then he went off to see what he could do.

It took Nathan maybe five minutes to establish that there was no record of us ever ordering the Featureline. Not only could he cancel it on the spot, effective immediately, but he could also cancel our 5-year contract without charge.

After a bit more discussion, what we decided would be the best thing to do would be to entirely cancel our phone line. The line will be disconnected. The account will close. And then we can start up a brand new line with a new account, without any of those other businesses being connected to us.

Could this really be the end of our problems with BT? Did we find the one man in the entire company that can actually get stuff done? I won’t lie — I’m slightly sceptical. But we’ve  already had confirmation by email that the contract has been cancelled and the phone line will cease. So maybe, just maybe, this is actually happening.

BT is the most awful company I’ve ever had to deal with. They operate a labyrinthine network of call centres and complaints departments that seem to serve no purpose other than to rip-off their customers. They employ people that will lie. They employ people that will make up the most absurd justifications for abhorrent mistreatment of customers. But somewhere, deep within the bowels of the leviathan, there is one man who actually cares, and actually gets stuff done.

Thank you Nathan! 🙂



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