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To become infuriated, press 3 - Times

Rob W

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To become infuriated, press 3

Alice Miles

Don't make the mistake of expecting any of that 'customer service' nonsense over the telephone . . .




IF, LIKE ME, this summer is more likely to find you surfing online than offshore, and you haven’t yet signed up for broadband, then congratulations — you are, like me, doubly uncool. We are way behind the trend here: well over six million, that’s a quarter of British households, are on broadband. Last month the Office for National Statistics reported that it had overtaken dial-up (slow internet, to you and me) for the first time. This is something of a communications revolution.

It hasn’t been without pain. Most of us know someone who has been tied up in knots changing to broadband. So my experience is not untypical. Warily, but encouraged by a colleague who assured me it was “fine”, I signed up with BT: minimum 12-month contract, £25 a month. No problem. Except that there was a big problem. The equipment they sent me came with a CD-Rom, effectively the instruction manual: “Simply insert it into your computer’s CD drive and follow the on-screen instructions.” But my computer couldn’t read it.




And that’s where the real trouble started. Half an hour of holding for BT Broadband technical support on Thursday night got me nowhere: press 1, press 3, whatever, “We are very busy at the moment” (You know what? So am I), “Your call is moving up the queue” (yes but from where to where? 1,000 to 999? 2 to 1? Any clues at all?), “You may be able to find the answer to your question by clicking on the BT Broadband self-help tool located in your system tray” . . . By the time I had listened to that for half an hour, I had worked out the problem for myself — my computer was too old. The Mac operating system was incompatible with the CD it had sent.


But recognising the problem didn’t help me with the solution. Did I need a different CD? The next day I started at 8am. I might as well have been trying to call the man on the Moon. The first call took 38 minutes and sent me through at least three different departments, and one of them twice — “It looks like there’s definitely an incompatibility issue there then. I suggest you go back to the service number . . .” The service number told me to call the sales number. What, the number I called in the first place, 38 minutes ago? And wait in the queue again? I tried for six minutes then gave up. My daughter needed breakfast.


Why do some corporations do this to their clients? Why do they think it OK to trap their customers in these infuriating electronic systems, like hamsters stuck on wheels? It isn’t necessary, the result of unavoidable “peaks and troughs”, as one BT person claimed to me. My bank, First Direct, has a call centre which answers quickly, or swiftly takes a number and calls you back, is always helpful, and never leaves you wondering whether you have got lost in network hell.


The third of BT’s three “customer services promises” is: “If the first person you call at BT can’t help, they’ll make it their top priority to find the person who can.” Isn’t there an advert boasting it as well? Well, it is plain rubbish. At some point during that 38-minute call, before going on hold yet again for yet another department, I asked the person transferring me whether I could leave a number and they could get the correct person to call me back so that I didn’t have to hold for any longer. No, he said, he couldn’t. He could take my number but they wouldn’t ring me. That’s BT. The telecommunications company. It won’t make a phone call. Surprise.


Now let me tell you what else I did. While holding, I picked up the other phone, got the number for BT’s biggest broadband rivals Wanadoo, rang it, got straight through to technical support, told them the problem, spoke first to a general technical adviser then to a Mac specialist, who checked through three easy steps with me then explained that my computer couldn’t use broadband without an upgrade, thanked them very much, put the phone down — and I was still holding between one BT department and the next. Truly, I thought, the man on the Moon does exist, only he lives in Wanadoo.


But not all the time. A few minutes’ research yesterday showed that Wanadoo has its own irate broadband customers — as, in fact, do pretty much all the providers. Andrew Craig, editor of Web User magazine, still recommends the larger companies, BT and Wanadoo, because he reckons their size means they should be able to sort out any problems. I disagree. Avoid Bulldog for the time being, Craig adds — and some smaller providers such as PlusNet and Freedom seem to be problem-free (not if you all rush to switch to them!). If you log onto www.ispreview.co.uk, then click on broadband and Reader ISP reviews, you get some idea of the territory. Ignoring those companies with only a handful of reviews, Broadsurf, Demon, Eclipse, Firefly, Freedom2Surf, MetroNet, NDO, PlusNet, Vispa and Zen Internet score highly. Tiscali fares particularly badly, Tesco is unimpressive, ditto Virgin. And — whaddya know — Wanadoo scores lower than both Bulldog and BT.


Which leaves me as confused as you. I did eventually manage to cancel the contract with BT — although not before one of its staff had seemed to imply that I might be lying about the conversation I had with the person who sold me the package. Why would you lie about your computer’s compatibility with something that was going to cost you hundreds of pounds? The BT “brand values”, I see, are: “Trustworthy — means consistently delivering on our promises; Helpful — means listening and responding; Straightforward — means keeping things simple and clear; Inspiring — means constantly working to create new communication possibilities; Heart — means showing passion and conviction.” I suppose there’s no point in asking why it doesn’t ditch this blather and simply treat its customers like sentient human beings. You know, take a message, solve a problem, ring them back, that kind of stuff. I can even write the advertising campaign: Don’t Call Us — We’ll Call You!

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I just finally got through to the customer services dept for Tiffany's in London after faffing about with 118 and getting put through to a feggin advertising company... try again and get through to the Jewellers and the dippy cockney on the phone obviously barely understands my gutter speak, she manages to draw from my gutteral utterances that I want customer services, it goes straight through to an answer phone "Leave a message and we'll endeavour to returnt he call before close of business"




so now I'm waiting on a phonecall...

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Reads more like an advert for Wanadoo.


Yes some customer service is appalling, but the vast majority is ok, just keep ringing up with the attitude "oh this is going to be terrible" and it probably will be.


99% of computer cds have a system requirements bit in the bottom corner on the back of the packet or inlay........

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