Plus your life!

I often have conversations with non-British people about Britain, and one of the things they comment on – somewhat apologetically – is that things in this country don’t seem to work very well. I’m quite proud to be British, and I’d rather not hear these things, but, damn it, they’re basically true. Why? Not sure, but the smart money is on the tendency of British people to avoid conflict and rarely complain.

I’ve been a British Telecom customer for about three days and I am about to file a complaint. Why? Because I’m moving house and I’ve got enough to deal with without muppets like BT making a simple phoneline installation unnecessarily complex.

Come with me now as we enter Hocking’s World of Irritation.

Last week, I signed up with BT. Despite the hardware being already installed in the new house – this means that the BT engineer does nothing more than a simple reconnection – we have to pay an installation fee of £124.99. If someone had lived the house before us, we’d have to pay nothing for a reconnection, despite the work of the engineer being essentially identical.

Grumpy? Nah, just warming up.

When I called BT to sign up, I was on the phone for about half an hour and got disconnected before talking to anyone. They simply HUNG UP. Fine, I thought. I’ll just use the web site. So I pootle on over to the computer and enter all my details. Everything – except the crucial installation date.

This is crucial because – bizarrely – Sky wants to have their set-top box connected to my phone line. They won’t install their equipment without a BT line already active. If it isn’t, I’ll have to reschedule with them.

And it is crucial because I need to have a BT line installed before I can even think about getting an Internet connection.

Back to BT. The email says that I’ll be contacted within three working days.

There will be no prizes for those readers who guess that the three days cheerfully elapse without a phone call.

Fine, I think. I’ll call ’em using the number supplied at the end of the email.

10:00 AM this morning – whistling, I call BT.

10:30 AM – the phone is answered by a nice Scottish gentleman who tells me, with a chuckle, that I’ve called the wrong number. He offers to be put me through to the right one – the sales department. Great! I think, thanking him.

11:15 AM – the phone is answered by a nice English lady. She tells me that I’m through to BT broadband. Mmm, I say, I think the previous must have made a mistake. She pauses. Yes, she agrees, he must have. Do I wish to be put through to the right number? Great! I say.

12:15 PM – after swapping phones because the battery in the first one is dead, I finally give up.

I know! I think. I only want an installation date, after all. I’ll see if I can do it online. (If you’re wondering what I was up to all morning, I was marking student scripts.)

I see a link for ‘track your order’ on the main BT page. I click it, and find myself in the BT Broadband section. It seems that you can only track an order online if the other is for BT Broadband – not any of their other services, like, I don’t know, let me pick something at random; a ‘phone’ line?

No problemo!

I then click through myriad contact forms – no email address, oh no – until I find the one marked ‘Contact us about an order for a new line installation’. Bingo! I cackle, startling the gerbils.


The form wants me to insert my BT phone line number. But I don’t have a BT line. I WANT to have one. That’s the whole point of this form, isn’t it? I figure WTF and enter a dummy number. I’ll show them impish!


The form wants me to enter my account number.

I don’t have a fucking account number.

I’m not yet a customer. I just want an installation confirmed before it’s TOO LATE and I have to go to Sky and re-arrange THEIR installation date, forcing myself to walk through the wonderland of SKY CUSTOMER SERVICE a second time.

Weeping, I go back to the BT website one last time.

They want it to be easy for me contact them, to facilitate my experience, to plus my life.

I want it too.

I am going to complain.

Published by

Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “Plus your life!”

  1. Oh man, I feel your pain. What cracked me up about NTL (now Virgin Media, and allegedly no better at customer service) is that, despite being an ISP, they will only answer customer service enquiries by phone. You couldn’t email them. What’s up with that?

    My initial cynical thought was ‘I bet they make money off those local rate help line calls’, and I expect they do. But after a four year tenure with them, I realised they’re playing the long game. I don’t dare switch providers for exactly the reasons you’ve listed above. By being useless and obfuscatory, they keep their customers. QED.


    By the way, I’ve found that written letters by snail mail are the best complaint vector, once the initial problem is fixed. Papertrails are much harder to lose. It may take a while for a reply to come back from the corporate machine, but it’s usually extremely apologetic and often accompanies some form of compensatory gesture. I assume this is because by the time the document has been passed on to someone who can actually read it, it’s already deep into the strata of upper management.

    Give ’em hell, dude.

    PS Expect an email from me in the next few days … if you can retrieve them, that is.

  2. Being from Cornwall, I feel a farming-inspired complaint might be a good idea, like that fella who drove his muck spreader up to the council offices somewhere and gave them a fertilizing they wouldn’t soon forget.

    Failing that, a letter.

    My next ISP will probably be TalkTalk. Wish me luck; I’m going in.

  3. OH MY GOD! The things I could whine with about BT. I had exactly the same schiser to deal with as you, when they cut our phone and internet for a month when we moved house. Total bunch of imcompetent idiots.

    Over here in America, we got hooked up with lightening fast internet, 240 TV channels and free local and long distance calls overnight for the same price as we were paying in England for BT phone and internet – not including the extra for the calls.

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