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.

Author: 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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