Jayne Dowle: No company should treat its customers this badly

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TALK about a nightmare before Christmas. If you think you’re having a stressful time, read this. For a week now, I have had no broadband internet service. I have also had my home phone number changed without warning or permission granted. All in the name of “service” from BT.

I have experienced some traumatic consumer issues in my time. I have spent hours sorting out rip-off car insurance, mobile phone replacements and errant gas bills. However I can honestly say that nothing comes close to the disaster this company has caused me, both professionally and personally.

I’m sharing it with you because you might learn from my experience. Furthermore, no company should be allowed to get away with treating customers like this.

A month ago, I contacted BT to discuss my account. My aims were clear. Or so I thought. I wanted a better deal on my calls because I hardly use the outgoing landline these days due to unlimited usage on my mobile.

I wanted to upgrade my broadband, as our service has become progressively worse, dropping out in various spots around the house and going slow. And I also wanted to take the account into my own name as I split with my husband a year ago.

No problem, the lady in sales said. It will be a working line takeover. No problem with keeping my home number – which I use for work, as well as myriad personal matters. And no problem with loss of service – my biggest concern. She reassured me that when the swap-over happened, I would only be without phone and broadband for one hour.

That one hour has turned into one week. One week when I have all my work to complete before Christmas. One week when I was planning to order or reserve all kinds of things for the family. One week when I really needed to have immediate access to my banking, to the postcode finder for Christmas cards, to Facebook for contacting friends to make festive arrangements, for booking train tickets, for so many things we take for granted online.

Words cannot describe the stress this has put me under.

I know. It doesn’t compare to having a terrible illness, or nursing an elderly relative or having no home. There are all kinds of things which are much worse. However, as a paying customer by direct debit for more than 20 years, I believe that I deserve to be treated better than this.

I deserve better than being fobbed off by bored call centre “advisers” who clearly don’t care as long as they get you off the line. And who never phone you back “within the hour” as promised.

I deserve better than being told to log into BT Fon instead – a “hotspot” service which is about as reliable as standing on top of the house and waving my hands in the air.

It was all supposed to happen last Tuesday. This was the second attempt by the way. The first date I booked for the takeover, at the beginning of December, had to be postponed because my order somehow got misplaced. I threatened to leave for Sky, but got talked back into it. How I regret that now.

There I was, day arranged, patiently waiting for the new hub to be delivered and for a message from BT to tell me everything was underway.

When nothing happened by 11am, I called them. And then half an hour later, my broadband signal inexplicably disappeared.

Four or five phone calls later, I was finally given the grim news. No broadband service until December 23. I reasoned. I shouted. I ended up in tears. No one seemed to understand my situation. And then, to add insult to injury, the next morning at 6am, as I struggled with establishing a connection with BT Fon, I got a phone call on my mobile. It was from a local number I didn’t recognise. It took me five minutes to realise it was coming from my home phone. Can you imagine how this felt?

Clearly, BT couldn’t. In despair I took to Twitter to vent my frustration – and desperation. I emailed so-called BTCare. Twice. I tweeted again. And again. It still took more than a day for anyone to actually speak to me. And now I am dealing with a complaints specialist called Debra who promises to get me sorted today.

So far, she hasn’t come up with an explanation for what has gone so terribly wrong. If it wasn’t so traumatic, it would be a joke better than any in a cracker. However the point is a serious one: if this is happening to me, how many others are going through a similar experience? How many other lives – and Christmases – are being ruined through ineptitude from a service we pay for? A service which profits from our diligent direct debits. A service which is supposed to hook us all up in a super-efficient digital universe. A service which can’t even get a simple takeover right.

A billboard I pass every day seems to mock my predicament. “Now’s the time for superfast broadband,” it proclaims. I wouldn’t hold your breath. Or trust a word that BT says.