Neil McNicholas: Communication breakdown with BT

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WRITING in her column in these pages some weeks ago, Jayne Dowle recounted her nightmare experience with British Telecom and her broadband service. I, too, have just had a similar experience with their television service, especially now they have the rights to screen Champions League football and cricket’s next Ashes series between England and Australia.

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I suspect we are not alone. It confirms my long-held view that communications companies are by far the worst at communicating. I had been receiving BT Sport via my Sky system and, even though I had notified BT that I had changed addresses, they contacted the person at my previous address to say the subscription was due for renewal.

Because he didn’t know what they were talking about, and even though he wasn’t me, they disconnected my service on his say-so. I therefore lost BT Sport and had to begin the interminable process of trying to have it reconnected.

My first discovery was that, even though I had been living at my present address for six months, and even though it was me who is paying the bills, BT still had my predecessor’s name (whom I will call Rev X) down as living here. In explaining to the person in India the situation I was trying to rectify and how it had occurred, I asked them to make sure they now had my name on the account for this address.

BT then sent out a letter of confirmation posted to me at that previous address. And when I rang to inform them, of course they still had Rev X as the account holder here. So we went all through the story and the correction process yet again and (having decided to leave Sky because of their ever-increasing charges) I requested a set-top box so that I could receive their television service instead.

It duly arrived, but the HD and BT Sport channels to which I had subscribed did not. Over the course of the next week I spent at least two more hours either on the phone or on chat lines to call centres in India. Each time they informed me that I wasn’t the account holder for
my BT service and that Rev X was, and each time we went through the process
of making that correction but all to no
avail – it has never been changed. And still no HD or sports channels materialised.

I then discovered a technical complaints department in Durham and emailed them telling them the whole sorry saga to date and threatening to report the matter to Ofcom if it wasn’t resolved immediately. Of course that would have been a total waste of time because Ofcom are about as much use as a chocolate teapot as they say.

Somehow, and by now I’m even losing track of the plot myself, someone from BT in this country called me. They informed me, of course, that Rev X was actually the account holder(!) which I corrected for, by now, the sixth or seventh time. They also said that they had no record of my original order for the TV service but that they would originate a new order and I would be connected without fail four days later and they would phone me the day after to make sure.

Needless to say the connection never happened, but what did happen was that a second set-top box arrived addressed to, no, good guess, not Rev X but Rev Y who has not only not lived at this address for 12 years but has actually been dead for 12 years. It’s a good job he didn’t have to sign for it. How his name entered into
the frame, and how BT came to send a
set-top box to him that wasn’t requested, I have no idea and neither, of course,
does BT.

Needless to say they did still have Rev X’s name on the account and so I informed the person I was speaking to who I was, but she still ended the conversation by saying “Thank you, Reverend X”!

Apparently by now mine was registered as a “high level complaint” and so a second person called me later to try to resolve the problem. By now, however, I had reached the end of my rope and so I asked them to cancel everything and that I would take my custom elsewhere (though it won’t be back to Sky). They were very apologetic and assured me they would arrange for the return of all the equipment free of charge (especially, I suggested, the box I hadn’t asked for in the first place).

But what an absolute shambles BT’s system is. I could do better with two cans and piece of string. I also hope it will be a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of venturing down the BT road.

Neil McNicholas is a parish priest at Yarm in North Yorkshire.