Waking up with a giant cockroach in your room when signing up for Talk Talk is probably better than The Trial. But I totally see what he means. This is well worth the read. Bolded for fun!
9 April 2007
BT Customer Services
cc: Sir Christopher Bland, Chair of the Board of Directors
Ian Livingstone, Chief Executive BT Retail
I am writing only briefly in case you wish to make a compensation payment to me before I take my matter to the small claims court to make a more formal complaint. I think the latter would please me more as it might bring me some psychological “closure”. It is always difficult to feel satisfied when a faceless organisation simply sends you an automated cheque. But I looked into the legalities, and talked to Ofcom, and apparently I have to “give you a chance” a chance you don’t really deserve.
This is a story of incompetence writ large. Of the inability of a massive organisation to accept blame, and then assign responsibility to someone to fix things. A small error that perpetuates through the inability to put your hands up and say “sorry” and just put it right. It is also a story of frustration to the point of blind rage, of Kafkaesque processes and unbelievable bureaucracy. You might think this a small and petty problem but we customers pay your shareholders’ dividends.
This letter has two clear purposes:
1. return a bill I have absolutely no intention of paying; and
2. offer you an opportunity to compensate me for my time, stress and efforts
Let me take you back to Sunday 6 January 2007. Quite a while ago isn’t it? And to think, still, today, the problem is not fixed. That afternoon I was sitting upon my bed, as I often do, tapping away on my lovely Apple Mac. Suddenly, at precisely 12.03pm I noticed I was no longer online. This was a disappointment, as I was listening to something involving the narrative tool of suspense. I still don’t know what happened to them.
I called talktalk, my line rental and internet solutions provider (their words) and they were confused. They put it to me that some time previously I had contacted BT whom then contacted them to disconnect my line to take it back to BT. After explaining I had left BT because of their state monopoly-hangover attitude and was giving talktalk a fair chance (I am not claiming they are perfect) I was somewhat amazed anyone would think I had done this. They stood their ground (the first in a series of childish positions taken by both companies).
I then called BT who confirmed this was the case. This is when it stated to go a bit Kafka. Maybe I had asked to go back to a company I had nothing but trouble with only after three months with another company even though I had signed a twelve month contract with a £70 cancellation fee. Yes, maybe really I love BT and I was happy to pay the £70 plus higher line rental, broadband and call charges. But, no. Even Kafka was not that sick. So my first contact with BT I was essentially called a liar. Back to talktalk (for the idea you might talk to them! Ha ha ha!) where they informed me that some phone companies had been doing this sort of shenanigans a lot: deliberately moving the line rental because the checks and balances are essentially non existent. (This forms part of my official complaint to Ofcom about this incident.) But, they added, not yet have we heard about BT getting so deep into the gutter.
So were you groping around in the mud or just incompetent? I went back to BT and pretended I had been dealing with second-level complaints and finally got through to someone who decided not to be rude to me. They then admitted that BT “may” have made a mistake, or better still (for there is no way I could ever hope to verify this) “a customer must have given us the wrong address.” Were it not for a slip up by another of your phone operators I would have thought this was merely another excuse. But when I asked who the person was who gave the wrong address, so I could contact them to resolve this more easily (ie they could call and sort it out as well as me) they would not give me a name, nor if this was what had happened, but they then accidentally referred to the person as a “she” and then admitted there was a lady who had written giving the wrong information. They would not say whom. The fact my phone line is in my name (I am male) and only my name, so easily a check could have been applied to realise I had not written. So to recap: someone with a different sex, a different surname, wrote and asked to join BT and gave the wrong details (perhaps). You failed to check, revealing gaping flaws in the system and started my continuing phone hell which I shall now describe in all its painful detail so you get some understanding of the almost indescribable frustration I have and am still experiencing in not being able to fix so simple an error.
How easily do you think it would be to fix this? I asked a few people, randomly selected. “Quite straightforward?”, “can’t imagine it would be that hard” and from a friend who is an expert on internet protocols “technically very simple, can probably be done remotely.” Little do they know! So the first three days were spent on hold (talktalk worse than you, I admit that). From day four onwards it was spent with each company refusing to take any blame. I gave up keeping a log of the number of times I called because you wouldn’t believe me. It was getting really silly. Check this out for a Catch 22:
* talktalk claimed they could do absolutely nothing because BT now had control of the line
* BT claimed they could do absolutely nothing because the line was dormant and talktalk had some sort of ownership of the number
* talktalk claimed they could not bring the line back to them, they can only move lines from BT into talktalk
* BT resolutely refused to contact talktalk because I was not a BT customer and they didn’t see it had anything to do with them
* talktalk claimed the only sensible thing I could do is start a new contract with BT and move it to talktalk
* BT said this cannot not be done with my old number as talktalk had some sort of control over it. A new contract would mean a 3 month minimum period (I was not prepared to lose my number or enter into a new contract)
And so on. You get the point. Belligerent ping-pong, and it went on for weeks. My colleagues were sick of hearing me on the phone and my boss sick of me wasting time on it (and one consequence of the loss of internet was the inability to work at home, something I shall simply not forgive: I love my bed).
One of the amazing things about this charade is that I learnt so much about the deliberate obfuscatory techniques of both your companies. I have been talking to Ofcom about this, and Radio 4 and the BBC are considering whether it is amusing enough to make a documentary about. Take talktalk, it takes a long time to find their contact number (I have become really good at this now, I even found Amazon’s number something a friend told me another friend told him was impossible). When you call you get shipped straight to a call centre farm. I have been to Cape Town, Bangalore and Dublin. There is NO WAY to contact head office. I tried, I got the name of the head of customer services and Charlie Dunston’s private line. Both refused to talk to me (more on this later). And BT. Oh BT! You eventually find a number where a lady (ALWAYS a lady) answers and gives you a nice tea and sympathy thing but absolutely no resolution whatsoever. One even admitted she had no idea how I could ever get out of my trap.
This went on for a long time. Me calling BT asking them to call talktalk. Then me calling talktalk asking them to call BT. “It’s good to talk” but not to rival companies who are outpacing you. So I did something I am ashamed of. Something I abhor in other people. I feel dirty telling you. I pulled rank.
Still believing you are the ones at fault but realising you really did care less than talktalk, I did some digging around on the internet for someone very high up in Carphone warehouse and emailed them explaining I work very close to the Prime Minister and I need my internet back. Within ten minutes I received a phone call from initially-very-helpful-but-now-disappeared-Arnie who did something and within 24 hours my phone line was active again with my old number. Isn’t that funny, didn’t take long after all!
However, no internet and still in a BT nightmare. I am not sure what he did but my IP access was reactivated in about a week and I can now use my talktalk internet through my (I was told, temporary) BT line. The speed of my internet currently is derisory. When I was up and running happily at full speed on talktalk’s LLU I was getting 6-7 megabit download speed. I now never get more than 0.8. I am still waiting to transfer to LLU and talktalk have now become incredibly hard to get hold of. And I would have left it there waiting were it not for your (enclosed) bill.
I always planned to write for compensation after a discussion (one of the 30 of so phone calls, I forget which) with someone from your residential semi-suicidal complainers division they admitted you would be prepared to discuss monetary compensation, but I was waiting to see how long it will take to get back to where I was. Again to recap, it is now four months or so and I still am not where I was, have bills coming from here there and everywhere and on a download speed a fraction of what it was. So, I assume the bill is null and void, I now turn to the matter of how much you owe me.
There are a few ways I could have calculated this. [Edited because I’m jealous!] £115 sounds fair. (This is 0.00000076% of your net profits in 2006, or nearly exactly the dividends of 1000 shares.)
I will end here, and give you a chance to respond. I might also add one thing to my two points above: please, please can I have my talktalk line back up to full speed. I have grown weak from trying and I know it is talktalk’s area but you could do something to make me smile?