The long story about BT (British Telecom) customer service

I’ve been with BT (British Telecom) for years.  Eight years in fact.  And while most people tell me they a). are incompetent (google also has some interesting stories) and b). essentially cost 2x everyone else, my internet service has actually been “up” for nearly eight of those years (that I can tell) so I’ve been (perhaps stupidly) happy to pay a premium.  While there have been occasions when things have gone horribly wrong (like the last time they erroneously cancelled an order and disconnected me) I think the final straw has arrived.

[NOTE: I’ve never in my life – that I can remember – written a letter of complaint to or about company.  Sure I may bitch a little, but that’s about it.  Just want to put this all in context 😉  It’s taken a lot of crap from BT to get me to this stage]

Let me explain.  Apparently sometime in June, while I was away on vacation and my house was completely empty, someone called BT and told them I was “moving”.  From what I can tell and they can tell me, all that the person had to provide was my phone number and address (which I guess is available on some system somewhere and probably on the Internet), then suddenly, a few weeks later all my phone lines and broadband/internet access was cancelled.  No notice.  No SMS.  No emails.  No letters. No correspondence of any kind. Just disconnected.

While immensely frustrating (given the effort it sometimes take to get connections), the fact that it seems anyone can basically disconnect anyone’s BT phone in the UK without identification, confirmation or correspondence is frightening. Worse, for those using Sky, Virgin et al that also depend on BT landlines, they too can be disconnected, almost overnight.

Obviously there’s something wrong with the process for disconnecting and/or moving house, and sure, mistakes do happen, but the customer service (until I found someone in the UK that took the time to look into it thoroughly) was horrible. Not just horrible, humiliatingly disgusting.

After 4 hours on the phone (international calls in the middle of the night because I was in Australia), going through a variety of call centers (mostly in non-English speaking countries), they successfully determined that it was in fact all my fault, the reasons being.

1. The account was not paid – even though it was on “direct payment from my bank account”.  Pretty weird as they eventually had to admit that last paper and internet statement from the previous 10 days showed £0.00 balance owing (and the account has never been negative!)

2. It was definitely me who told them that I wanted to move – but then they couldn’t confirm my new address to me… funny since I apparently requested it!

3. My internet connection and phone was actually fine – even though when I/they called my phone it said it was disconnected!

4. I’d given my account number and/or permission for someone to cancel my account – errr. no.

5. My bank had made a mistake. Err… no again.

In short… there was no coherent story as to what happened and no one could tell me why.  The stories (and excuses) actually seemed to get more and more convoluted with each new person I spoke with – and more frustrating. Ultimately it soon became clear that they themselves where confused as well.

Lastly I was told it was because of “other”, and no one knew what “other” meant as a reason for disconnection.

The Proposed Solution: Sign up for another 18 month contract, with a new phone number (as that is their current sales deal) – “it could take a few weeks to reconnect” – and I had to pay reconnection charges. Once that was reconnected they could then reconnect my internet “in a few weeks/10 working days”.  Right… someone, somewhere screwed up and I have to pay… errr… no way.

What amused me the most was that while “every phone conversation was recorded”, when I asked them to compare my voice to the caller that requested my disconnection their response was “it is going to take a while”. How long was a while?  Well… “several months”.  Of course “I could wait if I liked, or have a new connection/contract started immediately”.

After being disconnected three times and starting the conversation from scratch with each of the 8 or so people I talked with, I finally managed to find someone in the UK that could get things reconnected in a few days – probably won’t have the same phone number, but I could be reconnected.

To my friends that have told me time and time again that have switched from BT… I now completely agree with you – the BT customer service was simply beyond belief (until I found that one person… and spent over a $100 on phone calls).

If it was only possible to use a non-BT provider where I live (without also requiring a BT account), I too would switch.

[update: 10th July] After another hour on the phone, three separate calls and being hung up on twice, it looks to be finally resolved.  Hopefully I’ll have a new phone number (yes… my old one is gone), on a new contract (I have to work out compensation for this in a separate process) in two may be three working days.  They waived my reconnection fee (how nice of them).

Of course I had to go through the whole process of explaining once again that the disconnection was made in error, that my account was completely in order (Another system said I owed £0.00 and needed to pay that amount immediately before they could continue to do anything) and that I wasn’t moving house.  And… although it took two people three attempts to make the new connection order, it should be all good now.

It seems the secret was to “keep trying” until I could find someone that could understand English, comprehend what had happened and had the authority to get things fixed.  Shame it took nearly 6 hours and 11 people.  Being hung up on twice by off-shore call centers was pretty unfriendly and very annoying, but it was worth it.  For some reason when I now call I only get UK-based operators.

Not a great way to end a holiday.

[update: 14th July] Awesome! My home line now works.  Amazing!  New phone number of course (my old one is gone forever – now to notify everyone 😦 ), but at least I have a phone that works now.  Unfortunately my Internet Connection doesn’t work.  Doh.  They said it would, but again, that was another department. So… another 45 minutes on the phone.  Oops… yet another mistake!  Apparently it “has to be a new connection – could take 5 days”.  Damn it… “but because of the errors, it should on tomorrow”.

[update 15th July] No Internet Connection 😦  I’ll wait until tomorrow.  No need to work at home today anyway.

[update 16th July] Awesome! Internet is back.  Now to undo all of the new contracts I had to say “yes to” in order to get things running again.  No choice but to go through the official complains procedure.  Apparently this may take 12 weeks.

[update 23rd July] Received final bill for my previous phone number.  £14 credit!  I guess the “story” that my account was out of order was incorrect!


4 responses to “The long story about BT (British Telecom) customer service

  1. Andrew Wilson

    Yup, but I had a worse experience with Sky. First they offered me bandwidth that they obviously couldn’t provide (since they were going through BT). Then then told me anyone would take 28 days. BT got it all working in a week. As you say, they are pricey, incompetent, but the long and short of it is they are still the gatekeepers of a monopoly. Darn, Andrew.

  2. Hi Brian
    You are not alone in your experience with BT. I have put your BTcomplaint on the BT Complaints website which will be put into report along with all complaints received. The website is

  3. Andrew Roberts

    Hi Brian,

    What a nightmare! I don’t think it’s just BT though. I find with most of the telecom companies that the service is superb as long as nothing goes wrong! I had a nightmare experience with Virgin when my broadband connection dramatically slowed down. It was supposed to be 20MB and degraded to about 2MB. It took 5 seperate 30 minute calls to various call centres on another contienent, running through the same tests each time before they agreed to send an engineer out to replace the modem. They only did this on the condition that I would pay the £80 call out charge if nothing was wrong with it. The tests were infuriating. They were sure my PC was at fault, even though as I told them on every call that I had 2 PC’s and the problem was seen on both. Was the modem plugged in properly? Yes! Had I tried other cables? Yes! Have you asked me the same questions 5 times before? Yes!

    The amusing thing was that when the engineer turned up and I quickly explained the symptoms, straight away he said “modem’s broken”. He gave me a new one and within 3 minutes it was working fine again. I told him about my call centre experience and he just laughed and apologised because he knows how crap the customer service is. Definitely some internal communication issues there…


  4. You folks dealing with BT are certainly not alone. In western Canada we go through the same type of obfuscation with our varied service providers.
    I have just finished reading “Your Call is Important to Us: The Truth about bullshit” By Canadian Author and East Coast Professor Laura Penny. Delightful fun read and many valid points and new insights into the growth of the ‘hold the customer at bay set.’

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