Poor Service from BT

July 12, 2011

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this article but I think the time is right.

I don’t want this to be seen as an attack against BT or BT Broadband but I’ve had to deal with BT on a regular basis for many years now and they suffer from a problem often witnessed with large organisations, the dreaded customer service.

This particular instance was not an unusual problem. My customer, based in Basingstoke, had a Broadband service that had been down over the weekend but fortunately we had two other ADSL circuits to take the load.

However the problem I have is one that I experience over and over again with the BT helpdesk and this does annoy me.  It’s getting through to a representative that is incapable of making an informed decision. I understand and appreciate the need for certain rules and workflows but not every situation can be catered for. And what’s more frustrating is when you know what the problem and solution is but no one listens. It’s like watching “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”.

Sorry for the long read but feel free to skip the story behind this article and jump straight to the conclusion.


With the broadband offline the first thing I did was to check the status on the router.  I’d check to make sure the line is in SYNC and that a connection is establish.  On first check I could clearly see the connection was down but I also noticed the line was exhibiting very high levels of corrected and uncorrected blocks.

With this evidence and knowledge I knew the problem was going to be a line issue. The problem could have been a micro filter issue but experience tells me the problem is often a line issue; and given this particular line has no phone connected the chances of it being a micro filter was reasonably slim.

At this point I must mention that I wasn’t physically on site but given the advances in technology I chose to take advantage of them.  I remotely rebooted the router but this did not fix the issue. I called the customer and asked them to power the router off, wait 30 seconds and then power it back up. This also failed to clear the problem.

I called the BT Broadband helpdesk and spoke to an advisor. I explained the situation and that I suspected it may be a line issue. The advisor then proceeded to go through a prescribe list of tasks that they wanted me to take. Please note that this exchange is paraphrased.

BT: “can you reboot the router”

Me: “I already told you I did this”

BT: “can you power off the router”

Me: “again, I already told you I did this”

BT: “Can you remove all the computers connected to this router”

Me: “That’s not an issue because they are not actually using this router” (this exchange went on for some time)

BT: “Can you change the micro filter”

Me: “I can’t because I’m off site”

BT: “If you’re working remotely we don’t support remote diagnostics. We need someone on site”

This conversation went on and after a period of time I conceded and said I could be onsite between 16:00 – 17:00. The advisor said they’d call back. I was somewhat sceptical because BT have historically told me they’d call back but quite often don’t. I’m still not quite sure why I got a call at 14:12 though.

I finally arrived on site at 17:30 (due to traffic and other delays).  I changed the micro filter as requested and low and behold…the same situation persisted.

I did get another call back at 17:40; a time previously agreed.  I was then asked to remove all the PCs and just plug my laptop in.  I tried in vain to explain the fact that whilst other PCs were connected to the router, none were actually using it. And the problem wasn’t a local connectivity issue it was a line issue.

Being in the Comms room I was using the server browser to check the ADSL router. I was told by the BT helpdesk advisor that BT do not support servers on ADSL. I was slightly taken aback by this. Nearly every medium sized business I know has a server if only for central data storage. Anyway, it was academic because the server was using the other ADSL and I was just the browser to check the router. “It’s not supported, BT don’t support servers”. To me this demonstrated a complete lack of understanding.

Now what really incensed me was the next thing I heard.

“I’ve done I line check and it looks like there *is* an issue with the line. You need to contact BT faults”

This really did floor me. Why do I have to contact the line fault department. I explained that in every previous occasion where the Broadband is down the ISP has been the interface between them and BT OpenReach.

I was then given an explanation by a self confessed non-technical individual that the BT telephone line and BT Broadband are two separate things and not connected at all. I had to point out the one wholly depends on the other so at some stage must be intrinsically linked.

Eventually my frustration was fuelled to the extent that I knew I was getting nowhere.  I was trying to end the conversation but unfortunate timing kicked in and the mobile network cut me off. At this point I was having this conversation in the clients car park as I’d been kicked off site as they wanted to go home. It was 18:30 now.

I’d like to reiterate that I fully understand the need for basic diagnostics and many that people who phone BT broadband don’t have the same level of expertise or experience I have. I guess my perspective is slightly skewed with such issues but I didn’t like being told “all of our customers would be happy to do this [the above tasks].”

The Power of Twitter

At this point I had decided to tweet and include a contact with a person at BT that had been helpful with another “incident”. He had kindly given me his mobile number; this as a result of another tweet about the poor BT service on another separate issue. I emailed him in the first instance and told him how annoyed and dissatisfied I was.

He kindly forwarded the email to his counterpart at BT Broadband.

The Next Morning

I got a call from the BT Broadband. I was advised that they had closed my initial call and opened another call. I was also told that this new call would be fixed the by 5pm the following day.

Again, an abject solution to a miserable experience.

It’s All about Service

Suffice to say this situation had been escalated to state beyond expectation but this is not an isolated incident. Too many people experience the same level of, quite frankly, very poor customer service.

Now you could argue that I’d have a different perspective if I were on the other side of the fence. Well I have been on the other side of the fence and had unhappy customer shout at me. However I had the fortune to have a special wisdom bestowed upon me.

During my very early years as a trainee technician I got to work with a gentleman nearing the end of his career and he gave me a simple piece of advice.

“Fix the customer first because that’s 50 percent of the problem sorted.”

This piece of advice has led me to ensure that I always strive to offer the best service I possibly can. No matter how bad the situation I was trained to maintain dialog with the customer. Despite the popular manta, I know the customer is not always right but I always try to ensure the customer fully understands the situation.

I always strive to offer the best service I possibly can

My experience with this particular incident felt more like a game of chess where the BT Broadband helpdesk must not lose.

Service the Right way

To be fair to BT customer service, they do seem to want to do better. I have had numerous conversations with a number of people high up in the customer service chain and have said on a number of occasions that I do not want to jump the queue or have special treatment; I just want a simple and professional resolution to my problem. The reason I complain is not to force the issue but to provide valuable customer feedback.

With respect to my experience of the BT Helpdesk, fighting it out against the rules is not constructive. Refusing to proceed to level 2 because the player has not fulfilled the tasks on the list is not the game I want to play. A pragmatic approach to problem resolution requires a sensible assessment of the individual in question. If the help desk assistant had recognised the fact that I was perhaps above the technical skill of a normal user that this issue would not have escalated. If a simple line check had been performed earlier based on the level of information I was providing then the issue would have identified and resolve much quicker and I would be happy.

I do recognise that BT are try to improve customer service but thus far I’ve seen very little evidence from it. And it’s not for the want of trying on behalf of the senior management. I can only conclude that the BT Broadband helpdesk teams are under such pressured timescales that middle management must provided better SLA statistics irrespective of customer satisfaction.

Maybe the title of this article is a little unfair. The senior people I speak to seem so passionate about providing the best customer experience. I truly share in their frustration.

Either way, my line is still down and I am still unhappy.