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News - 13 December 2012

BT: a national disgrace?

BT, providing business services to millions of UK customers, has decided to use Microsoft servers for its email service instead of its own. If Tony Mernagh's experience is anything to go by they could single-handedly tip the UK back into recession through the lost output they are causing. Web chat rooms are seething with disgruntled customers.

The first thing anyone knows about the transfer is an email from BT informing them that they are being migrated to ‘Office 365’ on an appointed day and asking them to log in and change their email settings. Anyone with 14 grams  of sense knows that emails purporting to be from BT telling people to log in and change anything are probably part of a scam. One can only assume that BT are unaware of scams of this nature and are probably surprised when millions of their customers don’t bother.

So on the appointed day you stop receiving emails and contact BT assuming there is a fault and they inform you that it really was an email from BT and tell you what to do. If you contact them using their online live chat facility they will even take over your computer and change all the settings for you. So far so good.

The problem for the Business Forum was that it had a number of domain names purchased via BT and hosted by them. Under the new server platform different email addresses using the domain all have to be the same type of email account and it happens to be the one that cost extra. Not entirely happy but I swallowed that and asked them to go ahead and upgrade the relevant email addresses.

In the course of trying to do this the BT operative discovered that the Business Forum is a ‘scenario F’ customer and upgrading wasn’t straightforward. Unable to explain what that meant she said I would have to contact a special team by telephone who would help.

I was prepared for the ‘death by options’ conversation with an automated voice and quite surprised when a real person answered the phone relatively quickly. I wasn’t even that put out when, despite having being given a long reference number for the problem during the live chat I had to go through the long-winded procedure of explaining it all again to someone for whom the reference number meant nothing.

The ‘someone’ said that he couldn’t help because only the special ‘scenario F team’ could deal with it. “Fine” I said, “give me their number”. Ah, no. That wasn’t possible. They have to phone you; they don’t have a number you can call. An appointed time was agreed two days hence. The time came and went but there was no phone call and I had to leave the office to go about the business that earns the money to pay BT [among others] and while I was out they phoned and left a message. They didn’t leave a phone number to call back because, of course, you can’t call them back. It’s not allowed.

So the next day I called the man who can pass on messages to the scenario F team in the absence of direct contact and he said they would call back within the hour but they didn’t. So I phoned the man again and he said they would call back the next day at 10.00 a.m. but they didn’t. So at 10.40 a.m. I phoned the man again and demanded that the mysterious [and unreliable] scenario F team phone back within the hour.

Well, with BT a customer can demand all they like but it doesn’t matter. They didn’t call back.

So I called the man again [of course it’s never the same man but let’s just call them all “the man” for the sake of brevity] and he was a bit more honest than the previous men. He admitted that the best they could offer was a call “sometime in the next 24 hours”. He was sympathetic when I complained that I couldn’t really sit by the phone for 24 hours waiting for a call especially since I had appointments that would take me out of the office for 10 of those 24 hours but there wasn’t anything he could do, it was “just the way that particular team worked”.

After nearly a week and three broken promises, the scenario F team called back a couple of hours later and talked me thorough a procedure that lasted 5 minutes but it will still require more phone calls and more guided tweaking before we are back to normal!

BT clearly thinks this is acceptable which is what makes it all so galling. The problem is one shared by many large corporations; basically there is no one from the very top of the organisation to the very bottom that takes any personal responsibility for the customer. They are just seen as income fodder to be inconvenienced at will.

And what really makes me shudder is that there are only two contenders to install the city’s superfast broadband for which we have just won £5m of funding from central government: BT and Fujitsu. And the latter have yet to win a single contract in other cities already in receipt of funding. Let’s hope that BT's scenario F team aren't involved in that project when it commences.

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