It started innocuously enough. Our business internet provider BT Infinity Broadband offered us a free upgrade: “You can now get faster broadband speeds in your neighbourhood because we’ve improved our network. And they won’t cost you a penny extra.”
Sounded great. What could be wrong with that you might ask? Plenty as it turned out. Someone, somewhere did the work on our line on a Tuesday and from then on – for the next seven days – we were completely shut out of our broadband connection. For a business broadband service, we certainly “got the business” from them. Not pleasantly.
That’s when you realise how powerless you are to get in touch with the great BT and tell them they have screwed up and will they fix it now! A recent survey of ISPs found that BT Broadband’s had the “most tangled” process for getting help. That was certainly our experience. You have to do it their way – and there is only one – or not at all.
The only thing you can do is ring their Helpdesk somewhere in foreign parts and go through the well-worn ritual. Learning point: make sure you have a paperclip to hand before you ring.
Help in foreign parts and a paper clip
We did this twice. The next day. Both times it took about an hour as the requisite tests are undertaken, resets are done, lights go off, then come back on flashing amber and then go a reassuring blue. And that’s just for the hub. The same then has to be done for the modem. The essential tool for both is a straightened out paperclip, just the right size for inserting in the “reset” hole at the back.
But to no avail. It didn’t work. Twice. Everything checked out. Except we couldn’t get a browser (any browser) to work and no pages would open. Verdict: system is normal but can’t be used. But they did say something which turned out to be very significant, it was this: “Your order is still open and we would expect it to be closed. That’s strange”. So it was. What to do?
Next day we talked to our own IT wizard. He did “ping” tests and confirmed it was all working, so the problems was not our connection, line or laptop. But he couldn’t fix it either as it was somewhere higher up in the BT system.
Finally we got a number from the helpful chap on the technical help desk in India to ring in the “order dept” about this “open order” mystery. Rang and had more two conversations that led on to two more rounds of fruitless on-off, reboots, resets with paper clips the lot. Exactly the same: system working normally, except that we couldn’t get on it. All this time and bizarrely, Skype continued to work so Skypemail was our friend.
An engineer calls
At the end of fourth session, just as I was tensing up to scream and threaten mayhem, they said the magic words: an engineer would call the next day sometime between 0830 and 1300. And then I had to agree to a long caveat that if it was found to be my fault, or my pet’s fault, or my child’s fault or anyone’s fault but their’s I would have to pay for it all. Fine, just get the engineer here.
He duly came at midday, having rung in advance. Very friendly and polite and business like And not optimistic he could rectify the problem. Why? Because, he said, he had seen it before recently and just around the corner. Same scenario: upgrade done, but then service can’t be accessed. Nothing to do with hardware, the line itself, the connection, or even the exchange. It is much, much further up the line. And he couldn’t fix it, but would make (another) report that this was not an isolated incident. He left and wished us well, also taking the trouble to ring back later to say he had filed the report. And then we were in digital limbo.
Making a complaint in digital limbo
In fact the problem was so high up it was in in “BT Retail Servers”, so said the helpful diagram with the pink border around the troublesome area which came up when we put our business line number into their fault tracker page. And we were only able to do that once we threw ourselves on the mercy of our kind neighbours and got the codes for using their O2 connection. It worked pretty well through the party wall.
That way we could make our first complaint using BT Broadband’s online web form on 1st June. The page promised a response within 24 hours – needless to say that was never adhered to:
Online complaint 1/6/13
After your Infinity upgrade on 28th, we were blocked from accessing it. System “pings” so no problem with connection. But no web pages load and cannot browse. Four fruitless calls to your helpdesks on 29 and 30 May and an engineer’s visit on 31/5 later, you now admit there is an “open broadband fault” on this line. We knew that days ago! When are you going to fix this!! I am a small consultancy business and completely dependent on being online. I have been excluded from a paid-for service for four days already. How much longer will this go on? What compensation will you provide for an error which is wholly BT’s? If I do not receive a reply and satisfactory resolution of this problem I will complain formally to the MD of customer services.
Back came an enquiry confirmation @ 16h11on 1-6-13 Thank you for your enquiry. We will respond to your enquiry as soon as possible. Please make a note of your enquiry reference number and use it in further correspondence. Your enquiry reference number: 130601-003594
Anger and escalation
After waiting fruitlessly for a response to the automated complaint, our next stage was to escalate the complaint to the top. So a formal letter was composed and dispatched by Royal Mail no less to Mr Warren Buckley, Managing Director, Customer Service, saying amongst other things:
Your records will show that the fault is at the BT retail servers and has nothing to do with our local broadband connection or hardware. That was established by four calls to your help centres and an on site engineer’s visit on 31 May as well as by our own IT specialist. Since then we have been in limbo. It is inexcusable for a business customer to be excluded from accessing a service for which we are paying when the fault is entirely within BT’s system.
I want to know the following from you. Please respond by email which we can access from a non-BT connection:
1. How did the fault occur and why were we not informed about it immediately?
2. Why is it taking days to rectify?
3. Why has BT not kept us informed of progress and the anticipated completion time of any work?
4. How will BT compensate our business for its failure to supply the broadband service at least 5 days (and possibly more)?
We are still waiting to hear from Mr Buckley. And the upshot of all of this is, other than extreme annoyance on our part?
1. We are back online – our friendly BT engineer rang up to say “give it a try, it might be working”. It was, but he wasn’t sure why. But we are grateful for his efforts.
2. We never had a reply from Mr Warren Bradley, assuming he is a real person and not some post box of convenience. So we have no answers to our questions about why it had happened and why we were not kept informed.
3. Some one did ring days later to say that since we had been cut off for five working days (weekends don’t count for businesses it seems), we would be offered the princely sum of FIVE POUNDS 20 PENCE in compensation. That’s really beneath contempt. I’m sure BT now regards our complaint as “closed”. Like hell it is.
Tweets of anger and desperation to #btbroadband and @BTBroadband revealed a number of equally unhappy bunnies with BT Infinity Broadband. But BT is impervious to it all. Perhaps they have the same complaints handling that the NHS has? Or, perish the thought, Easy Jet with whose “customer champion” we have tangled with before.
What we learned for next time
But it has taught us a simple but important lesson. Next time BT Broadband offers anything, free or otherwise, to do with the service, we shall JUST SAY NO. Problem is, they will then just do the “upgrade” anyway and we shall then suffer the consequences. Sigh.