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Monday, 24 October 2011

Customer Service fail: BT Case Study

[ Short link to this article if you need it: ]

A couple of months ago I got an "important" letter in from BT. It had got to the end of the 12 month contract I'd signed up to and the letter said "To continue, do nothing". That's not really something that should have red "IMPORTANT" letters on the outside. I suppose it's not quite as bad as the letter I got inviting me to "bring my calls back to BT" at one point (my calls had been billed direct from BT for a few years...)

At this point I logged into my account to see what I was paying for and if it was reasonable. It is absolutely horrendous trying to figure out how BT's charging system works. I have a plan (unlimited evening and weekends) that has a 'sticker' price of £16.90. You get a £3 discount if you sign up for a year as I had. Which means I'm paying £13.90/month right?

Wrong. There is also a paper-free discount of £3.75, but that's listed as applying every quarter. So what I was actually paying per month was (£16.90-£3-(£3.75/3)) = £12.65. Which actually didn't seem to bad, but honestly the fact that this "bottom line" figure isn't actually listed anywhere is absurd. What possible reason do BT have for making this so complex - why is there a need to list intermediate figures and then subtract a quarterly paperless discount instead of having it in a simple monthly calculation with £1.25/month paperless discount. Every few years I see letters from BT saying they're going to make things simpler, but they've clearly failed. Completely.

I looked at other options and decided that I would move over to my ISP for line rental, to get more logical bills paying a straightforward £11.90/month. I called up BT, told them I thought their system was too complex and ... they offered me a further discount. You have to wonder if the assistant had a strong sense of irony or something. Bear in mind that I don't really make landline calls - if it wasn't for my broadband FTTC connection I probably wouldn't have the line, so any discount is effectively directly discounting my internet connections. They offered a surprising further £3/month if I signed for a further 12 months. So I'd be paying (£16.90-£3-£3-(£3.75/3))=£9.65. Which is very cheap for line rental. At that point I let my principles down and agreed.

Now a couple of months later I thought it would be prudent to drop my direct debit to BT, which was set to £13.50/month (there is a currently a £17 credit on my account so ideally I needed the DD less than my monthly amount). I logged onto the web site and tried to set it to £10 (should really be less) but the site refused saying it couldn't be set that low. I mentioned this to @BTCare on twitter who suggested I fill in their web form, which I duly did (as an aside, it's interesting to note that BT don't use a client that gives the "in reply to" link on their tweets to dereference what they were responding to - I assume it's to make it harder to view the complaints)

The exchange went like this:

SXA> As mentioned on twitter I tried to drop my Direct Debit to
SXA> £10/month (I have a discounted deal which means that's not unreasonable). My account
SXA> has £17 of credit on it, and I suspect it'll take a few months before that's used
SXA> up, so can you please drop my DD from £13.50 to £10 for the foreseeable future.
SXA> Thanks.

BT> I called you today, sorry I missed you. I did leave a voicemail message.

BT> You can make changes to payments and your direct debit on your online billing
BT> account I would suggest refunding you back the credit on your
BT> account and reducing your monthly amounts to £12 per month this is the lowest amount
BT> the payments can be reduce to. Let me know if you like me to arrange the refund I
BT> can do this for you. I have reduced the payment amount of £12. This will take effect
BT> from the next payment date on 08/11/2011.

BT> If you need anything else just let me know.

SXA> No, I want the payments reduced to £10. Do not just say "£12 is the lowest
SXA> I can set them to" without a sensible explanation. I mentioned this issue
SXA> on twitter because the web site told me they couldn't set it to that level
SXA> and was told @btcare twitter to raise it here. It doesn't look like I've
SXA> got any further.
SXA> Please find a way to reduce it to £10 or I will escalate until I find
SXA> someone who can, otherwise I consider you in violation of the contract I
SXA> signed up to.

BT> I called you today, sorry I missed you. I did leave a voicemail message.

BT> I am sorry I did not include an explanation of my original e-mail. The reason the
BT> payment amount can not be reduced to £10 a month is due to your line rental is
BT> £13.90 per month. Therefore if you only paid £10 you will incur a debt balance for
BT> your next invoice, which in turn will cause the payments to go up more to clear the
BT> debt balance and also cover the next invoice. If you wish I Can discuss this with
BT> you on the telephone to work out the best payment method to suit you. Let me know
BT> and I will give you a call.

SXA> You are incorrect, my line rental had an additional £3 discount applied
SXA> when I renewed a few weeks ago taking it well below £13.90. I'll ask you
SXA> once again since you appear to be accusing me of doing something that
SXA> isn't sensible. If you can't see this on my account then it's probably
SXA> because your billing system is so hideously complex:
SXA> Please reduce the direct debit to £10/month. I do not wish to have to
SXA> request this yet again.
SXA> My office number is 01xxx-xxxxxxx, or my mobile is 07xxx-xxxxxx.

So the only logical conclusion I can reasonably draw from this, as stated at the end of that last email, is that my initial assertion was correct and that BT's billing system is so hideously complex that even they can't figure out what I'm actually being charged.

I would also always prefer to have the contact via twitter or email in a written format rather than via phone calls, so I'm never quite sure why companies insist on doing things via phones, especially the ones that use non-UK call centres (which, I should point out, wasn't the case with BT). Maybe they just don't want to looks silly when their correspondence is pasted into a blog entry :-)

For reference, this is what my monthly price breakdown looks like on the web site, and for the record I genuinely haven't got a clue what the £6.19 credit at the top is for. But as you can see there isn't a lot in this calculation that would lead you to believe there is a £13.90 figure as mentioned in the email exchange (This screenshot excludes the paperfree discount, which is listed on another part of the bill, presumably to make it more obtuse, along with even more calculations)

Fortunately after the above email conversation they got in touch (via phone) and agreed to drop the direct debit to £10 as I'd originally requested, and they are also going to refund the current credit balance (which in all honesty I wasn't too bothered about at the moment). At least I'll have a small amount of credit building up each month if I do have to make the odd non-free phone call. It's just a shame they couldn't have done that in the first place. All customers want is a straight answer to "What's in going to cost me?"

[EDIT: For completeness, @btcare tweeted me an apology for it all after I mentioned this blog]

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