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A Yankee in the Court of BT

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Comment Tired of being treated like the vendor is your customer? Tired of surly service reps treating you shabbily and ignoring your complaints? Fed-up with having the line “accidentally” cut-off when you’re trying to get some satisfaction? Well, I am too. This is the column for you, then.

The British don’t know how to complain. Not properly anyway. You need the Yanks around to keep your customer service infrastructure honest.

We know how to complain, baby. The Americans have raised customer complaints to a true art form.

This is a subtle art requiring the passion, commitment and patience of Job. But the Brits are now increasingly borrowing a page from the formerly “arrogant, obnoxious” Americans in standing up for themselves and preventing the notorious poorly consumer Goliaths on this great island from putting their fingers in their ears or worse, getting shirty with you, their customer.

So let’s begin,

Recently I had to move house. This activity, as psychologists tell us, is third to the death of a loved one and divorce on the stress Richter scale, so I was operating on a very short rope to begin with before I ever had to deal with BT to get the phones and wireless broadband moved over.

Upon calling BT, my call was quickly answered with a human being who informed me that I needed the “Moving House Department.” Hmmm, I thought ,: “Maybe this time they won’t have me pulling my eyelashes out one-by-one while listening to their Muzak funeral dirges.”

Nope. Not a chance.

The cruelty started shortly afterwards: it was like some child serial killer pulling the wings off flies. Beginning with a little clue for me, I was suddenly disconnected from the agent who was then helping me. No worries, I thought, I always get the agent’s name, full name if they don’t imply that I’m going to stalk them, and extension number so that I can refer to them later if necessary. If you do this at the beginning of the conversation when the relationship heads south, you can always hammer them to their supervisor.

Unless they give you a phoney name, as this clever woman apparently did. When I called back they told me there “was no such person.”

Round one went to BT. I was bitter, but also emboldened. When used properly, an agent hang-up on a customer can be a valuable assault. Milk it for what it’s worth and play the victim for all its worth.

As we will see, good things can come to those who smartly escalate their complaints to the highest levels while closely documenting to whom they spoke, when and being able to give direct quotes about what exactly these customer-service charlatans are saying and how they’re saying it on a regular basis to their benefactors—the customers.

Back to our story, upon calling back the BT automatons tried their usual maneuverings by making me wait on hold for several minutes (the only way around this is to get to a “supervisor” or “team leader” and get their direct-dial number for your future pestering enjoyment), then asking me my postal code in an effort I shirked to get me to tell my entire story (this must always be commented upon and used to get to a higher authority) and otherwise waste my time and have me riding a tricycle up the wall sideways.

They try so hard with these intrigues to make you go away. Don’t.

After receiving four refusalks to transfer me to their supervisor, I was forced to point out that I had their name and ID and didn’t really think their supervisor would be too happy with the customer having to ask four times to speak to a superior and being given a tough time about that legitimate request. This made her switch me to the higher authority. Before this however, she tried “my supervisor’s very busy right now” (My response, “Well tell her to get un-busy right now”); “supervisors don’t get on the phone with customers” (Easily dispatched with, “They do with this customer.”) and the omnipotent, “She won’t be able to tell you anything different from what I’ve told you.” (This last one I’ve never found to be true—when they say it, it’s definitely not true.)

The supervisor comes on all perky and saying “let’s see how we can solve your problem, Mr. Robinson.” Watch out when you hear these words … it’s almost never true. These and “leave it with me and I’ll sort it out” are sure red flags which should always alert the recipient that nothing of the sort should be expected.

After several hours on the phone with the BT supervisor over the course of four days separated by a weekend, a visit was finally scheduled.

Three weeks from that day - which was six days after I first started trying. And, this was simply to re-install our current service in our new home!

Jeez, does BT really want to keep its customers?

I was beginning to wonder.

I had heard that for a long time BT was losing more customers per month than it was bringing onboard but this was ridiculous.

I had long wondered why the world’s big brands such as Coke, AT&T and BT were perceived as stunningly successful. To me, they always seemed blisteringly idiotic that they could take near 100% market domination and lose huge chunks of it rapidly to Pepsi, MCI and Cable & Wireless.

But now my little theory was being confirmed for me personally right before my very eyes.

Obviously, three weeks without phone service and broadband was a completely unacceptable period to be held incommunicado for a man and his partner working from home.

Therefore, I did what we always have to do: Fought them at every turn; for if you do not fight them like Vikings they’ll have you for breakfast.

After much agony and gum-flapping on my part and numerous attempts to verbally and emotionally pistol-whip me on their part, I finally secured a date three days out. This was not really satisfactory either, but in disgust I gave up and surrendered.

When the hallowed day arrived, I was told by the BT engineer that I’d “have to schedule another visit to get my service up and running.” Incredulously, I inquired as to why this was so. Apparently, the previous residents of our new home had a BT Home Highway box installed and he was either incapable of or procedurally prevented from removing it.

I could hear my re-emerging nightmare slap me in the face when pleading for a new appointment, “I’m ever so sorry sir, but unfortunately our next appointment is five weeks from today …”

I escalated like a Sumo wrestler. I complained like a consummate professional. Much more work was required on my part, as you might imagine, but in the end it was well worth it.

The following week, I had a working phone, wireless broadband, free phone line and broadband installation and a four-month credit on our broadband fees. Not bad for a day’s … er, couple of weeks’, work.

Bill Robinson has appeared on CNN, PBS, Bloomberg and had his own segment on SKY News commenting on high-tech and marketing issues and has written columns and articles for FORTUNE Small Business, The Financial Times, Marketing Magazine (UK), Forbes.com, The Moscow Times, Cisco Systems iQ Magazine, United Airline's Hemispheres Magazine and Upside Magazine. Bill may be reached at bill@relentlessmarketing.com.

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