Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Communication breakdown

LIKE a lot of businesses these days, including NatWest bank, mine has become totally dependent on new technology. Using the world-wide web enables me to gather information, reconfigure it to suit my customers and then send it by e-mail, anywhere around the globe. So when a worker driving a bulldozer to dig a trench across a field opposite my house cut through the BT cable, my business came to an immediate halt. The Internet as well as business and home landlines ceased to work, as you would expect. That wasn’t BT’s fault. But what happened next gave an interesting insight into the thinking processes of Britain’s exclusive IT communications company. Unless you use a satellite supplier, your internet, and of course your telephone landline, come down BT Network’s cables. So I rang 151 on my mobile, as I remembered it as the BT Engineer’s number. I got Vodafone, my mobile provider. The Vodafone technician used the web to try to find a BT phone number for me, but could only come up with internet solutions, obviously no good as I had no internet. I eventually found a number in the phone book which I recognized as the old engineer’s number 151, but with a 0800 prefix. I rang it. I was told by an English sounding recorded message that my call would be recorded for training purposes. I was then told by a different, Scottish-sounding, recorded message that I would be charged 14p a minute for the call and invited to ring another number which might be cheaper. I declined and stuck with the 151. I was told by a third recorded message that they were busy and would I prefer to report my fault on-line. As I had no internet this was not possible. After listening for 20 times to the same advice, I was starting to get angry. An hour later the phone was answered by a human being with an Asian sub-continent accent on a very poor line. By then my mobile was low on charge, so he was having trouble hearing me too. We shouted at each other across the ether. Then I made a dreadful error. I tried to be helpful and told him about the bulldozer and the cable. He said in that case I had to ring a different number belonging to the strangely named Open Reach Network 3rd Party Damage Report Team. This I did reluctantly. Then I got another set of recorded voice messages about 0800 being expensive, would I like to ring another number, and that I couldn’t use this number to report faults or broadband service interruption. But that was the number my BT friend had told me to ring, so what was I supposed to do? I stuck with it. After more recorded messages about them being busy, I finally got though to another human being. She told me I had to ring BT engineers to report the fault! I screamed. I then tried to remain calm enough to explain events so far. She said it wasn’t her fault but she only dealt with health and safety issues. It was her job to make sure there was no danger to the public, but faults had to be reported to my provider. But my provider is BT, and BT owns Open Reach, I argued. But Open Reach is not allowed to give BT customers preference and Oftel insists they refer me back to BT engineers, she countered. She said I shouldn’t have told the engineers about the damage. What is more, she added helpfully, if Open Reach repaired the cable that didn’t mean the fault would be fixed. That was up to the BT engineers. I screamed again. Then I called BT Engineers again. This time I didn’t mention the damage. I was put onto an automatic system that told me they were checking the line and would I like to report it on-line. As I was talking to a recorded message, I couldn’t explain that they were wasting their time. I knew there was a fault and no, I couldn’t go on-line BECAUSE MY CABLE WAS SEVERED! Besides if I had told them that they would probably have told me to ring health and safety again. So I kept quiet and waited. Another quarter of an hour later, I was told there was a fault. You, dear reader, should now understand that this was not a surprise to me. They then said that I could be kept up to date by text messages, to which I agreed. So I got a text, then a phone call from Open Reach, telling me again that they were worried about health and safety. It would take a couple of hours for a man to come from Liverpool “to assess the damage” but the cable might not be repaired until tomorrow. And no, that didn’t mean the fault would be fixed. I then got three texts from Vodafone asking me to rate the level of service. I hope BT do the same. I then received a phone call from Open Reach in Liverpool, asking me to tell them if the damaged cable was a danger to the public. I didn’t think so, but if I told them that, they would put us off to later, so I said I wasn’t able to make that judgment for them. The Scouser was obviously not happy at my lack of co-operation. He said he would have to spend extra money getting someone out. In the circumstances, I didn’t dissuade him. I then got a text message from BT saying they would try to fix the fault by 5pm the following day. Oh, and by the way, the text told me to track progress on-line. Aaaaaaargh! Four hours after the original incident an Open Reach turned up, but not to repair the cable, never mind fix the fault, but to assess the danger. He put a triangular fence with red and white tape round the damaged cable and left it unrepaired. That was end of day one. Day two an Open Reach engineer turned up and fixed the cable and fault by 10 a.m. So in the end BT’s various companies did quite well in the circumstances. If they want advice on human communication, as opposed to IT, then I know where they can get it. That’s what my business does.