Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Customer Service Does Not Include Obfuscation

This post is a slight departure from my normal entries and I wasn't even sure whether to put it in this blog. However, on reflection, it is quality related, or should I say, lack of quality! And it's about failing quality of both product and service.

I've recently had a couple of issues with my ISP (BT Total Broadband), one relating to the TV service (BT Vision), the second relating to their e-mail service (BT Yahoo Mail). In both cases I have posted comments on Twitter which have been picked up by the @BTCare customer service Tweeter, and have resulted in a series of farcical interactions and no resolution of the issues. But first let's quickly look at the problems.

The BT Vision Problem

BT Vision is BT's service offering set up to 'compete' in the Sky/Virgin TV space. The reality is that it only really offers Freeview TV channels, a limited On Demand service and a PVR Box. You pays your money and you makes your choice. It's adequate for my needs but that isn't the issue here. The issue is with the design of the software which runs on the BT Vision PVR box. As would be expected it is possible to record TV shows and series. And it's this latter task which drives me to despair. You cannot simply record a series on specific day/time/channel - the default setting is to record the "first run and any repeats". And given the number of repeats on UK TV this becomes a real issue. Simple example - I set BT Vision to record "Hairy Bikers' Bakeation" on BBC 2 on Tuesday at 20:00. By default this will also record the same show on BBC2 on Thursday at 19:00. Why anyone would want to do this is quite beyond me. To prevent the duplicate recording I have to edit the series recording settings and change the setting to "First Run Only". This is made quite time consuming because of the bizarre UI, but quite simply it shouldn't be necessary!

@BTCare picked up on my whinge on Twitter and I was asked to submit a problem form via the BT website which I duly did. I received no less than four telephone messages on my answer machine explaining how to change the settings (but not the defaults). This was after I had explained in no uncertain terms that the only solution to my particular problem was to redesign and rewrite the software!

The BT Yahoo Mail Problem

I use Apple Mail on my Mac to access my email from the BT Yahoo Mail service. Most of the time this works perfectly but on occasions the mail servers throw a wobbler and reject the password. This situation can last for minutes to hours and is well documented on the BT Forums (One query has generated 56 pages of related comments). Usually the problem goes away by itself, but it is clearly a bug and appears to happen on other third party mail clients (on Windows also) so is not an Apple Mail specific problem.

The latest "fix" that @BTCare suggested is that I shouldn't have more than one mail client trying to access mail at any one time. In other words, when I'm at home I have to turn off 'push' mail on my iPhone/iPad, and when I go out I have to close Mail on my Mac. Apparently this is also a requirement of Yahoo Mail policy (although no-one seems to be able to find the policy written anywhere).

Once again, I have been invited to submit my issue to BT via their website. On this occasion I've declined as it just leads to a series of useless telephone messages.

The Morals of the Story

There are two conclusions I have come to from these (so far unresolved) issues. The first is that Twitter is far from an ideal medium to manage customer service and customer relations. It may provide a "front" to demonstrate that the business cares about its customers and can be seen to be actively managing issues, but it is nothing more than that.

The second is that deliberate obfuscation of issues can hardly be considered as good practice for dealing with real problems. With both my issues, I have been palmed off with useless responses which show no understanding of the real problem, and exhibit little willingness to even try to really deal with the problems to any degree of customer satisfaction.

Even a basic acknowledgement of my issues and a genuine response (such as "we understand your frustration and have raised a change request for consideration") would help.

BT Customer relations managers and help desk managers could do with reading John Seddon's book "Freedom From Command and Control" and learn the difference between value and failure demand!

Of course, I could show my dissatisfaction by changing my ISP. All I would achieve by doing this would be to swap one set of issues with a different set and cause me a huge amount of inconvenience, time and money - not least of which would be caused by losing my primary email address which I have had for the past ten or more years!

In other words - bite off my nose to spite my face! No thanks, but at the same time - BT: thanks for nothing!

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  1. I have BT Vision too - and when I remember change that default setting when setting a recording, though frequently forget! From what I read the whole UI is due to be replaced since BT know it's rubbish, but as to when... .

    Twitter is useful for picking up customer dis-satisfaction but like you point out, unless there's a one-line solution, it's only really good as a front, funnelling problems through their 'help desk' procedure; which is where the problems lie - tiered, where the first tier replies according to a script - & if your problem doesn't fit the script they'll shoe-horn it to the nearest 'fit'! Like you, I'd be much happier with better identification of the problem, I'm not quite sure how you handle the issue of not having a fix until some unidentifiable point in the future, but there must be a way?!

  2. Hi Phil, thanks for reading and your comments. It's reassuring to know that I'm not alone in my frustrations. New UI should be at the top of their priority list!

    I agree - Twitter is useful as a funnel but I worry that some businesses will forget that and become more reliant on the anonymity of social networks.

    I'd like organisations to publish some sort of list of fixes in the pipeline, not necessarily with target dates or even potential versions, but enough to show that something is being done about it! With Apple even the release notes for their patches and updates don't provide any significant information! Lots of independent developers do have such lists in the public domain so it can be done if there's a mindset to be more transparent.