Monday, December 18, 2006

Send in the clowns, don't bother they're here

Yes sir, this UK broadband market is a regular barrel of laughs, as illustrated by the good-natured bonhomie on display at the OFCOM event a couple of weeks back - in which Stephen Burch of NTL and Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse seemed to be battling it out for the title of most whimsical and charming in their panel. The problem is that not a lot of other people seem to be laughing. The editorial team of UK Sunday paper The Observer seems to have taken a decision to devote a dedicated slot to the TalkTalk rollout every week, this week going so far as to feature the splendid TalkTalkHell blog, as well as running through the usual list of "customer care" atrocities.

Should NTL be feeling a smug sense of schadenfreude? Based on my recent experience as a customer, I have to say no. On 21st November I cancelled my TV subscription with NTL, in favor of Freeview. Because our broadband service runs off a modem embedded in the set-top box, I would need to have the box taken away and replaced with a modem. The very sensible-sounding customer service person I spoke to offered me an upgrade in speed at half price for three months, and booked the switchover for the earliest possible date under NTL's cancellation policy. This was the Saturday just passed, 16th December, and I was told that the technician would be coming around between 8 AM and 1PM, to swap out the box and set up the modem.

Fastforward to this past Saturday, and (as my UK readers have probably by now anticipated, using their acutely tuned "poor customer service ESP") 1PM came and went without any NTL truck parked outside my house. I then grudgingly called the premium rate "customer care" line, and held on for 20 minutes, listening to a recorded message touting various other NTL services which I would not be receiving. Finally came my turn in the queue, and the beleaguered-sounding customer service person explained that between making the order and the scheduled installation date, NTL had migrated to a new IT system, and our work order had somehow not made the migration. Then he confirmed that all the audit trail leading up to the work order - TV service cancellation, set-top box swap-over, etc, was still on the notes to the account. So, all the necessary data was there, but something failed in the data migration to trigger the truckroll.

Perhaps I should count myself lucky that we have suffered no interruption of service, but I still find it entirely unacceptable that a company can book an appointment three weeks in advance and just not turn up on the day - not only not turn up, but not even be aware that it hadn't turned up - in the process wasting five hours of its customers' time. If I were doing consultancy work, five hours of my time would cost NTL considerably more than one full year of service - yet I end up paying to make a call registering a complaint. And telcos wonder why people are ambivalent towards them...

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