BT Business: 3 Cautionary Lessons of a Bad Customer Service

Paul Boag

A bad experience I had with BT business perfectly demonstrates how conversion is about more than a compelling sales and marketing experience.

Don’t sign up for BT Business broadband or mobile services“. That is the message I am now sharing with friends and family. Ironically BT Business hasn’t even connected me yet.

It all began with a cowboy builder four doors down in our street. He decided to dig up and the road and cut through the telephone lines for the entire street. The following month of hell consisted of me fighting to run a digital business on expensive 4G, while Openreach negotiated with the local council for permission to dig up the road and fix the mess.

In desperation, I looked for an alternative and discovered BT businesses broadband offering. Cheaper than my current ISP with the massive bonus of a product they called 4G Assure. 4G assure means I have unlimited, super-fast 4G if and when my broadband goes down. “I could have speeds almost as high as my broadband by tomorrow“, the sales guy promised. On top of which, I would get access to the BT countrywide network of Wifi.

BT Business Website advertising 4G assure.
BT Business looked like the perfect solution to my broadband woes.

The sales guy also offered me a fantastic deal on my mobiles if I bundled them into the broadband package. I was over the moon.

Sure enough, the next day, my BT business Hub turned up, and I was connected to 4G. Admittedly nowhere near the promised speeds, but at least it was stable and not costing me a fortune.

Why then am I holding BT business up as a cautionary tale? Why am I warning others to avoid BT business broadband? How did BT lose my business before they had even fully delivered the service?

The answer lies in the disastrous customer experience they delivered the moment we had signed on the dotted line. They snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

So, let’s break down what happened and see if there are lessons for us to learn about that crucial period when a customer has said yes, but are still being on-boarded.

We begin with their abysmal communication.

Prioritise clear and easy to access communication

Clear and straightforward communication is critical in the post-action phase of the sales cycle. Buyers anxiety is high at this point as they wait for delivery of the service they have signed up for and they almost certainly have questions.

That sense of anxiety is proportional to the level of commitment. For example, signing up to a two-year contract with a company as I had, led to a few concerns that I needed BT to address.

During the sales process, I dealt with a single individual who answered all of my questions incredibly efficiently. We moved seamlessly between live chat, the phone and email. However, the minute I signed, that changed.

He completely stopped communicating with me, and I found myself barraged with a confusing array of emails from various departments within BT. They had taken the single package I had signed up for and divided it between various departments whom all communicated with me individually.

Email clients showing emails from BT business.
I received over a dozen emails in a few days from various BT departments.

I received emails from those dispatching my router, those setting up my mobile, those arranging a BT engineer and those setting up my cloud voice services.

Often the emails were light on details or required me to do things. Both scenarios left me with questions that were rarely addressed in adequate detail online.

What is more, there was no ticketing system I could use to ask my questions. Although live chat did exist, it sometimes failed to work and often required me to enter one of many order numbers BT gave me. It seemed like whatever number I gave it was wrong!

I avoid calling call centres, but eventually, I gave up and called the company. However, this is where things got even worse with truly horrendous wait times. On one call, I waited for over an hour. When I spoke to somebody she admitted that their wait time had been regularly running at over three hours.

However, even worse was the fact that when I did get to speak to somebody, they could rarely help me. Instead, I was transferred on to somebody else because BT was so rigidly divided into separate teams.

Lessons BT Business Teaches Us

So what lessons can we learn from BT business?

First, we need to look at all our communications with a customer across the various departmental silos. Are we overwhelming the customer with too much from too many people?

Secondly, we need to ensure that these communications answer customer’s concerns and questions. For example, if plans have to change are you explaining why and outlining exactly what will happen next.

Finally, offer customers a variety of different communication channels and ensure that whatever channel a user picks they receive a timely response. Expecting a user to sit on hold or even pick up the phone is not acceptable in today’s marketplace.

Provide a seamless experience between teams

When the BT engineer failed to show up for an appointment (with no notification and no revised date), I was forced to call again. On that call, BT staff transferred me a total of five times because each time the person I was talking to couldn’t help me because of their limited access.

It became quickly apparent that BT had strict departmental barriers and that they passed customers between these departments. Although they had sold me a single package, I was getting a range of products from entirely separate business units. That would have been fine if BT hid the organisational complexity from me, but they did not.

Not only was I being passed from one team to another, but I also had to pass through their security check every time I spoke to a new person! That involved giving:

  • My name.
  • My company name.
  • My full company address.
  • My phone number.

After that, they sent a pin to my phone that they used to authenticate me. I recently took out a £26,000 loan from my bank that involved less of a security check!

Of course, this need to constantly transfer me could have been down to the fact that I kept calling the wrong number. However, there was a ridiculous selection of numbers I could call dependant on the nature of my enquiry and I simply didn’t know what number to call. While my previous ISP had one number, BT business overwhelmed me with options.

BT Business Website Contact Page.
This is just a tiny fraction of the information contained on BT Business’ contact page!

I understand that any big company has large numbers of employees. However, a well-designed system should route a customer to the right person. Unfortunately, BT’s phone system is not well designed.

Lessons BT Business Teach Us

Once again, there are lessons we can learn from my experience with BT business.

Staff have to have the authority and autonomy to help a customer even if that help involves crossing departmental boundaries.

Most importantly, we need to hide organisational complexity from the user. That means integrating separate departmental systems and processes while giving the customer a single point of contact.

Ensure that your technology is human-centred

When you call BT, they greet you with an automated messaging system that asks you to explain why you are calling in your own words. In my many calls, it rarely understood me and never transferred me to the right person. Not once.

It was technology for technologies sake. No doubt it sounded great in theory, providing a more natural customer experience, but the reality sucked.

However, the phone system was just one example of technological shortcomings. As I have already said, live chat only periodically worked, and security required me to re-authenticate each time I spoke to a new person.

BT also sent me several emails asking me to sign into some system or other. When I tried, I found that I couldn’t because my account was not yet active. After more calls, I was advised to wait a few days. Why then had I received the email?

Finally, there was their abysmal BT business app. Setting aside the terrible UI of the app, it simply did not work.

BT Business App on iPad showing an error.
The BT Business simply did not work and provided no mechanism to get help.

Screens consistently showed “Oops! Something went wrong” errors preventing me from seeing anything other than my order summary. This summary lacked necessary information such as the delivery date! When I clicked on help, I was sent to live chat, which required me to reenter data that the app already had and could have included automatically.

Lessons BT Business Teach Us

What can we learn from this technology train crash?

First, you cannot launch a piece of technology and walk away. Things like phone systems and apps need post-launch monitoring to identify problems and optimise the experience.

Second, companies need to stop investing in new technology just because it is new and shiny. Too often, organisations start with the technology, rather than the user need. That leads to ineffective apps and phone systems that are more frustrating than helpful.

Finally, it is essential that we integrate these technology platforms so that the user is not required to reenter data.

The cost of these mistakes

Now I know this post sounds like a rant at BT Businesses expense. I won’t pretend it is not. However, this isn’t just me moaning about first world problems. The bad experience with BT business hasn’t just frustrated me; it has cost them money.

Every time I called BT business, it probably cost them approximately £3. Then there will be the cost of sending me a router and other equipment that I am now refusing paying for.

There will also be various admin costs associated with cancelling my account, not to mention opening it in the first place.

Finally, there is the impact on their reputation. We now live in a world where one disgruntled customer can have a significant effect on a brand. Posts like this one (and associated social media updates) may stop people from signing up with BT business, so increasing their cost of sale and undermining their competitiveness.

In short, lousy customer experiences are not just frustrating for the user. Bad customer experience also damages businesses. It increases the chances of smaller, more nimble and customer-friendly companies supplanting them.

Stock Photos from pathdoc/Shutterstock

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