I was on my travels sometime in September when my mobile phone rang. It was a sales agent from BT who told me that my contract with the company was up for renewal and it was time to go digital. I was on the move and not able to concentrate fully but my understanding was that everybody is being moved from landline phones to digital phones and it had to be completed by 2025.
From the sound of it I had no choice and, in any case, as a “convenience buyer” I was happy to agree to the new contract and was told to await further instruction.
My wife loves the landline and she makes considerable use of it. When I told her that the BT landline was going digital, her only question was "What difference will it make to me?". It appears that our ignorance about the pending change isn't isolated. Most of the British population are similarly unaware of it or at least indifferent to the change. Indeed, a good proportion are giving up theirlandlines and turning exclusively to mobiles. I crossed my fingers and told my wife not to worry - all would be fine.
It wasn't long before I had notification from BT that our digital switch was going to take place early in November and the necessary kit was on its way. The kit turned out to be a hub (called a base station), a Yealink handset (it looked like an old Tesco mobile) and a charging station. I was also told that an engineer would be calling to make the installation. This reassured me as I would have an expert on hand, but it equally alerted me to the possibility that if an expert was required, it may not be a simple switch over.
It was wasn’t. The engineer struggled for a couple of hours doing things on his laptop that I didn't understand. When he said he had finished I asked him to test the phone in various rooms in the house. It proved ineffective almost everywhere except in the room with the modem and next to the base station. Also, it seemed impossible to get our voicemail/answerphone service to work. The engineer said he had gone as far as he could and eventually waved us goodbye, assuring us that these were settling down problems and everything would soon work perfectly.
In the days that followed I received grief from my wife who was deprived of her lifeline. I spent hours talking to BT, sometimes getting through to a helpline in Dundee and at other times through to one in India. Each time I went through a Micky Mouse security check which I think was to make me feel everything was organised and I was in safe hands. I complained bitterly that the phone wouldn't work across the different rooms in our house and it was decided that I needed a supplementary base station, a disc to boost the signal, and another phone. The additional phone turned out to be a Yealink business phone, perfect for any senior manager's office but completely out of place in a home. In yet another call from me I wanted to know why they hadn’t sent a Yealink handset as I had requested. It appeared that because they didn't have one in stock they thought I might like an office phone instead. However, not to worry, all I had to do was pack it up and send it back. I did.
I am writing this blog in December and our phone system still doesn’t work. I've given up phoning the helplines at BT and my wife has given up on my ability to sort it out. It has cost us dearly in equipment, hours of my time, and a good deal of angst. It appears it isn't just me who has had these problems. The Trustpilot website gives BT a score of 1.4 out of 5 with 87% of customers awarding it the lowest score of 1 out of 5. I couldn’t have put it better. It is so very well deserved.
What I have salvaged from BT’s mistakes are 5 lessons:
Make sure you don’t change a basic service until you are absolutely sure there won’t be widespread snags.
Make sure you have support teams that liaise with each other to provide seamless and reliable advice.
Make sure the support teams have fluency in English.
Make sure the support teams take ownership of problems and provide support until they are solved.
Make sure when someone phones to say it is BT and they are changing your contract to digital, say "no thank you" and go elsewhere.