Summary: If you want to succeed at delivering great customer service, review the current BT Broadband model and do the opposite of it.

I got my first ever ‘F’ Yesterday. To be fair it was an F+, but even so…! However on this occasion I don’t feel I could have done any better, or tried harder, as the grade in question was the Speedtest appraisal of my BT Broadband connection. As a geeky gamer this makes me cry inside as low download speeds, ‘jitter’, and high ping are the unholy trinity for online gamers.

I moved into a new house in January, and since then my largest time sink has been trying to get BT Broadband to firstly acknowledge that I have a problem, and secondly, to do something about it.

In the cold light of day I realise that there are quite a lot of customer service lessons BT Broadband could learn from this. Also, for the record this is an appraisal of their customer service systems and processes, not of their frontline staff, who without exception have been professional, well meaning and competent throughout:

1. Offshoring your customer service simply doesn’t work

ISSUE: As anyone who has ever had a problem with BT Broadband will know, the first line of defence is the call centre in India. It’s a 100% scripted ‘groundhog day’ experience. You never speak to the same person twice, they have a patchy record of calling you back when they say they will, they are trying to manage an infrastructure that is in a different time zone and culture, and to date they’ve never managed to solve any of my issues.

SUGGESTION: Bring the team back onshore. This isn’t a ‘jobs for Britain’ call, it just makes sense. If you strip it back, offshoring for any company is a margin optimisation exercise. In other words it benefits the company, it does not benefit the customer. Companies may say that it enables them to pass on savings to the customer and keep prices down. I have yet to see that in reality.

2. Don’t place the burden of proof on the customer

ISSUE: I am struggling to think of many instances where the answer to the question “I have a problem, please can you solve it” is “prove you have a problem first”. Screen dumps, online diagnostics, and a set format of conditions you must satisfy before you’re taken seriously are all hoops to jump through here. I’m reasonably technically literate and it took me a while. Imagine if I wasn’t.

SUGGESTION: The customer is always right. I get that some will waste your company’s time and money and disprove the old adage, but essentially, and in most cases, it still holds true. The exceptions shouldn’t dictate your service approach to your entire customer base. If this is a way of protecting the scarce engineer resource, see point 4 below.

3. Everybody owning complaints is as good as no-one owning complaints

ISSUE: We all accept that things break, problems occur and from time to time you’ll have to raise a hand for help. In most cases it’s fairly easy to find out how to do this. If you Google ‘BT complaints’ however your quickest route is six clicks, and that just emails the same team who deal with technical services in India anyway – in other words it’s a way of resolving a technical query, not a complaint. If you ask them how to complain the stock answer is that “anyone at BT can own a complaint”. The reality is, that if your service is disrupted for any length of time, firstly you cannot get a rebate until the technical query is resolved, and secondly you cannot just go to a centralised complaint function; you have to rely on escalation from the tech team.

You can of course email the Chief Exec, and searching relevant forums leads me to believe that this is highly effective, but is that really what it should take to get any action? Is that how the CEO and his team should be spending their time?

SUGGESTION: Make it easier to complain. Have a button and phone number on the homepage that connects you to a dedicated problem resolution function, with a team who can co-ordinate all the other teams to help you. We all accept that solving a problem actually increases the chances of customer loyalty, so surely there is a sound business logic to enabling your customers to easily do so.

4. Don’t outsource the (only) human face of your organisation

ISSUE: When you do manage to convince BT that you have a problem, the ‘man in the van’ comes from Openreach, which is a BT Group business, but, and this is crucial, maintains the telephone wire and cable infrastructure for pretty much all ISP’s (except ones that do not enter your property via a phone line).

This causes a number of issues. Firstly, they are a scarce resource, meaning scheduling an engineer usually involves taking time off work, or a very long wait for a weekend visit. Secondly, as they’re essentially sub-contracted, they are by no means a seamless extension of BT. I watched gob-smacked as the poor engineer had to phone the same call centre in India that a customer would call, with all the call menus and hold time, in order to get them to run a diagnostic check on the line. Thirdly, they are clearly targeted on the number of appointments they get through in the day, so they get pressure from their line manager if the repair is time-consuming, and my experience is that their first-time fix success rate is consequently quite low.

SUGGESTION: First-time fix is a really important way of keeping customers, particularly when there is a financial impact on the customer if they have to call out engineers more than once. Re-integrate your systems and separate your engineering team so that part of it deals with BT customers, and a separate entity deals with other ISP issues. Target on success, not quantity. Quantity is short term gain for long term pain.

5. Don’t rely on expert customers to do your legwork for you

ISSUE: I found one haven of excellence within BT – They are a network of BT customers who try to solve BT issues through their own expertise, experience, or as a hobby. These guys know their stuff – even if you have to learn a new language to deal with them ;-). They are patient, responsive and very helpful. Best of all, if they recognise that your problem needs BT intervention they can hook you up with a forum moderator, who does work for BT, and who will issue you with an incident number. So why is any of this a problem? Well, I just find it a little strange that the only shining example of customer service at BT is firewalled behind volunteer customers.

SUGGESTION: Employ people with the same mindset as the customer forum techies, and make this a BT run and staffed enterprise.  Boost the small team of BT Forum moderators (also excellent by the way) with like-minded staff. Streamline the process for providing diagnostic information to BT. Cater to the masses, not to those with the time or inclination to learn the intricacies of the technology behind Broadband.

6. Customer needs/wants/circumstances differ – tailor your products and service accordingly

ISSUE: This is peculiar to broadband, and I understand that there is little you can do about this, but the simple fact is that your broadband connection is seriously dependent upon the distance you live from the telephone exchange, and the number of other people who have signed up along your route to the exchange.

SUGGESTION: Point this out better at signup and prioritise those further from the exchange with new product enhancements to limit the geographical impact (BT Infinity will alleviate this, for example). By all means charge for this. I’d pay a premium for a stable connection. From a customer experience perspective, tiering your services based on willingness to pay a premium is the accepted practice. Treating all your customers the same way is increasingly old school.

This will seem counter-intuitive, but if BT ever surveyed me for feedback on my view of their company they’d deduce I was a loyal, long-term customer with little intention of defecting to a competitor, and a strong likelihood to buy new products. They’d get that from the following information:

Q. Will I continue to use BT as my Broadband provider?

A. Yes, as although I think they have issues, I don’t think they’re as bad as some of the other ISP’s, and shifting will still mean I’m probably using their infrastructure so the problem won’t go away.

Q. Will I take BT Infinity when it’s available to me?

A. Yes… exchange is enabled and it will solve my problem….it’s just taking an ‘infinity’ for it to get to my road (end 2013 latest estimate).


Q. Will I recommend BT to others?

A. Most definitely not, and I’ve told all my friends. In fact, I’ll make sure I blog about my experience…..oh hang on, that’s what this is.


Any other companies we could learn from – good and bad, let us know in the comments below.