BT Is The National Disgrace All Marketers Can Learn From

If you want to know how to do the biggest amount of damage possible to your brand in the shortest amount of time by treating your customer disdainfully, you need look no further than BT. Like a few hundred thousand other people, I was without broadband yesterday and spent two hours waiting on the phone to be told it was a national issue and they are looking into it.

OK -- so things go wrong, networks will always have issues -- there's nothing new there. The issue is how you treat your customers. In the case of a monopoly, as BT is in many broadband areas, the answer is: very badly.

What would you do if your network went down? What's the really obvious  and very simple answer? Maybe just tell people? When my broadband went down I was checking BT's line-checking service, calling its known outages special number, checking Twitter and checking out its home page. For the two hours I sat on the phone, there was nothing. Even when I managed to get a mobile signal strong enough to instigate a line check, nothing showed up and calling the known faults line just gave a list of cities and towns nowhere near -- just the average day, it seemed.

So when I finally got through to a human being, I pointed out they had all these channels to post a warning on, to save people from thinking it was just them and jamming their customer lines. She agreed and said they keep telling "them" the same thing, but it never happens. I complained to the BT Press Office and I complained on Twitter. I heard back from the BT Press Office, which seems to think that it is enough to put up a note on Twitter to "some" people who have been affected by issues that they're sorry. I've since pointed out that this doesn't constitute an announcement as they are forever having to put such notices up as the network is usually down somewhere. Nor is it good enough to admit a problem for some users two hours after it has become clear to them they have a national issue. 

The lesson for any marketer here is really simple. If you have an issue that could cause someone to call in, even though it's not them and there's nothing you can do for them individually, just admit it. Be bold, and be helpful. Use those channels at your disposal to apologise and warn people against phoning in. Help people, don't hinder them. Everybody accepts that a product or service is liable to fail from time to time, but to keep it quiet and not help people save hours waiting to speak to someone who can't help them is just criminal. Just have a message on your phone line, on social channels and the Web site. It really is that simple.

It speaks to BT's arrogance as the monopoly provider in large swaths of the country. Sure, you can pick another supplier to put their name to the service but if you are in an "uncontested" area, it's BT's service you get nonetheless. I have had nothing but complaints and issues with the carrier for several years, but to no avail. What's the worst that could happen? Well, actually nothing. They have botched orders, cut me off, made up a phantom me to charge me twice for the same service and generally driven me to distraction with a service that has been as likely to fail as to succeed over the past few years. And it always starts the same way. They always assume it's your problem, even when they know it's most likely to be in the network somewhere and could be ironed out in a few days. Hence you're left to "turn it off, then on again" for a few days until things clear up or an engineer turns up to fiddle with settings on the network and shake his head about how long it takes for an outage to be acted on.

So, the service is a disgrace, but so too is the response, because it quite simply doesn't matter to BT what we think of it. In huge swaths of the country, whether we like it or not, they're the only game in town. The very least it could do, while shelling out billions on sports rights, is the very simple kindness of alerting people when there is a major outage and not leave them hanging on for hours. They have the channels to do this, to not bother just shows the arrogant disdain they have for customers. A national disgrace whose only silver lining is the lesson it can show other marketers in how to not treat customers.

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