The Joy of Call Centres

It seems to be the trend these days to move your technical support call centre from the US or Europe to India.  While the staff are no doubt cheaper there can be problems, as Dell found out and I personally experienced when they shifted their previously award-winning centre from Ireland to India. While hardly a scientific analysis, let me offer you the following real-life example of how such a move can go wrong.  I would like to preface this by saying that I love India and go there most years on my holiday.  Let me now begin the saga. 

Last Thursday my BT broadband internet access stopped working.  I called the technical support number and was put through to a call centre in Mumbai. I explained what I thought might be the problem but the support engineer insisted this was irrelevant and that I work though the scripted set of things in front of him.  This included deleting a surprising number of files (some utterly unrelated to BT broadband) and existing connections.  When I asked whether it would not be wise to take a backup of these first the engineer said “no, no, we’ll restore them from the original CD later.  You do have that – right?”.  Well, squirrel that I am, I did indeed have the original CD from four years ago, but maybe checking before instructing the customer to go on a delete spree would have been prudent?  Anyway, we get to the stage of reloading drivers from the BT CD, and guess what – the necessary drivers seem not to be there.  “Oh” he said.  Oh indeed.  “I will despatch a CD to you – it will take up to 5 days”.  5 days. Have BT discovered the UK postal service yet?  Apparently not.

“But surely it may be a line fault?” I protested. “After all the status icon of the broadband software showed the drivers were all clear until you insisted that I deleted them?”. 

“I cannot test for a line fault until I eliminate all other possibilities”.

“Well, the last four times that the broadband stopped working it turned out to be a line fault; does that not indicate it might be worth at least a look?”.

“No.  We have to follow the procedure.”

After going round in circles for some time I gave up and decided to call back and maybe get someone more useful. I was away until Sunday (no CD yet) and so the next conversation began.  After going through much the same process this engineer was at least able to find some drivers on the original CD that I had (in an entirely different directory to the one the previous guy had told me to look for).  Any temporary illusions of hope were shattered when, after nearly an hour of software configuration, unplugging cables, trying alternative filters etc, he said “Well, everything is correctly installed now”. 

“Er, but the status indicator says “modem not responding”. 

“Nonetheless, it is fine.  It must be a line problem.  I will now authorise a line test; someone will call you back within 5 days”.  After a long debate he promised to “escalate” this and would call back shortly.  A couple of hours later he did and said “Ah – it is indeed a line problem; someone from another team will call you tomorrow”.

So Monday, comes and no call from BT.  I do get a peculiar message while I popped out for a sandwich saying “we noticed that you have no BT email account with us; we recommend that you set one up.  To do so call…..”

I thought this was a bit cheeky, to put it mildly, but decided to ignore the provocation.  Finally I called back and gave the problem number. 

“Ah, the case has been closed”.


“The notes show that someone spoke to you, asked you to set up a BT email account and closed down the problem as fixed”.

I will skip the precise words I used at this point but suffice it to say that the engineer did acknowledge that it was perhaps a tad premature for the problem to be closed by his colleague.  “indeed, we have a zero tolerance policy of bad customer behaviour”.  Uh huh.  So, what was the result of the line test?

“Well, we haven’t run one.”  Where was the CD with the drives supposedly originally requested on Thursday? 

“We have no such request”. 

A lengthy conversation ensued.  The engineer actually said “You are very calm.  If I was you I would be screaming at me by now”.  I guess this was a compliment, at least; no internet access, but at least I had avoided an insane rant.  So, we did the usual dance: deleted some more files, reinstalled some files, unplugged some cables, plugged them back in again etc.  At the end of it the status light was still showing no connection to the modem.  “That must be the problem; it must be the drivers”.

“But your colleague reckoned the drivers were fine”.   

“He was wrong.  It might be the line, but I can’t run a line test until we have tried some more things.” 

Autumn turned to winter and finally we reached the stage where the advice was “I need you to find where the BT main line enters your house, take a screwdriver, remove the face plate and see what the wiring looks like”.  I suggested that this seemed a pointless and generally bad idea, as well as possibly unsafe.

“There aren’t that many volts running through it – you’ll be fine” was the priceless response, but by now my faith in the technical savvy of the Mumbai BT helpdesk was a tad lower than at the beginning, so I declined to start poking around with a screwdriver into some wiring somewhere in the dark outside the house, however few volts were running through it.

“Ah, then I cannot escalate the problem.”

“I just want you to send someone round and fix this”.

“We cannot do that.  You are not prepared to check the wiring so I cannot do anything more; I can pass a message on, but they won’t look at it.” 

At this point I decided to give up and drink a lot of alcohol.  By Tuesday it had been six days with no internet access and I decided on a fresh approach.  I called BT sales and asked if I could buy broadband.  “Certainly – what is your phone number?” which was followed by “Oh, but you already have broadband”.  I explained that I may well be paying for broadband, but certainly did not actually have use of it, nor was I ever likely to in the future at this rate.  At this point the sales girl took pity and passed me on to a UK technical guy.  A very nice man from Newcastle called Jaz talked me through the situation, got me to reconfigure some files and in 15 minutes I had broadband up and running again.

So, Newcastle helpdesk 15 minutes; sorted (mostly fixing the problems caused by the previous “support”).  Mumbai helpdesk over 3 hours on the phone, five days elapsed and something close to a nervous breakdown for the caller.  It was so comforting when I switched on the news and saw that BT’s profits were up and were “investing in 6,000 new jobs in India”.  At the productivity rate of 12:1 that I had found that would be equivalent to 500 people in Newcastle.  I hope they are really, really cheap in that Mumbai call centre, Mr Verwaayen.  I do know a man called Jaz who could perhaps usefully do some training over there….


9 thoughts on “The Joy of Call Centres”

  1. Hi

    I am from Bt Technical Helpdesk From India…

    I check your comments Quite Frequently

    and i think Most of you People don’t like when your call Lands in India But trust me we people also try to help you people as much as we can.

    And Some times Customers Do n’t Know whats there LAndline Number, Which Router are they using etc.

    Some times they are not Ready to Troubleshoot and they think we can do anything and everything for them with out even knowing the Basic things Like the Operating System.

  2. Hummm…………..the mumbai connection! I was promised that the tag would be off of my mum’s phone by tonight – it wasn’t – so after calling I got the ‘Mumbai gang’ who couldn’t deal with it and then put the phone down on me!!! LOL – what is the point of a company in paying an extreme amount of money to a call centre outside of the UK to answer it based queries who have NO KNOWLEDGE of what they are dealing with? I would rather have a message telling me to call the next day – at least it is honest!

  3. Love the tale. I am experiencing a similar level of customer service from BT as we speak. I have a brand new shiny BT Home Hub which doesn’t and has never worked.

    I have now spent the best part of a month making calls to the HD in India to try to get them to fix the problem, which I know is something to do with the line. Every time I make a call I go through the same ritual whereby I describe the problem to them and am then given the same resolution steps which involves unplugging and plugging the Home Hub into my PC, turning the power on and off, installing and then delete software etc etc. So far they have sent me three Home Hubs having in their wisdom decided that the fault lies with the equipment not the line. Finally having spoken to the sales desk and attempted to cancel BT altogether and move to another supplier(which sadly I cannot do due to fact I have signed up for the non-working Home Hub for a year!), I was put through to someone in Newcastle who diagnosed the problem within 10 minutes as being a line fault (something I have been trying to explain to the Indian Help Desk over and over again.

    I am now waiting for an engineer to call me within the next 48 hours to come round an fix the problem (I am not holding my bretah)

    A little advice to BT before most of your customer base looks for alternatives.

    1. Invest in a CRM system and train your staff in India on how to use it. Then they will not ask the same dumb questions every time a customer rings up to check on the status of their case.

    2. TRAIN your staff in India to the level of the support desk in Newcastle. It is not sufficient to have some untrained person reading instructions from a manual. We (the users) can do that (probably better than the average Call Centre employee). We want people who know how to diagnose and fix problems.

    3. Be very wary that your brand name is being gradually destroyed by your appalling customer service. There are alternatives out there and people will switch

  4. AS above I have had a similiar problem which is now sorted out after a long 2 weeks – I recently moved and moved my BT account but when I recieved the email telling me it was activated it did not appear to come on, now originally I thought it was my old modem which had been threatening to die prior to moving, so I bought a new upto date wireless router but still no internet. I checked and rechecked all my wires before ringing and changed filters and tried the different plugs in the house still nothing. I decided to ring BT technical helpdesk – who as all your experiences talked me through all the obvious questions which I had already checked. Then came the unscrew your plug!!!! Are you serious – I don’t even have a screw to open so he said that we could not continue until I check the plug so best I get a screw then call back. So looking round my kitchen a little baffled I located a knife which would do the job – tested what they said and this did nothing!!!

    On to phone call 2 – another person so I explained I had been speaking to someone before and what they had told me to do. It seems none of the technical support can actually read your record or history as she asked me all the same questions although a little infurating I continued with the yes I have done that etc. She said i will do a line test – Yippee as I thought this wil sort the problem out as I had guessed it must be that BT just hadnt activated although sending an email to say it had. So she returned after 10 mins of keeping me on hold and said your line is fine it was activated so it must be your wiring and you will have to get an electician out – WHAT

    Unwilling to phone an electrician because I still believed that it was the line unactivated that was the problem so I phoned the next day and spoke to someone else explained the problem and went through all the relentless questions once more with another line test, this kept going for the next few days with some saying there was a problem others saying there wasn’t some saying they would phone back.

    A week had past and I was nearing my own nervous breakdown so thought you know I will just pay for an election as I had been told no BT engineer would come to my address as there is no fault !!! So I spoke to a very honest electrician who advised that this was down to BT and he would not come out to charge me money knowing there is nothing he could do.

    Although he was honest were was I to go know, right I will try BT Sales desk, after listening to the automated service I was put through to someone who listened to what I had to say and then said sorry you have this experience I will put you through to the right person – who was it? yes he had connected me back to india!!!!! So I went through all the annoying questions and I was getting very angry by this stage again line test nothing wrong and told to get an electrician – I explained he would not come out and that they need to send an BT engineer – someone will call tomorrow. Tomorrow came and went and no phone call.

    So many tears and screaming later I decided if no one would speak to me I would email both to the technical desk and the complaints department. Within 1 hour I had received an email back asking me to check all the checks I had done before so an email back advising them I had done so. another 2 hours later I was told they would ring tomorrow – which they did they then advised they would do a line test which would take 48 hours (I did ask how when all the previous people I spoke to tested the line in 10 mins and advised that the line was fine – he advised they obviosly hadnt tested the line. The next phone call advised there was something wrong with the line and it was being passed on to another department and phone the following day,

    Next day another department phoned asked all the same questions and then said someone will call tomorrow. This continued for the next few days with various people ringing me asking the same questions (I was starting to get a little parniod at this point thinking they were just trying to wind me up).

    I was so annoyed I decided to go to my local supermarket and get a bottle or wine and chocolate to cheer myself up. On my return there was a BT van outside my house – was this for me should I go and ask him as I got out of my car he drove off. I got inside and thought I wil just check on the off chance if it is now going online.

    SURPRISE it was – I have never heard from the technical team advising what was wrong and I have never received a response from my letter of commplaint. What a pile of rubbish. I am now looking into a different internet provider.

  5. How many emails do you want I am cuurently suffering the same shabby treatment

    The people in Newcastle are great the centre in India is useless absolutely pitiful

  6. Hi Andy

    I’m from BT and we are very sorry to hear about the problems you have experienced. Would you mind dropping me an email please, so that we can investigate further.



  7. Great story Andy, I laughed until I cried. Mainly because I had a very similar experience with BT, I ordered a shiny new BT Home Hub which I duly installed and plugged into the wall, no Broadband internet connection. Now this Home Hub comes with some very fancy software part of which allows you to do diagnosis on the internet connection which showed me a pretty screen with a big red cross next to the DSL, I triumphantly phoned the help desk to report the line error but no, I had to following a script of plugging things in, and plugging them out again, I was not going to fall for this so merely played the part of following the instructions, including playing the Microsoft tune to simulate the restart of my PC. After about 15 minutes of this, once all options had been exhausted, they did a line test and lo and behold a line error was detected! A week later BT managed to fix this, so alls well that ends well despite a needless waste of two peoples time.

  8. The scary thing is how the management of large companies seem to think that the customer experience of support is irrelevant. They spend a fortune on marketing but neglect their actual customer point of contact – the help desk. Our experiences here determine whether we are likely to buy more products from the company, or recommend the company to others.

  9. Spooky, I had an almost identical series of conversations with BT last year. The first support analyst even told me I didn’t have BT broadband (strange as I could see it on my bill…) simply because I didn’t have a BT email (why should I) or password (you don’t need one).

    Given that a line check can be initiated from the support desk, why do they spend so much time avoiding it? And why does my line always stop working when it rains?

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