Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Technical Support

I've not posted on here for ages because I have been feeling pretty good. But things happened this week that I just can't keep to myself.

I fix computers for a living and I have two tales of staggeringly incompetent technical and customer support experienced by one of my customers.

Please note that the conversations are from memory and despite using quotation marks I have paraphrased and abbreviated the considerable grief that I had to endure.

The first one comes from good old TalkTalk.

My customer (Mrs. W) had been away for a few days on holiday and came back to find that her broadband connection was not working. Her husband, Mr. W, did all the correct things to troubleshoot the problem (new filters, cables, different BT socket etc.) all to no avail. Even a new router would not fix the problem.

After all that he rang TalkTalk. I think we all know that overseas technical support staff are poorly trained and probably even more poorly paid. There is also the language barrier and the fact that the staff run through a very inflexible script to get to the bottom of the problem they are presented with. However, there are limits.

Anyway, the script was gone through and Mr. W did everything (again) all to no avail (again). Technical support then asked "What is your router model?" Mr. W told him only to be told "That is not a supported router - I cannot help you any further as it does not support the diagnostic tests that we need to run to see if your line is OK."

Mr. W asked what else could be done. "Please keep your router connected to the phone line for 24 hours while we monitor your connection. If your broadband does not come back, please call us again." End of call.

Twenty-four hours later and the broadband is still not working (no surprise there) and that's when Mrs. W gave me a call to see if I could shed some light on matters.

One look at the router and I see that the ADSL light is out. I do all the simple stuff (again) all to no avail (again). I've brought another known working router with me and I plug it directly into the BT test socket. Still no ADSL signal. When I run the auto-detect setup wizard it reports that there is no ADSL present on the line.

Now it's my turn to call TalkTalk. Mrs. W gets me through the ID check and hands me over to the support guy and he starts his script. He's been told I'm technical support myself so I politely interrupt to say that this is the follow up call from the previously logged incident at the weekend. There is no record of that previous call. Great. We start from scratch (again).

In an attempt to circumvent the script, and get the problem escalated to the correct department, I interrupt again and explain all the steps that I've done. I also tell him that the ADSL light is off and there is no signal to the router.

"Ah, what is the model of your router, please?"

I tell him.

"That is not a supported router - I cannot help you any further as it does not support the diagnostic tests that we need to run to see if your line is OK."

I said "It does not matter about the model of router because we know that it has been working and now it has stopped working because the signal no longer reaches the house. Also", I said, "I've tried two other routers that show the same results."
"Yes, but they are not supported either." (I had told him the model numbers).

"Listen to me! There. Is. No. Signal. Reaching. The. House. How many ways can I explain that?" I implored.

"OK, I'm going to run a line test. Please plug in your router and call me back in two hours."

"I'm not going to be here in two hours." I explained. (It turned I was still there after 2 hours).

"How about half-an-hour?" he offered.

"How about now?" I said.

"OK. The line will go dead, please do not hang up."

For goodness sake, why don't they just do the line test straight away in the first place? How many customers have to go through this kind of crap?

After a couple of minutes he comes back on the line. "Our tests are inconclusive."

"What does that mean?" I questioned.

"It means that we don't know what is wrong with your line and until you get a supported router we won't be able to tell. May I suggest that you keep your router plugged in for 24 hours while we monitor your line. If the broadband does not come back, please call us again."

"No, no, no!" I shouted. "Please listen to me. They have already done that! This is the follow-up call from the last time we were told to do this! If you want us to use a supported router, send us one. For free. Tomorrow or the day after at the latest."

"I can send you one today as long as you renew your contract for another 12 months." He said.

Mrs. W heard all of this and said "No way am I signing up for that. Tell them we are leaving."

Knowing that it would be at least 10 days to get internet from another provider (even if TalkTalk bothered to cough up the MAC number) I said "A free router or they are leaving."

He countered "I cannot give you a free router unless you sign up for 12 months. They cost a lot of money and we need guarantees that you will stay. This is not the correct way to order a free router."

"Then put me through to somebody that can give me a free one." I said.

Whilst on hold, Mrs. W told me to tell TalkTalk that she wanted to leave them. OK, so now I've got to get the MAC out of them. ISPs must issue a MAC within 5 working days but I've managed to get them from providers whilst on the phone. I wasn't going to hold my breath though.

A voice on the line. "Customer retention. How may I help?"

"Can I have my MAC please?". By this time I had taken on the identity of Mr. W as it was his name on the account and they refused to speak to Mrs. W because of "data protection".

"Why do you want this information?"

"Because we are leaving TalkTalk due to extremely poor technical and customer support." I have greatly shortened the above conversations, I had been arguing for ages.

I explained in detail the problem and again asked for a free router so that technical support would do their job and get on with testing the line. No free router was offered. So I asked for the MAC again. Silence.

"Are you ignoring me?" I shouted.

"No, I'm thinking."

"There's not much to think about." I said. "Give us a free router or our MAC".

He came up with a brilliant solution: He hung up on me. Laughably I was then dumped into their customer feedback questionnaire. I wonder if anyone actually reviews the answers given - probably not judging by their consistently awful support.

I rang TalkTalk again. This time I chose option 4 - "If you are moving house or thinking of leaving TalkTalk". I got an instant result - no queuing and an English accent.

I explained again all that had gone on and asked for the MAC.

"We don't want to lose you as a customer. I can have an engineer visit your premises tomorrow afternoon free of charge with a free router for you. There will be no charge and no obligation for you to remain with us."

At last! Someone who knew something about keeping customers happy. How many customers will TalkTalk lose before they realise that good customer support is everything?

Obviously the engineer didn't bother to turn up on the correct date despite making the appointment. He was 24 hours late and demanded that Mrs. W sign a form agreeing to pay £50 if the fault was due to house wiring being up the creek. He came to same conclusion as me - no ADSL signal reaching the house.

I realise that I sound like a bit of a bully in the above account but, honestly, nobody was listening to a word I was saying. There needs to be a way out of the script at an earlier stage when it is obvious that a customer is getting annoyed.

TalkTalk are now passing the buck to BT and Mr. and Mrs. W are still without broadband and they have a bill from me for 4 hours work - that's nearly 3 hours on the phone to TalkTalk. Three bloody hours.

Before leaving I tethered a laptop to Mrs. W's Vodafone mobile so that she could get on with her work. I warned that tethering might not be allowed on her contract and could run up a big bill.

And that brings us to part two of this saga: Vodafone.

I called up today to see how things were going and was told this sorry tale.

Mrs. W did some research and decided to buy a Vodafone dongle for the laptop from Curry's. She chose one that had two £5 credits in the box. There was only one £5 credit in the box when she opened it. Ho hum.

The dongle was installed and Mrs. W was soon e-mailing again with 3 bars of signal strength. However, she could not bring up any web pages so she called Vodafone technical support.

The so-called engineer explained that 3 bars was good enough for email but not internet! WTF. This guy is really taking the piss.

Mrs. W patiently explained that data is data and there must be another explanation for the problem.

"No," said 'engineer', "three bars is not enough to view web pages."

Mrs. W explained again about data and also the fact that the documentation that came with the dongle showed someone happily surfing with 3 bars and that it actually said that only one bar is needed.

Silence on the phone. "Are you still there?" Mrs. W asked.

"Yes" he replied.

"Well what could the problem be then?"

Silence. "Are you still there?" Mrs. W asked.

"Are you asking me a question?" dickhead replied.

This conversation repeated several times, each time the 'engineer' ignored her questions. Mrs. W was apparently reduced to tears. When she complained to another person she was told that Vodafone do not have a complaints department. Any feedback should be left on the Vodafone website.

Mr. W is collecting information about the CEOs of TalkTalk and Vodafone and will be asking some serious questions.

Vodafone are not cheap to buy calls and data from. There is no excuse for having such ignorant and poorly trained staff. Pay more money - get better staff - keep your customers.

I've offered to sort the dongle out free of charge but Mrs. W does not want to take advantage.

Still no internet in the W household.


  1. Unbelievable, and quite entertaining from this distance. Three weeks have passed, so what was the final score?

    1. I believe that it took over a week to get the broadband reconnected. The Ws claimed compensation from TalkTalk to cover my bill and were told that a cheque was on the way. Of course, no money arrived and when queried TalkTalk said that 'there had been a problem in the accounts department.' A cheque was again promised but I believe they are still waiting for it.