At two minutes to three this afternoon I tried to dial out on my home phone and got redirected to the BT automated system.
After listening to the chirpy voice-over lady explaining how you apologise for the delay and explain how my call will be answered as soon as possible, once every fourteen rings of the phone (three or four times a minute), I got through to a human being at approximately a quarter past three.
You have to be on hold that long to count the rings.
So I spoke to that lady (Pam) in 'Customer Care' for about fifteen minutes, immediately establishing that she was in a call centre that only took incoming calls, couldn't give me a direct number and if we got cut off couldn't call me back. Most of the time after that was spent with her scrolling down the computer generated security questions, trying to find one I could actually answer, because I didn't have my account number handy.
"What number do you have as your 'best friend' in your friends and family numbers?"
"Um, I don't. I don't have an account with you any more."
"Oh OK then well what number DID you have..."
"Um, well it could have been my mum. Or my husband at work, or quite possibly one of the big kids' mobiles because the best friend number gets an extra discount doesn't it, but then Bigson loses mobiles like there's no tomorrow, and Bigdaughter has been through a few...."
"Well lets pick one shall we?"
"Oh OK well mum's number is......"
"Nope, its rejected that and automatically gone to a new question. So, can you tell me two numbers you phone a lot?"
"Ah, maybe because mum was in hospital a lot last year. OK but Husband has two numbers at work so hang on a moment while I try and work out when my daughter changed her mobile number, because this is going to have to be one I called while I was still your customer, right?"
Anyway eventually Pam finds herself allowed to tell me that yes, there are little things on my phone bill like three months advance bill for a broadband service we gave up last November, but no its beyond her remit to help me and she's going to forward my call to the Customer Options Team. Ah.
So that makes it 3.32 pm because by that time I am becoming quite anal about the minutes ticking away, especially as the chance of being cut off increases proportionally to the length of the call, the number of attempted transfers between departments and the number of times you are put on hold.
Hayley of the Customer Options Team picks up my call and immediately makes it clear she has no idea what Pam and I were talking about, but not to worry, because she can't make me start explaining all over again from the beginning until we've also played another round of 'find the working security question". It seems that Pam can validate my identity, discuss enough details to establish that I need to be dealt with by a higher department (one that takes transferred calls, not your common or garden outside calls direct from your common or garden outsider), but she can't transfer any acknowledgment that I am who I said I am, and Hayley can't simply accept that concept by inference from my having been put through to her in the first (or second) place.
And so we begin again.
At least once we have jumped through hoops, Hayley can finally tell me what I need to do. She can't actually help me, herself, of course, but she can tell me my options. I should have seen that coming.
After spending half an hour being put through to:
- the automated 'push this button if you would like a nervous breakdown and please enter your full telephone number for no apparent reason because when we finally let you speak to a real person they're still going to ask what it is' department, then
- the'incoming calls only, only a call centre, can't tell you anything or do anything, but Gee aren't you glad we're in England' Customer Care department and having arrived at the promised final destination,
- the 'what, you think we pay attention to anything you tell those call centre girls?' Customer Options Team, I now simply have to go and plead my case with:
a) Broadband Billing Department , about the fictitious broadband service on my mystifying bill and then
b) Phoneline Customer Services Department about the remaining erroneous charges.
15:42 I get sent back to listen to the voice-over lady for TEN SOLID MINUTES and by this time its like water torture.
15:52 A man with a very strong Asian accent which is hard to follow, answers the phone and announces that he is Broadband Billing Department and can really help me. Really. And for a while he helps. He establishes that I am due a rebate on not one but two quarterly bills - most of what I paid them in October and everything they asked for in January.
Except after putting me on hold twice, at nearly ten minutes each time, the second time ostensibly because he had finished helping and was transferring me to Phoneline Customer Services Department, only an hour and a half after the whole call began, he admits he hasn't started to transfer me at all after all, and
- although he is asking for my line to be reconnected,
- although he agrees I have been overcharged by his department alone more than the total of the January bill
- although that means BT has messed me around for four months
- although I was told in October that if I paid the advance bill for that quarter, the rebate would definitely positively absolutely show up in the January bill,
No I tootin' fallutin' flaming can't.
So I says
"So you are telling me, if I can't pay you money to the tune of slightly less than the amount your company owes me at this point in time, then I am going to be penalised because your admin staff didn't do their job three months ago?"
So he says
"Oh. No! No you will not be penalised, this is not your fault and we are very sorry, but if you could just pay the bill...."
So I says
"But you want me to pay this bill that I don't owe and that should never have been raised in the first place, and if I don't pay or can't pay, then someone else is going to come along and stop me making outgoing calls all over again, right? So I WILL be penalised for your company's internal cock-up, right?"
So he says
"Oh. No! Umm....*cough* right."
Then he started wanting to explain again, and my braincells started to overheat and fuse together, threatening fire, so I thanked him, said I felt ill and had to go; and went.
Half an hour later I tried to call back in for 'Phoneline Customer Services' (I'm too tired for the bold typeface now; aren't you?) and listened to that voice-over lady for roughly forty minutes with no success - 16:42 to 17:25. Oh yeah baby, got my pad, got my biro, got the little clock on the Windows taskbar.
An hour later Husband and I shared a stint holding the handset in a similarly fruitless fashion for half an hour this time, 18:37 to 19:03.
Back to patiently hearing how busy they are, every fifteen sodding seconds, first thing tomorrow, I guess, or no phone line for me.
Damn blast grrrrr.