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It takes a special brand of incompetence to force me back into the arms of the cretins at BT. Yet somehow Talk Talk managed to frustrate me to the point I was clawing at BT Towers' door in desperation, like a dog with a bladder infection.
I moved in with my girlfriend in April, which should have been a joyous experience. Except when I plugged my laptop in and tried to contact the router.
"Oh, the broadband's never really worked" my girlfriend interjected.
"Sorry?" I replied incredulously.
"Well I've tried to get it working but it only stays connected for five minutes at a time - if you're lucky"
This for me was kind of like being told the place had no running water, or half a roof.
Now I've stumbled down the broadband technical support route many times with many companies, and I have to say I wasn't really expecting Talk Talk to blow my mind with swift and succinct answers to the problems. Another thing I wasn't really expecting was a four month tale of unadulterated agony, but presumably they were running a two for one promotion at Talk Talk for frustrating customer experiences.
First problem: foreign call centre. Again. Talk Talk do what many service companies do in first beaming your call to a land far, far away to a 'first tier technical support team'. Now remove the last five words and replace them with 'department of patronising and sometimes indecipherable script readers'. Here's an excerpt of the conversation to illustrate: -
"Are you sitting in front of your computer, Sir?" "Er, yes." "Is your modem powered up and connected to your PC correctly?" "Yes." "Is your modem connected to the phone socket?" "YES." "Is the…" "Look, thanks very much for your help, but I know my way around a computer and I've checked everything. I've interchanged the laptops, the cables, the routers, the phone points, the filters and the router configuration. There is almost definitely a problem with the line" "Sir, if you could allow me to finish my support questions I can assist you further."
"…Is the ADSL light solid green?" "Look, the connection is intermittent on both laptops and both routers when wireless or wired, so it's almost certainly not a hardware problem" "Intermittens?" "Forget it. Yes, the light is green, but then it's not."
These people will not let you discuss the problem until you have answered their entire ream of mindless questions. They grimly insist upon it. Why? When you phone the AA to say your car has broken down, do they ask you if you are sitting in the car? Whether you've turned the key in the ignition? Do they ask if the car still has four wheels or if the handbrake is on? No; they send a mechanic out to fix the bloody car.
To cut this section short (there's LOTS more you'll be pleased to know), once I had finally completed the I.T. for dummies questionnaire they beamed me all the way back to Blighty and their second level support team. They altered the bandwidth of my line as they suspected it was unsuitable and causing instability. Now I have to say at this point that these people were at least affable and sounded knowledgeable. I also have to say that was the one and only positive thing I'm going to mention.
For a few glorious hours it seemed to have done the trick. I gorged myself on the internet, gleefully checking emails and such like there was no tomorrow. I think the rational part of my brain suspected that things could go the way of the pear at any moment, as each click of a hyperlink was met with a flinch in anticipation of "Page Cannot Be Displayed". Amazingly it held for the evening. I slept easy that night.
"Page Cannot Be Displayed"
B*******. Whatever the genius at second level support had done to my line, it clearly hadn't worked.
I called back. Back to Numbnutistan, that is.
"Are you sitting in front of your computer, Sir?" "Really, there's no need for this, I've already spoken to your second level support team." "Is there a support ticket outstanding, Sir? "No. They thought they'd fixed the problem but now I can't connect again." "Then I will need to ask you a few questions to enable me to progress the call."
"Look, I'm an I.T. Manager (total lies), I can assure you it's a problem with the line." "Sir, I still need to check some configurations on your computer before we can proceed."
"This is totally unnecessary." "I'm sorry, Sir?" "NEVER MIND." "Is your modem powered up and connected to your PC correctly?"
Despite the temptation to launch our hamster across the room in a fit of frustration, I bit my tongue and attained my second stage of the I.T. incompetents' course.
Back to Blighty.
As an aside, I found being called 'Sir' after every third sentence intensely irritating. To my mind if you're being called Sir, it suggests that the service being provided is first rate. You get called Sir in a classy restaurant or plush hotel where you pay good money for good service. Being called Sir in these circumstances is like being given a silk shirt to wear while you unblock the drains.
Essentially, they did a similar thing as before, but this time the connection was lightning fast. Better still, they gave me a direct number to call so I could avoid Numbnutistan again, just in case. Great, I thought - a direct line to the technical support organ-grinders. Yet the next development only made me want to grind my own organs: in a f***ing mincer.
"Page Cannot Be Displayed."
I called the second level support hotline number I'd been given. A disturbingly familiar sounding accented voice met my disbelieving ears: -
This time, the fury erupted volcanically, like a Mount Etna of resentment raining liquid malice down on the poor customer support operative's unsuspecting head. I don't usually do this as I understand a company's support policies are not the staff's doing (I did explain that I appreciated it wasn't his fault, although I'm sure this was of no consolation to him). Taken aback by my tirade, or maybe genuinely concerned I was one more inane question away from booking a flight to Numbnutistan to slaughter them all, I was fast-tracked to second level support.
Now we reach the most farcical event, which entailed an (in hindsight hilarious) three-way conversation between a 'technical engineer' a 'second level support operative', and me. And a screwdriver. And my wall.
For some inexplicable reason I wasn't allowed to speak to the engineer in person, so each step was relayed to me by the operative, whose only purpose in this triangle of stupid was to pass messages back and forth between us like we'd had some kind of lovers tiff. The inspired plan was to remove the faceplate of my primary phone socket and attempt to connect to my secondary socket. Suffice to say this only: -
1) Made a mess 2) Didn't work 3) Stiffened my resolve to cancel my contract
On my knees, with my front room in utter chaos and still no closer to the Promised Land, I asked what my options were. The operative told me there was a problem on my line outside the property and that as it was still B.T.'s line they'd need to charge me £160 to have a technician visit. These were B.T.'s terms he said, not theirs. In an act of sheer cunning I asked what would happen if I was to terminate my broadband contract (due to expire the following month) and sign up to B.T. then complain about the fault: -
"Well, then the line maintenance would be free."
"Erm, can I speak to your cancellations department please?"
But Talk Talk weren't finished here. Oh, no - the Pièce de résistance was saved for last - a glorious cherry to sit atop my special cake, iced lovingly with 'Happy Crappy Customer Service'.
When you switch to Talk Talk for your line rental and calls, they tag the line. This means you can't switch your broadband provider without switching everything. Line rental, calls and all. So because of the broadband issue, we were going to lose our calling circle and our international calls. I couldn't be without broadband though, so I terminated everything and called B.T. It was like returning home to your parents from a failed relationship they warned you about, with that told-you-so tone in their voice. Damn you Talk Talk, damn you.
Two weeks passed. The changeover happened. Perfect Broadband. No problem with the line, the speed, nothing. Looking contemplatively at my battered phone socket, I pondered the inventive things I could do with my screwdriver and Talk Talk's Technical Support Department.
I arrived home from work the following night to find a Talk Talk envelope on the mat. A final bill, perhaps? Yes, a final bill; including a £70 early termination charge and £3 for cancelling my Direct Debit. After I'd retrieved my jaw from the floor and re-read the bill several times to check I wasn't hallucinating, I readied myself for one final duel with the Talk Talk Customer Support Team. I checked behind the curtains to make sure this wasn't some elaborate hoax - I half expected a team of actors dressed in Talk Talk T-Shirts to emerge laughing and extending conciliatory hands. But Beadle was long gone by this point. This must be real.
"Sir, your broadband contract was expired but you have six months to run on your line rental." "But you told me I can't have broadband without line rental, so why would you give me two contracts that expire at different times?" "You have six months to run." "But your service didn't work, so I had to change it." "I don't know anything about that, there are no notes." "Do you have some notes about me dismantling my front room for no apparent reason?" "Sorry?" "Look, I'm not paying this fee, so please feel free to take me to court. I'd be delighted to explain this situation to a judge." "The terms of your contract state-" "And if this is taken any further I will write to your CEO (Charles Dunstone) and explain my catalogue of problems with your terrible company. Can I have your name, please?" "Oh, erm, let me speak to my supervisor."
I received a credit note two weeks later.
Suffice to say I'm not going to recommend this service on any level. Dealing with Talk Talk is such an exhausting, life sapping experience it should be part of SAS training. Never before have a company managed to wear me out not just on a mental level but a physical level too. If the screwdriver incident wasn't so farcically funny I'm sure I would have planted the thing in my ear to bring an end to the chaos. It took Charles Dunstone and his partner just £6,000 in 1989 to set up parent company Carphone Warehouse; clearly it takes two decades of dedication to create the shambolic, big trousers and braces, custard pie-lobbing circus act that is the customer support function.
Sorry to hear about your problems - they sound extremely similar to one our neighbours had, except they also tried to bill our neighbours after they had told TalkTalk they were going back to BT or something similar. So TalkTalk threatened to send debt collectors round to collect a fee that had already been paid.
With all these things being reported, it makes you wonder how long the company will continue existing for.
torr 24.11.2008 19:57
No one likes them, they don't care, sort of sums it up, I think.
JVL 13.11.2008 11:02
Superb review (well it probably counts as a rant but it's definitely a justified one!) - I can well understand your frustration. I just had a similar experience changing our broadband provider, but they weren't quite as bad as Talk Talk!