Wednesday, April 21, 2004

You privatise away what is ours, what is ours. You privatise away what is ours. You privatise away and then you make us pay. We'll take it back some day, mark my words, mark my words. We'll take it back some day, mark my words.

I hate British Gas.

Strike that. I hate all businesses that use call centres.

I've just spent the last hour and half on the phone to British Gas.

This was prompted by a slip of paper that was put through my door while I was out today. It told me someone had visited my house with the intention of cutting me off.

It was a surprise. Especially as I had paid the Gas Bill two weeks ago.

So I rang the number on the card. It was answered by someone who didn't know whether I had, or hadn't, paid two weeks ago. He admitted he didn't actually work for British Gas at all. He was a contractor. I've heard this before, from the numbskull that installed broadband for me. When it didn't work he pulled the "well actually I don't work for them" routine. This despite wearing a BT uniform and driving a BT van. So, instead I had to ring a call centre (arrrgggghhhhh).

To cut that long story short. It took over two months to install broadband. BT sent out my start-up disc to the wrong address (a boarded-up house) on three occasions. Four weeks after it was up and running, they cut me off again for non-payment. Despite the fact that it had only been working a short time. Their records showed it had been working since installation. They had sent the bills and disconnection notice to the wrong address.

Three weeks ago, the phones went mental, starting at 2am they all rang continuously. It took them two days to mend that.

First though, they suggested I took a screwdriver to the wall socket and check it out myself, because if they were to attend it would cost me £60 before they started. Hang on, what am I paying for? If I have to pay for the damn thing to be mended what is the rental fee for? Surely paying it means they have an obligation to provide me with a working phone line.

It turned out numbskull had wired up the broadband wrongly, hence the malfunction. To this day, if I use the phone, the computer goes off-line.

Incidentally, I only finally got broadband properly installed when I tracked down the names of all their non exec directors, via the net, and emailed them all separately, at their other places of work, and copied in the letter I sent to Watchdog.

Anyway, this was supposed to be a British Gas rant.

I will proceed:

I rang the British Gas call centre. I went through the "press one for", routine. Then I waited. And waited. I heard the most awful orchestral version of U2 songs for 50 minutes.

I heard the same stupid voice saying: "all our operators are currently busy...," several hundred times.

After half an hour I was bursting to go to the toilet but I didn't dare. After three quarters of an hour the empty Evian bottle on my desk was starting to look like an option.

Then, finally, just as I was about to start banging my head off the desk. Someone answered.

They had no record of my payment. They suggested perhaps the card number had been taken down wrongly.

But, apparently if THEY cock up payments then the next step is just to ignore it and go ahead with disconnection. Now I know my payment was late, but it WAS made.

This was, I was told, my own fault. Apparently, every time you use Switch you should immediately contact your bank to see if it has gone through.

Does anyone do that? For every single transaction? Is it me or is that plainly ludicrous?

Also, she told me, I could have requested to be called if the money hadn't gone through. Does anyone do that either? Every time you make a Switch payment do you remember to say: "ooh but make sure you give me a ring if there's any problems".

So I paid again.

This time, she said, they would ring if there were any hiccups. She would ring Saturday, she said.

Actually though, she corrected herself, it might be Tuesday. If they are busy.


I asked to speak to a superior. Incredibly she put me through. This is in itself a step in the right direction. When I asked BT if I could make a complaint, they told me to put it in writing. Brilliant, a company that specialises in phone/internet connections can only take complaints through the post. Who the hell would be bothered to do that?

I bet they sit back, at end-of-year meetings, thinking what an amazing service they provide. Meanwhile, the poor headphonees are taking craploads on a daily basis.

Anyway, I ranted at the superior a while. He let slip that actually their automated Switch machine had broken down recently. I was glad to hear it. I was starting to think that I had imagined paying the bill.

However, he seemed incredulous that I didn't know whether the money has gone from my account. I don't know, call me reckless and irresponsible, but I just spend the cash till it's gone. I pay the bills, assume (apparently stupidly) that it's gone through, and spend what's left in the pub.

Call centres are a blight on society. I say this despite them being a major local employer. What's more I hate the fact that my wrath is dealt with by the poor bastards who answer the phones.

Call centres are not there to improve service. They are there to maximise profits. It's that simple. In the North East we have been told we have so many call centres because callers like Geordie accents. Bollocks, call centres are here because locals are cheap.

But we're not as cheap as the third world.

What makes it worse is that whenever there is a complaint about this kind of practice, whether it's the appalling service or staff being laid off, the same argument is always used.

"We have a duty to our shareholders" etc etc etc

Not a duty to their customers, or their employees, nor the local councils and regeneration bodies that bunged them millions to locate to this region. No, just a duty to their shareholders. Just a duty to make as much money as humanly possible and sod the rest.

It stinks.

Now I really must go to the toilet.

Love, light and peace (except to the suits at BT and British Gas),


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.