Search This Blog

Monday, 3 August 2009

Treating consumers well as we move forward

One of the major problems in identifying notspots, resolving ISP issues, delivering first gen broadband, and regulating/advising what is required has been the lack of a centralised 'hub' for consumers....

Those of us who get to deal with irate and frustrated broadband customers every single day are seeing a growing number of people whose complaints, technical problems and so on are just not getting dealt with in a "timely fashion", particularly by the major ISPs. This is causing major heartache, economic problems (eg when the connection is to a small, home-run business), and stress. Often, people just don't know where to turn for help and are frequently paying for a connection which, quite simply, doesn't work.

Sometimes, Ofcom, ASA and others endeavour to step in and make the ISPs and telcos behave properly, but for some reason our telcos seem to believe that they can get away with appalling consumer/customer relationship management and customer service, regularly hiding behind arguments such as "the phone works so we aren't obliged to do anything more", (twice this week so far from people I am trying to help) and Ofcom occasionally, (I use that word advisedly) seem to have forgotten their remit.

Ofcom's Statutory Duties
Under the Communications Act 2003:

" 3(1) It shall be the principal duty of Ofcom, in carrying out their functions;
(a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
(b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition"

(NB. No mention of putting industry first there.)

What the consumers and citizens require is simple.

When there is a problem with a broadband connection, that complaint needs to go not just to the ISP (who in many instances it is bordering on impossible to get a straight answer from, and who can drag problems out for months, if not longer, especially bouncing it back and forth between BT and themselves), but ALSO to a central hub which:
  • records the issue

  • allows there to be transparency, openness, honesty between ISPs and consumers

  • helps consumers see whether there is possibly a technical issue in their area, with their ISP etc

  • offers the chance for the many helpful people out there to step in to assist broadband users with problems.

Let's use a fab consumer/citizen resource as an example WhatDoTheyKnow

MySociety have done a great job with this for Freedom of Information requests, and it is held up as an exemplar, as with many of their other tools and resources.

Now, Ofcom should employ them to do the same for telecoms services, consumers, and providers.

How it could work:

You have a complaint about your broadband, you go to the site, pick your ISP, and then choose one of the templates available to submit your problem. All personal information is redacted from the system, although town/county or first 4-5 digits of postcode would help others in your vicinity search on known problems and solutions, which could actually reduce complaints over time.

The complaint is then submitted to the ISP complaints department. The ISP complaints department responds, hopefully with a solution, through the website. If they are a reseller of BT Wholesale services and pass the buck to BT, that process is done automatically, but transparently within the system. If, within a certain time limit, as with FOI requests, no solution has been forthcoming, then we move to the next stage, which is of course the ADR (Alternate Dispute resolution) scheme.

The endgame of this is to help ISPs serve their customers well, and to help customers get a decent, transparent complaints procedure that works. And then get their broadband back!

The benefits of this are, and I can think of many more:

* If the system flashes up an alert that 20 people in the same area but on different ISPS are all having problems, then BT can be persuaded, forced, cajoled (pick a word) by Ofcom to deal with the issue in that area. Or another service provider can step in and replace BT by installing an alternative broadband solution - whether that is FTTH, FTTC, satellite or wireless.

*If one particular ISP is seen to be the repeated recipient of complaints, then Ofcom can step in to ask the ISP what the problem is and how it can be solved.

*Customers planning to move can review ISP complaints on the site and make informed choices about which ISP to go with based on how they deal with their existing customers.

*If people report that despite numerous efforts to get broadband, they are still no closer to getting it, (and we have people in our inboxes who have been waiting YEARS in notspots) then this will help feed into the demand base for NGA and prove the need for investment.

*There is a clear "paper trail" for all consumers and ISPs, eliminating any misunderstandings and getting problems out in the open so they can be dealt with before issues escalate out of control.

* ISPs will be able to clearly monitor where their customer service is working, or not.

* This system will fill the gap now, and far into the future, for present and next generation consumers to be protected from poor customer service and substandard broadband connectivity, whilst protecting ISPs from serial complainers in forums, on Twitter etc.

*UPDATE: This article about customer retention and wasting marketing millions shows why telcos need to focus on customers in such a way as suggested

Need I say more? heard it here first!


Cyberdoyle said...

my dad's problem is a bit different. It started a month ago, up to then his connection worked quite well, and he even went over his allowance as my brother and his family visited and used a lot of bandwidth while they were there. At first we thought he had been capped or throttled, but our ISP checked and said he hadn't. The ISP got us to replace the router, remove the phones from the line and tested it all out. Dad has a new installation of phone line, and all is modern and new. He has a new PC, my brother sorted it all for him, and it was working great.
So we have fast PC.
New Router.
Good ISP who checked it all out.
Good home installation.
No phones/faxes or anything else on the line.
ISP called out the BT engineer, as the line was crackly, and then the broadband died altogether. Before the engineer arrived even the phone had gone off. We reported the phone line fault and the engineer came and said there was a line fault 440 metres away from the property. He switched dad on to two new pairs in the cable and got the phone back on. The broadband was back but tests showed instead of the usual 1Mbps dad was only getting 0.1Mbps.
He tried to download 'top gear' on Iplayer. it took 3 days.
We spoke to the ISP again who sells for BT wholesale. They had come up against a brick wall, as BT wholesale said there was a problem with the physical phone line and not with their supply to our ISP.
The ISP has asked Bt wholesale to sort it with BT but still nothing happens. Last week the phone went off again. They said it was a 'fault in the exchange' and fixed it, but now there is no broadband at all. BT refuse to fix it because the phone is still working.
Dunno what to do only keep tweeting about it... can't make any sense of the ofcom site, as don't know who to blame. The ISP says if we call an engineer out we will get charged because the phone works. Our ISP doesn't seem to be able to get BT wholesale to sort it out. Who should be sorting this out?

Cybersavvy UK said...

This is precisely why I wrote the post. Consumers just meet brick walls. I don't know the answer to your particular problem - the post was a solution to this and all problems for the future.

Submit a formal complaint to your ISP, in writing. Get a response from them so you have hard evidence. Record all phone calls with them or stick to snail mail/emails.

Submit a complaint to BT, who presumably you get the phone line from. In writing.

Then Ofcom says wait 12 weeks. Ho-hum.

Only after 12 weeks or a deadlock letter can you use the ADR. Phone the Ofcom advisors, tell them everything and see what they suggest. Point out that complaints system is fing useless for your average consumer who does not want to be without broadband for at least 12 weeks.

Point out to ISP that your father will not be paying for the service until it works again as they stand to be in breach of contract. Cancel direct debit. Connect him through the community network, which does work.

Twitter is not the place to be doing all this. Use pen and paper and emails so everything is in writing and using mechanisms that these people should understand.

Cyberdoyle said...

thanks for the advice, will do all that. It just makes me think that life is too short to be doing all this, we have better things to do..