Communications provider Bulldog claimed last week that it has resolved its recent problems and made a fresh start, after suffering months of technical difficulties that enraged many of its customers.
Andrew Morley, Bulldog's chief commercial officer, told ZDNet UK that Bulldog had "turned a corner", following Ofcom's decision last month to close its investigation into the company.
"The clearance from Ofcom, which was one of the fastest investigations ever, has put a buzz back in the place," said Morley. He explained that Bulldog has increased staff numbers in its call centres from 50 to 350, after many customers complained they couldn't get through to Bulldog to discuss their problems.
"We've over-invested, and the average waiting time for a call to be answered is now under a minute," Morley said.
Bulldog is now launching a new marketing campaign to persuade potential customers that the company can be trusted to deliver innovative, high-speed Internet access and telephony products. It is also taking on Apple's iTunes story, by selling music for 79p per song and £7.99 per album — part of a range of multimedia services that will be sold as the Bulldog Lounge.
But some Bulldog customers dispute Morley's claim that things have improved. ZDNet UK contacted 14 users who had all complained about the service earlier this year. Of this group, eight said they were still suffering problems, while just two reported that they were now happy with the service.
The remaining four had quit Bulldog altogether — an indication of how much damage this year's problems have caused the company.
Morley was surprised to hear these numbers. He claimed that less than one percent of Bulldog's customers were using its complaints procedure at present.
"If you're still having problems, then talk to us. We have a very robust complaints procedure, one that we know works," said Morley.
Some ZDNet readers appear ready to take advantage of Morley's offer. James, a senior IT architect, has been without a home telephone since 23 June and said recently the broadband connectivity is "spotty at best". He went on to explain that: "one of the biggest issues is that their billing/finance department is clueless when it comes to trying to accurately bill customers. I have outdated and incorrect bills still coming. I imagine I have never even had the service fully installed.
"They can get away with things like this because most small customers, like me, can't afford a big enough law firm to get them to take interest," Morley concluded.
Others agree with the billing issues. "There seems to be a problem with their billing," said one reader, who asked to remain anonymous. The reader said they had been billed for "service for a period even before it was activated. And they [Bulldog] refuse to make the change even though they've told us so over the phone. The Web site also doesn't allow access to the billing area. And the bills keep on accumulating past amounts."
For some though, the billing issues have worked in their favour — so far at least. Ian Santry wrote: "Since joining up the service has been fine. I've had to call customer service a couple of times and that has been far quicker. A line fault resulting...
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...in no phone or Internet service was fixed in seven days. I've not received a bill in three months, though."
But Santry's contentment was unusual in our straw poll. Another reader, who also requested anonymity, rated the business broadband service as pretty poor: "On occasion (up to several times an hour) the connection will be lost for up to 10 minutes. Last week they actually gave up guaranteeing a service. That they are not technically competent enough to make a simple 4Mbps ADSL line work reliably given six months to resolve issues never ceases to baffle me."
Another another reader, again talking to ZDNet UK on condition of anonymity, found it hard to put in writing his dissatisfaction with Bulldog. But he tried. "My frustration is so great that it causes me to become almost neurotic..." the reader wrote. "I have called the customer help line many, many times and when I do get through after up to an hour of waiting I always get told that a technical support person will call back, which they never do. Emails to the customer service centre generate an automated response with a ticket number and a message that someone will call, again they never do... I'm currently trying to get the service disconnected so I can go back to BT."
Yet another reader speaking anonymously has gone further. "I have left Bulldog in frustration at having no assistance with my problem of having no phone line or Internet for some weeks…" he wrote. But like Ian Santry, this reader has still to receive a bill, leaving him wondering whether he will be billed for the period where he was signed up to the service but not able to access it.
Others who have left Bulldog are still experiencing problems. When Brendan Smee cancelled his service he was told he had to give 30 days notice, which he felt was fair enough. But even though he has said he is happy to pay for the 30 days, he has since moved out and new residents have moved in, "so the new tenants cannot get a phone connected and can still use my service to make calls." Smee has since received a bill charging him for a period after the disconnection date. "Bulldog should be stripped of their licence," he said. "The company is not fit to operate and satisfy customer needs."
Geoff Henshall was one of the happy users, who said that over the past couple of months he has seen improvements with Bulldog's Internet service as well as with its customer and technical support service. "Most calls are picked up within a minute or so, as opposed to an hour or never when I first joined," he said. "So if I was to rate Bulldog it would be minus five stars for the first three months and four out of five stars now, a big improvement."
But for Ravinder Gill, the experience was very different: "After six months of silence, Bulldog finally sent a network operations engineer down to my house," said Gill. "He conducted a series of tests, and finally admitted that the problem lay in the Bulldog ATM network that serves my local exchange (Southall). After three weeks of further investigation they finally delivered the 8Mbps service that I should have received in the first place. This also fixed the poor speed problem for all 200+ users for the South Harrow and Southall exchanges — they obviously weren't as vocal as me!"
After being told he would get compensation for the unacceptable level of service he received during that six months, he is still waiting. However, Gill did have a good word for the Bulldog engineers: "The customer services and billing departments are still appalling," he said. "But Bulldog's saviour has been the presence of one or two highly capable Bulldog engineers on ADSLGuide's forums, this is where I managed to make contact with the engineer, who pushed for a solution to the speed problems."