Most inane customer service #fail ever

Most inane customer service #fail ever

Summary: Broadband service provider ntl:Telewest terminated my account today moments after its customer service lines closed for the day, leaving my no way to resolve the issue for SIXTEEN crucial hours. How inane is that?


I'd like to submit my experience today with cable provider ntl:TeleWest (part of the Virgin Media group) for entry into the all-time customer service Hall of Infamy. It really takes the biscuit as a lesson in how to rile your loyal customers and ensure their undying enmity. I won't mark it down as an #epic #fail just yet, because it hasn't been one of those painfully long drawn-out episodes (though that could still happen, of course). But in my view it certainly qualifies as one of the most inane examples from a broadband service provider of how not to treat customers.

First a prolog to set the scene. I phoned customer service to pay my monthly bill this morning, forgetting that the time was just before 9am. Yes, I know on the bill it says that "Staff are available to take your call between the hours of 8.00am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday." But the bill stationery was printed a couple of years ago and for the past year, the customer service hours have been 9.00am to 5.00pm, as the recorded message reminded me when I got through (it's not the first time I've done this). So I called back a few minutes later after 9am, got through to an agent and settled the account with my payment card. It wasn't overdue and there were no problems on the account. In fact, the bill confirmed that I'd successfully moved onto the new call and broadband tariff that I'd ordered in January.

So this afternoon, I got on a call at 5pm my time (9am Pacific) to get an update from the product team at Intacct on their latest release, and shortly after we got talking, I noticed that my Internet connection had gone down. It doesn't often happen, but in my experience any faults are quickly resolved so I wasn't panicked. One of the reasons I pay extra (I've always rather smugly told people) for the ntl:Telewest business service is to make sure I'm not left for days on end if there's fault. So I phoned up the fault line, quickly got through to a human being, and reported the problem.

My jaw hit the floor when the techician at the other end of the line explained what had caused my outage: "the Remedy profile is showing the subscriber as ceased/disconnected." The only way to resolve the problem, he went on, was to call customer service. Whose hours (as you may recall) are 9.00am to 5.00pm.

Yes, ntl:TeleWest customer services terminated my broadband service moments after closing down their call center for the night, leaving me with no way to challenge and resolve the issue for 8, no wait, SIXTEEN hours (time that, for someone doing a lot of business both in the US and in Europe, is crucial). How inane is that?

I'm posting this from a local Starbucks, using my BTOpenZone account (which I suppose BT, in its smug way, would say is an example of a lost subscriber 'coming back to BT'). I'm still fuming. I don't need this unwanted extra hassle just now. I've paid a premium rate to secure a better level of service and I've been a satisfied ntl:Telewest subscriber for two and a half years. I even upgraded my service package last month (and in all likelihood, the service termination has happened because someone has goofed the switchover). And all the company had to do to keep me happy was to have a policy of doing terminations while their customer service call center is actually open, so that if an error's been made, the subscriber can get it fixed right away.

Instead, I've been dealt the sort of slap-in-the-face customer service #fail experience that one never forgets. One that could have been avoided by building a simple extra failsafe into the process.

UPDATE [added 11:21pm Pacific, 7:21am local time]: I've switched on this morning and, miraculously, the connection is back up and running without me even having to wait to call customer service at 9am. I've had no communications about this so I'm assuming some kind of internal process has automatically resolved the problem. For all I know it happened last night, I was too tired and fed up to check again later on.

To those in Talkback who say, I should calm down, get a backup and use a provider with 24x7 customer service: what really wound me up was when I called the 24x7 customer support and was told the problem could only be resolved by the 9-5 team. This was a huge failing in the support cover and that's why I made it the main point of my write-up. As for backup, I have my iPhone and the option (which I used) of going to Starbucks, but I have learnt from the experience and I think I'll investigate getting a secondary provider as a further failsafe.

And yes, to those who say this is a warning against relying on the cloud; I am keenly aware of the irony of this happening to me just a few days after becoming one of the new EuroCloud industry group's European vice-presidents. Businesses of all sizes are increasingly reliant on the cloud, which means they must treat it as a critical service and make sure they have several layers of failsafe around their connection, while service providers must take their business seriously, offer robust services and have failsafe processes to back them up.

Topics: Broadband, Enterprise Software, Networking, Software

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • At least you can publish it here

    They'll sorely regret this very soon. You'll have the manager of their customer service team on the phone real soon, I predict.
    Daniel Breslauer
  • Oh go get laid and get over it.

    Your sweety would like the company... maybe..(ahem!)


    The world isn't going to come to an end because you lost one night of connectivity. Call them in them in the morning, and tell them to shave a little off the bill for the inconvenience.
    • Bad taste remark

      Next time, try to be a bit more serious. Not everyone may appreciate such comments.
      Daniel Breslauer
      • Same applies to your remark (nt)

        The Mentalist
        • No it doesn't.

          Your remark was uncalled-for. His ISP treated him to some extra-bad customer service: canceling his account the same day he paid them--wth? and then saying they couldn't do anything about it till the morning. He's right to complain about it. A callous "get over it, it's not the end of the world" remark is unnecessary and misses the point.
  • Stuff happens.

    Stuff happens. That's life. Resolve it, move on.

    Next time have a backup plan. Heck, it's incidents like this that are why I'm not so fond of the whole worshiping of the idea that we'll have an "always on Internet." It's just not gonna happen. Murphy's law catches up sooner or later.
    • Really?

      You really think that "stuff happens" and that this is ok? Have a "backup plan"... Wow. I don't think so. All of my TV programming streams from my ISP to my television (no need for cable), my phone is VoIP (no need for a phone line), and I also work from home and need the Internet to work 24/7. If my Internet goes down then I get cut off from the world, my customers, and my work. For these reasons I'm really glad that my Internet hasn't gone down for the past 5 years and that's the way it should be. The Internet is a communication medium and it needs to be stable and reliable.
      • Of course

        But nothing is perfect so relying on it to be is a bit silly especly for a buisness man.
      • Yes, "stuff happens"

        If you run a business, do not have an SLA
        contract with your provider, and have no backup
        access plan, they YOU are responsible for lost
        revenue due to Internet down time. Lightning
        strikes, constructions crews, DDOS attacks...
        your Internet connection can go down at any
        time for almost any conceivable reason. Have a
        backup. Everything fails eventually, be it a
        mechanical failure, electronics failure, or a
        previously unknown software bug, EVERYTHING
        will fail at some point.
      • An old homily

        It states it is unwise to put all your eggs in one basket.

        That is one of those old bits of wisdom that remain true.
    • Re: Stuff Happens

      Actually, the whole internet is run on O'Doule's Hyothesis :

      "Murphy was an optimist"
  • Sorry I agree with him, when you pay it should work!

    Read the post! He pays a PREMIUM. Its not free and he NEEDS it for business. Obviously he should have chosen a better provider. Fortunate for him its not the weekend. I will not use a provider without 24/7 customer service.
  • How's that cloud working out for you, Phil?

    Would this be one of the downsides?
    • Well

      Its his isp's fault realy! and they should know better.
      Besides there are options like working offline until the conenction comes back up.
    • This is not enterprise level cloud computing

      Phil and all,
      I think that this effectively show one of the weakness of Cloud Computing but let's not panic (sorry for the lack of compassion here :)...

      All Cloud Computing evangelists (like myself) know that the model contains some points of failure that may not exist with on-premise applications. But we are sold on the mass amount of advantages not on the lack of drawbacks...

      Say that you were hosting an Exchange server in your basement instead of trying to use your GMail account. Yes you would have been able to write your emails (as with Google Gears btw), but guess what, no incoming traffic, no out-going emails, so similar result except that you don't have the pain to maintain nor the upfront cost of an in-house email server.

      The issue is based on the contract you have with Telewest. As an individual, you don't have a strong enough SLA and there is no way you can negotiate it either. Businesses in the other hand have got some financial leverage to negotiate before signing an order. This also exists in all industries not only the cloud: if you manage a car fleet, you will certainly get a better service than if you only own one...

      That's the reason why I always separate Cloud Computing stories between "individual" and "organisation".

      Good luck with it though, it's got to be a pain!!!

      Fabrice Cathala
      • It's *my* enterprise and it matters!

        Sorry to disagree Fabrice, but as more and more large enterprises increasingly rely on the services of small, specialized contractors, then it is an utter fallacy to say that enterprise size is any measure of relative value or importance of the work that they do.

        For my business, I want total reliability (which is why I prefer cloud services than trusting my onw Exchange server in the basement by the way). Of course I should have made sure I had a back-up service rather than exposing myself to a single point-of-failure; my bad. But please don't give my provider the excuse that, because I'm a small business, I don't merit a top-quality service, provided I'm willing to pay for it.
        phil wainewright
  • I can't imagine a "business" service without 24/7 support

    My company would be laughed out of business if we failed to provide 24/7 support over the phone for priority 1 (outage) situations. And we have call center scripts that deal with configuration mistakes (not billing disputes) after hours when the billing department is closed.

    The best I can tell you is that your current provider is either incompetent or uninterested in customer sat, or both. It may be that the competition is equally bad, and that's why they get away with such a slipshod process.

    As somebody else commented, you could at least ask for a free month's service when you speak to them tomorrow, considering this is a "business class" package. And you could start looking elsewhere.
    terry flores
  • RE: Most inane customer service #fail ever

    Wow. Words fail me.
  • Check to see when your service was restored...

    You should call and check to see when your service was
    restored.... it'll be on file. You may find that the
    support person you talked to took the initiative to
    restore your service nearly immediately, despite the
    policy they were supposed to be following. This would
    then move it to the "Bit of Problem" category to "Good
    Support Despite Silly Company Policy".

    I know that losing 16 hours of connectivity... despite 8
    of those hours being devoted to sleeping ... feels like a
    big deal. But really, compare this to, oh... the
    hundreds of families (including 13 Make a Wish
    Families) who had planned to travel to Vancouver for
    the Olympics and have just found out their
    accommodations have just been cancelled because the
    booking company wasn't making enough money. Talk
    about bad customer service....
  • RE: Most inane customer service #fail ever

    I do not see this as a cloud issue. The issue here is not that there was an outage as outages also happen with on premise solutions. The issue was the SLA and the requirement for Phil to be expected to wait 16 hours to resolve the issue. As has been pointed out, an increasing number of individuals work remotely either as one-person shops or as tele-commuting employees and these folks rely on the internet heavily to get things done. A back-up plan would certainly help, but a more responsive provider would be an improvement.