BT accused of customer retention hypocrisy

The communications giant is in a spat with B2B broadband provider Unicom over the rules around trying to convince departing customers not to leave

BT has registered a complaint with regulator Ofcom claiming broadband provider Unicom is breaking wholesale line rental rules by trying to convince customers thinking of leaving the smaller telco to change their minds.

The communications giant's retail arm has alleged that Unicom breaks the rules as a result of its actions after receiving notification from BT that a customer wants to switch provider.

Unicom responds to such notification by ringing the customer to check if they really want to switch away from Unicom, and BT claims the smaller provider then takes this further by trying to convince the customers to change their minds. If true, this would constitute a breach of wholesale line rental "conditions of entitlement" as "misuse of certain information in the context of Network Access Arrangements".

However, the case closely echoes another complaint brought in July by Carphone Warehouse against BT, and Unicom's chief executive Simon Clarke has suggested that this previous case is the motivation behind BT's new allegations.

"Following Carphone Warehouse's complaint, BT wishes to have it out in the open what the industry is doing," Clarke told ZDNet UK on Monday. "We say it is not a genuine complaint — BT never contacted us about it prior to going to Ofcom," he claimed.

Clarke suggested that so-called "save" calls were standard industry practice, and there is "nothing wrong with doing this".

"We are confident that this complaint will not be upheld and Ofcom's investigation will show that Unicom does adhere to good practice," he added.

A spokesperson for BT told ZDNet UK that investigations by the company had uncovered numerous complaints by Unicom customers who had wished to leave, claiming that their transfer orders had been cancelled by Unicom without their knowledge.

"A number of companies — in particular Unicom — were making calls [to customers who wished to leave their service], then cancelling soon after despite the customer not consenting to the cancellation," he said on Tuesday, adding that BT had found "a number of examples of that" in March, April and May of this year.

BT denies any link between its complaint against Unicom and the one made by Carphone Warehouse against BT in July and insists the new complaint was a "genuine complaint backed up by genuine instances of customers having their orders cancelled without their consent".

"You are allowed to contact the customer to check that it is a genuine call and you're allowed to check the details, but you're not allowed to then try to persuade the customer to change their mind as the information is supposed to be in confidence," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson denied that BT's call centre personnel ever employed similar tactics, and also denied Clarke's claim that BT had failed to contact Unicom prior to taking its complaint to Ofcom.