On the Front Lines with BT

Lines were drawn in the sand, artillery stood armed and ready, and tensions ran high. Neither side was willing to budge, and despite the seemingly endless conflict having already tested the resolve of both sides, it looked like things were only just beginning to get rough. The whole scenario was regrettable--war always is--but it felt inevitable at the time.

Besides, how else was I going to get internet access in my house?

Wars are fought for a variety of reasons: for power or territory, for religions or ideologies, for oil, and so on. I had never counted the internet among those, but in the midst of a three-hour tour de force on the phone with BT (British Telecommunications) earlier this week, I suddenly found myself on the defensive. Under siege and caught in a war of attrition, basic civility was cast aside. My ears--oh, my poor ears--were bombarded mercilessly with repetitive muzak, my adversary's weapon of choice. It was brutal.

At one point, during a period on hold that can only be described as legendary--lasting an oppressive ninety consecutive minutes--I began to consider surrendering. Sure, if I gave in and hung up I would probably never have internet access in my new house. That would be unfortunate, but how long could I keep this up? It was almost noon on a Monday, and I hadn't even left home yet. I had things to do! Clearly, I was unprepared to face an opponent who does this for a living.

But, no, I cast those doubts aside. I was in this for the long haul.

As the ordeal continued to unfold, I got to thinking (and boy did I have time to think, spending such an extraordinary amount of time on hold), and I realized that dealing with customer service bears a striking resemblance to international relations. Come on, I had to find some way to pass the time!

In both, your first (and hopefully only) avenue should be diplomacy. We're all better off when everyone gets along. I have something that you want? Well, you have something that I want. Why don't we trade? I want to be able to sit around in my underwear and write in my blog. BT wants my money. OK, no problem there, right?

Of course, diplomacy doesn't always work. At times, the situation can disintegrate into all-out warfare. This can happen in a split second, with the first signs of battle coming quite unexpectedly.

BT: "Sir, we can't actually give you internet service, because your line has been 'marked'."

Me: "Marked? What does that mean?"

BT: "Even though you have a BT line, it previously had internet service from another provider. So, your line has been marked. Do you know what service they had?"

Me: "How would I know? I don't even know who lived here before me.

BT: "Oh, I see. Well, if you can find out what internet service provider they used...."

Me: "That's basically impossible. Although, if you find out, please let me know, because I'm becoming increasingly interested in checking them out" (OK, I didn't think of that last part at the time, but that's what I should have said.)

BT: "Oh."

Me: "Well, can you remove the mark?"

BT: "I'll see what I can do."

Famous last words. I was on hold for the next ninety minutes.

The siege was on. It was tough--grueling, even--but I survived. Unfortunately for my adversary, I was hardened by the experience, and now that I had been backed into a corner, I had nothing to lose.

Memories born in the fog of war become hazy with time, as the brain attempts to block out the horrors it has witnessed. I don't quite recall exactly what happened next, but I remember hearing a human voice (the first in what felt like an eternity), and I recall something about having to call back in two days. Helplessness. A sense of injustice. Rage.

It's unfortunate that in our society, those who are least culpable bear the brunt of the war. The powers in charge are rarely held accountable, while soldiers fight and die for a cause dictated to them by their superiors. It really should be the other way around, but since soldiers continue to go to war, and since they continue to fight, the system never changes. They do so for a variety of reasons, from the idealistic to the mundane, but I got the feeling that the one I was up against was just there to make a living. However, I was at the point of no return, and it was immediately apparent that there were going to be some casualties in this encounter.

After a few trying minutes, though, using some of my best tactics, I was able to break through the front lines. Progress, at last!

Once I reached the commanding officer, it was clear that things had turned around in my favor. My demands were met (the "mark" was removed), I could go on living my normal life (just a few hours behind schedule), and I got internet access.

Well, not quite. I'll have internet access in a couple of weeks, when BT gets around to delivering the necessary equipment. That's about as much as I could ask for, all things considered, so I'm satisfied. BT is as well, I'm sure, now a few pounds richer each month. In fact, most of the parties involved escaped relatively unscathed. Basic human rights were upheld vigilantly, for the sake of the infantry, and in a progressive twist of fate, the officer in charge caught more flak than the foot soldier.

As tensions continue to die down and peacetime politics resume, the recent conflict will be pushed to the back of our collective consciousness. Before long, it'll fall off of the radar completely, which is probably for the better, since grudges can only hurt normal diplomatic relations.

Not everyone will forget, though, and it's likely that at least one of the players involved will be a little more prepared the next time...

...God forbid, of course.

Disclaimer: No customer service representatives were harmed in the making of this post.


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My favorite BT call centre experience was when one of my housemates was having trouble connecting their laptop, whilst mine connected fine. I phoned up and explained the problem:

Operator: "It sounds like it might be a problem with your phone line".
Me: "No, I don't think so, because another computer using the same connection is working perfectly."
Operator: "Hmmm, yes, but it still sounds like a problem with your phone line."

I paid for the premium rate priviledge of this circular conversation for a couple more interations before giving up and fixing the problem myself.

Hmmm. And I'm moving at the weekend myself. Bets on it being easy to transfer my account?

Wow, first time I've ever heard of an ISP having trouble when it comes to taking your money. Personally always found it was the cancelling of accounts that was the difficult bit.

Sounds worryingly familiar.

Seriously, though, don't you find there comes a point where you have to suspend the usual rules of morality, where you have to start playing dirty? Where, not to put too fine a point on it, you have to get Clauswitzian on their asses?

I normally find that elevating the call to the manager and trying to convince them that they know you personally is a good bet...

By Corkscrew (not verified) on 23 Aug 2006 #permalink