Dear BT. I would like a little less conversation and a little more action…

It all began in the dim distant past a few months ago when I was struck by lightning. Well, I wasn’t but my landline telephone was and it and its extensions were rendered useless. I phoned BT to see if they could check the line for me just to confirm I was correct in my assumption. When an engineer arrived he did just that and advised I should purchase a whole new system.

A few weeks later I saw on my bank statement that BT had charged my direct debit with an extra £85 and I tried to access my on-line account with BT to see exactly what it was for. It allowed me to log in but when I clicked on ‘my account’ a 1950s photograph of smiley girls plugging things into an old fashioned telephone exchange came up on my screen with a message over it declaring they were sorry but they couldn’t get my account details at the moment. In an instant I suspected that not only hours but probably days of torment on the computer lay ahead. If only I had known….

I dialled the helpline and after hanging on for long enough to make myself several cups of coffee and give my desk a massive tidy, a man called Matthew (who later advised me his name had two‘t’s) offered me his assistance. We began with changing my password which I had already tried several times off my own bat. Then we discussed my mother’s maiden name, the name of my first car, my first dog, my date of birth, the first line of my address and lots of other stuff. After a while Matthew knew more about me than my mother but still would not reveal my account and its details. Matthew then decided it was my computer’s fault. It was clogged and needed to be cleared. I duly followed his instructions which resulted in a lovely clean computer but it made no difference to the problem. He then asked me why I’d wanted to view my account and I told him. He said I had been charged for the engineer which I shouldn’t have been.

“So you can see my account!” I expostulated. He made no comment on this but said he would arrange a refund of the £85. I expressed my gratitude. We then got chatting generally and he told me how he enjoyed working from home and was looking forward to going to Tenerife for a week the next day. He did though intend to solve my problem before he left. We tried changing my username, password and mother’s maiden name several more times to no avail. I wished him a good holiday and left it at that. Our conversation had taken all morning and I had things to do.

Wednesday 10th November.

About three weeks later I still couldn’t access my BT account and realised I had heard no more from the bold Matthew with two ‘t’s. I emailed him at the address he had given me – in strictest confidence, with swearings and heart crossings I would only use it if I was desperate. The email bounced back. Maybe he had decided to stay in Tenerife.

Ah well, I thought, plenty more ‘help’ in the sea and phoned BT again. This time I spoke to a person called Arran (with two ‘r’s I assumed). On his instruction, I once again changed my username, my password, my mother’s maiden name, my first dog’s name and added several constellations in the heavens – but to no avail. Arran couldn’t get BT to access my account for me.

“Strange”, I pointed out, “BT is able to access MY bank account every month and take money out of it but I can’t access THEIR account to see what they are charging me for.”

Arran laughed sympathetically (as he had obviously been trained to do with acid old ladies) agreeing with me entirely which slightly took the wind out of my sails. He did, however, sound as if he was determined to get to the root of the problem and would phone me back.

I was just about to sit down to lunch when he phoned again and demanded I get to my computer. I left my soup to go cold and once again on his instructions, made various attempts to log into my BT account. This confused Arran even more because whatever he told me to do, it did the opposite at his end. I don’t know how these things work but he was supposed to be seeing what I did and when I put in my mother’s maiden name the maiden name of my deceased husband’s mother came up. I then realised the problem. My husband and my mother never had got on….. Stranger things in Heaven and Earth Horatio….. When I mentioned this to him in a jocular fashion his reciprocal laughter rang a tad hollow.

“Look”, he said, “I am sorry but this has me stumped – I am going to have to refer you to a higher team. Copernicus.”

“My gosh.” I said, “That sounds like something out of MI5”.

“Well”, he said, “It is, kind of, and they get cross if I haven’t gone through all the normal possibilities before I hand you over to them.” I felt like a wounded dog on a leash being transferred to an important specialist who was busy and had little affection for my particular breed.

Arran announced he would phone back in an hour.

“No, you won’t.” I said, “I have things I have to do and won’t be back until 3.30.” Again, I had lost an entire morning.

“I will phone you on the dot at 3.30.” He announced and hung up.

Driving over to do the things I had to do – walking my son’s dog for starters – I received a (hands-free) phone call from a girl from BT called Sharon from Cardiff who had heard I was having problems and could she help me? As I drove up the hill to my son’s house she gradually became out of range and to my relief was cut off.

When I got back home by the skin of my teeth for 3.25 I found a text which had been sent shortly after the call from Sharon. “Hello Felicity, it’s Gareth from BT in Cardiff here. Within the next five minutes, I’ll be calling you from an 0800 number. This is to check if there’s anything we can help with. Thanks.” Then, two more messages saying, “Hello, BT here. Your pin is 7555. You’ll only be able to use it once.” Use it? For what?

Then another text: “Hello Mrs Graham, it’s Sharon from BT in Cardiff here. Within the next five minutes, I’ll be calling you from an 0800 number. This is to check if there’s anything we can help with. Thanks.”

Then a few minutes later: “Hello, Sharon from BT here. Sorry I couldn’t hear you. I will arrange a call back later on today, and hopefully the phone signal will be better. Kind regards Sharon@ BT. Please don’t reply to this text – we won’t see it. Thanks”

Then, about an hour later: “Hello, BT here. I’m, about to call on an 0800 number to check on the BT ID problem. Please don’t reply to this text – we won’t see it. Thanks.”

Then: “Hello, Sharon from BT here. Hi Mrs Graham, tried to get a hold of you just then but the call hasn’t connected. Not to worry, I’ve spoken with my manager and we’ve got this raised off to a higher team. I appreciate you’ve been told this once before and we’re still nowhere nearer getting it fixed so apologies for that. I think there’s an issue on our end, give us 48 hours with this to do some digging and as soon as we hear back off that team we’ll come back to you to try one more time. Apologies once again. Be with you soon. Please don’t reply to this text – we won’t see it. Thanks.

Then, about two hours later: “Hello Mrs Graham, it’s Christopher (two ‘h’s – really far apart) from BT in Cardiff here. Within the next five minutes, I’ll be calling you from an 0800 number. This is to check if there’s anything we can help with. Thanks.”

If only any of these people had spoken to Arran – they would have known I was doing other things – or if Arran had spoken to them? Is this ‘Team’ work?

No call from Arran even though I had rushed like mad to get home for 3.25. I hung around unable to get stuck into anything in case he phoned. At 4.30 the phone did ring and it was another person whose name I didn’t get from BT to ask me to once more try to get in to my account and then press this that and the other to change my password and all that stuff.

“I am sorry but I just don’t think I could do that again.” I whimpered.

Soft soap oozed down the line, “Oh, go on Felicity, do it for me -please.” Hah! Was I now with Copernicus – was this chap a sort of BT Bond?

So I did it all again but still got the 1950s girls smiling and saying ‘sorry we are unable to access your account.’ Bond said he would get back to me. I hoped so – he sounded rather nice.

The following day, after a lovely phone-free time at the Ulster Museum with two friends, I went to my computer to look at my emails. A red box appeared above my log-in box which said: “Please check you entered your username and password correctly and try again. If you need help remembering your username or password you can use the links below.” Feeling doomed, I gave up and went to bed.

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