The reason for this entry is that it is quite obvious to those whose job it is to handle complaints that no-one in the UK knows how to report a fault to a telephone service provider properly. Although this entry was written by someone with experience of one specific phone service provider, the advice should be applicable to all.
The first thing to remember is that your phone service provider is a private company, not a public service, so they exist to make a profit by providing good customer service, not to deliver the world in a crystal bucket to you.
What to Do in Advance
Check Your Equipment
It is important to check your equipment. The advisor on the other end of the phone will ask you if you have done this. If you have two telephones on the same line, one faulty one (such as not ringing, or dead) will affect the other one, even though there's nothing wrong with it. They are like cheap Christmas tree lights in that way1.
Hint: 90% of all faults reported on residential lines are caused by faulty telephones or faulty extensions.
To check your equipment
Step 1: Unplug all telephones, modems, digital TVs and anything else plugged in to the line. Wait a minimum of 20 minutes then try the telephones one at a time in the main socket.
Step 2: If this hasn't fixed the problem, unplug everything again. If your main socket has a horizontal line embossed into it with the socket and two screws below it, you have a linebox. Remove the screws and gently pull the bottom part away. Inside is another socket, called the test socket. Plugging a telephone into it will isolate all extensions in the house. If the line is still faulty, it is a line fault and will need an engineer.
If you don't have a linebox, then your main socket is a master socket and your phone service provider should not hold you accountable for any faulty extensions. The visiting engineer will replace it with linebox and fix the extensions for the price of a callout charge.
It is worth noting that if your line is ADSL (Broadband) enabled, you must use the micro-filter supplied when trying a telephone in the test socket.
What's Yours Is Yours, What's Mine's My Own
Unless you have rented extensions from the telephone service provider, the only equipment the telephone service provider has in your house is the main socket and the wiring from it leading outside. There may be a few junction points in addition. Any other extension sockets / wiring are most likely your own property or that of the property owner and your telephone service provider cannot fix it for free. There will be a callout charge plus hourly rate.
In short, try to be sure before you call whether the fault is on your main socket or an extension.
Phone service providers send you a copy of your rental agreement - believe it or not, some even send you a copy of it with every bill. It is printed on page two and contains all the details of the service care provided. To simplify it, the agreement should document a copule of main items:
Their responsibilities: If your line goes faulty your service provider will make every effort to repair it as quickly as possible. If they are unable to repair the line by the end of the next working day, you are entitled to compensation (see below for an explanation of this).
The customer's responsibilities: The customer must not do anything to the line that will result in damage (such as smash the socket, cut the wire or install equipment that is not recommended to work with the rented phone line). To put it simply; if the fault is caused by something the customer did to the line, be it accidental damage, sabotage, badly installed extensions or faulty telephone equipment, the company may charge the customer for the engineer visit and repair time as separate items2.
Reporting the Fault
Some service providers off their own customer support lines. So, for example, BT allow you to call 151 from a BT landline or 0800 800 151 from a non-BT line or mobile3. Other providers provide similar freephone or low-cost numbers for customer support and it makes sense to call the one pertaining to your service rather than assuming BT can sort out a problem with a line from another company.
Hint: If possible, do not call from the faulty line. The reason is that the advisor must test your line and cannot do this if you are on it. If you are on the faulty line, the advisor will arrange for a call back which can take between 1 - 2 hours.
ACE - (Automatic Customer Interface)
Every time you phone BT and hear that female voice asking you to push her buttons, you are talking to ACE. ACE is an automatic, highly customisable interface used by all departments. Remember, if you are suffering, so are the BT people, they have to use it for internal calls as well. Other companies will have their own version of this.
Hint: For those who prefer not to battle through the maze of touchtone menus, there is an option right at the start to queue directly to speak to an advisor.
Type Of Fault
- NDT - No Dial Tone - Line is dead.
- BNR - Bell Not Ringing - Telephone does not ring when called.
- PET - Permanent Engaged Tone - Line acts engaged when it is not.
- NU - Number Unobtainable - All out going calls get "The number you have dialed has not been recognised.
- ESF - Exchange Select service Fault - A select service is not working.
- CO - Cutting Off - Line cuts off during calls.
- NSY - Noisy - Line is noisy.
- BR - Bells Ringing - Bells ring continuously.
There are more types of fault, but those are the most common. Try to identify the main problem you are experiencing. This will avoid confusion and possible delays in repairing the line.
Your service provider should also be glad to accept calls about:
- Street cabling boxes (called PCP cabinets) with doors hanging open.
- Damaged or faulty payphones.
- Decaying or missing telephone manhole covers.
- Damaged, dropped or missing overhead cables.
- Malicious damage.
What To Say To the Advisor
Don't say 'I have a faulty line'. It's kind of obvious. The dialogue will start like this:
BT: 'Good morning you're through to BT faults, my name is Joe. Can I have you phone number please?'
BT: 'And can you confirm your name and address?'
Give the advisor your name, initial, house number, street name and town/post code, all information that is used as validation that you are who you say you are. They will then ask how you they can help.
Hint: Don't say 'Well you can fix my line for a start'. It's not big and it's not clever and it's not the first time the advisor has heard it. It puts their back up.
Hint: Try to remain calm at all times. The advisors are being professional and courteous to you. Pay them the same respect.
Describe the fault in your own words and as succinctly as possible. Don't drag the explanation out any more than necessary. Now is the time to mention any engineers seen in the area, lightning storms, dogs chewing the cable or kids messing with your outside wiring.
Things Not To Ask
- Are there any faults in the area?
- I've been away on holiday, how long has my line been dead?
- Why can't BT test every line every day to check for faults?
The advisor will not be able to answer these questions.
Keep It Civil
Do not shout at the advisor. It's not their fault your line is faulty. It's not their fault you have had to wait a long time. It's not their fault you don't like using Automated interfaces, such as the one already discussed4.
Hint: Never swear at the advisor. They will terminate the call. Contrary to public opinion, advisors do not have to put up with abusive customers, people who swear, people calling to waste their time or people who will not5 describe their fault and simply evade the question.
Have Realistic Expectations
Your service provider is not going to fix your fault in the next five minutes. The earliest time they will possibly respond is going to be tomorrow.
Your service provider is not like every other utility (electricity, gas, water) because those companies have an obligation to provide service to you. In contrast, you have asked your service provider to provide service to you. You are their customer, not its keeper.
Hint: Don't wait until your line is faulty to tell your service provider that you have a heart condition or a panic alarm in the house, or have a terminal illness. Ask about their services for disabilities when you initially sign up (for example, BT has a 'Chronically Sick or Disabled Person (CSDP) registration form', which can be sent to you). Your fault advisor cannot take your word for it when you call to report the fault if you haven't previously notified them that you have special (potentially life-threatening) circumstances.
Don't tell the advisor that your line has been faulty for six days but are only now reporting it. The advisor cannot back-date your fault.
Additionally, having a burglar alarm attached to the line does not obligate them to repair your line any faster.
Business Lines and Service Care
Don't tell the advisor you are using a residential line for business use. It won't affect the ERT6. If you run a business from home, get a business line, or pay the extra (and it's not that much) to improve the service care.
Remember: This means the engineer will get to the fault; it is not a guarantee that the engineer will be able to fix it straight away. If it is dark, or if the weather conditions are not suitable, the engineer will not climb poles or open manhole covers.
If You're Still Not Happy
Customer Service AKA Compensation
It is unrealistic to expect your provider to pay out hundreds of pounds in compensation for your line being faulty. There are three general types of compensation you can expect:
- A rebate based on your daily rental charge
- A compensation according to a fixed rate
- A compensation according to an actual financial loss on your part
The first can be worked out for people who have accepted a divert to another number, like their mobile. In the case of the company referred to for this entry, this means that the company reimburses the line rental for each day the line is faulty plus £1 per day if diverted to a mobile. However, it only calculates for weekdays and does not include the first 24 working hours.
The second option is for people who did not have a divert. It offers a fixed amount of compensation, so for example, they might offer one month's line rental back if the fault is 1 - 3 days long, two months for 4 - 6 days, up to a maximum of 4 months line rental. Options one and two are usually mutually exclusive. You cannot have both.
The third option is an additional amount that can be claimed in addition to eitehr of the first two. It is for people who can prove their fault cost them financially. It is usually only for businesses. There are two things about this option that are important to remember:
The compensation forms for this option are fairly complex to fill in. Most people who ask for them never bother to return them.
You cannot claim for business loss if your line is a residential line. The line rental for residential is cheaper for a reason.
None of these forms of compensation will pay out until the line is repaired and back in service. Compensation is not available if the customer cancels the fault report.
Your provider will have a set complaints policy and they will expect you to follow it; it is highly unlikely that you'l be able to jump up to the most senior manager straight away - he or she will simply refer your complaint back down the line if the proper sequence hasn't been adhered to. A typical sequence is as follows:
Talk to advisor. Still unhappy, talk to manager/supervisor
Manager/supervisor. Still unhappy, talk to office manager.
Office manager, in charge of all faults managers in the building. Still unhappy, talk to site manager.
Site manager, responsible for all personnel in the building or group of buildings. Still unhappy, talk to high level complaints.
High level complaints. Special department in the company. Still unhappy, talk to OFCOM.
OFCOM. Highest complaints authority. Deals with complaints that used to be dealt with by OFTEL until OFCOM superseded it.
There is no point telling the advisor that you will take the matter to OFCOM. The first thing OFCOM will ask is 'Have you followed the provider's internal complaints procedure?' Once you admit you have not, they will pass you straight back to the provider. They cannot deal with the complaint until you have exhausted all of the provider's internal procedures.
Do not threaten a lowly advisor that you will leave the provider if the line isn't fixed or your complaint not addressed. The advisor will respond by saying:
That's entirely your prerogative. Of course we will be sorry to see you go. Shall I transfer you to the appropriate department to arrange cessation of service?
It is not that uncommon for a customer to be so irate that they say yes, and before they know it, they are no longer a customer of that company7.
Remember: Having your phone out of service is not the end of the world. There are many things worse than that in the world.
One provider has estimated that, on average, a typical customer contacts them only once every four years.
Repeat the mantra: 'It's only a phone line, it's only a phone line...'