Trapped in an Inefficient Routine

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my battle with BT to get them to explain why my broadband stopped working twice a day according to a mysterious, not entirely predictable, timetable.  The problem has now been fixed, some 12 weeks after it began, but in that intervening period I had an insight into how the truths of the dystopian worlds portrayed in novels like Brave New World  survive and flourish; where it is the system not the individual that has value, and where, with enough conditioning, people can be convinced of nearly anything.

It turned out that a road accident at the end of December had damaged the junction box in the street and disconnected it from the mains electricity supply.  As a temporary measure, the box was powered by a battery which had to be changed twice a day. If the battery changer arrived late, the power ran out and I (and many others) had no broadband for a couple of hours.

I had had two visits from BT engineers and four extended telephone conversations with a call centre in India before anyone was able to furnish me with the explanation of the problem.  Instead, each of these people followed the routine of steps that they did every time, for every customer with a problem: they checked the line, they instructed me to press reset buttons and checked the line again.  They were deaf to my explanation that this was a regular but intermittent problem; nothing in their on screen prompts allowed for this.

While it was a relief to finally hear a logical explanation for the regularity of the broadband failures, it was also infuriating that an issue which was clearly known about somewhere within the BT organisation, as someone must have arranged and been paying for, the battery changing routine, took so long to be explained, and that there seemed nothing within the business to stop the call centre employees and the engineering team from wasting their time on utterly pointless line testing,when there was nothing wrong with the line that a little electricity couldn’t fix.

It was the chronic waste of time, both mine and the BT staff members’, that prompted me to write my earlier blog post.  Surely a well run organisation, and one in the information and communication sector, one that uses the strap line ‘we’ll never slow you down’ on all its advertising would be interested in knowing how poorly their ‘Customer Care’ systems looked from a customer’s point of view?


Or perhaps a well run company might…….

Out of pure mischief I sent a link for my blog to the BT chief executive, and was astonished to receive a reply from him.  I’m fairly sure it was from him rather than a polished PR; it had the look and feel of something typed out on a blackberry in the back of a taxi on the way to something more interesting.  I was even more surprised at the gist of his reply, which was to blame the electricity company for failing to fix the supply.

There was no acknowledgement that there might be team members within BT who were performing entirely pointless jobs, spinning their wheels wasting time to no end, and that a review of the process might be in order to perhaps initiate a a simple notification flag on their system to prevent a recurrence  no acknowledgement that as my service provider BT is responsible for maintaining robust contractual arrangements with third party suppliers, rather than simply blaming them.

I subsequently received a more polished response from a member of ‘BT retail Executive Level Technical Complaints’, which I assume is the code name for the team who have to deal with people who have managed to complain directly to the chief executive. This explanation repeated back to me the things I had been telling the company for over 2 months, and then blamed the electricity company, yet again glossing over all the time wasting.

The whole experience has painted a perfect image of a dystopian world in which what it important is to follow the procedure, to feed the machine, to give the appearance of doing something, no matter how pointless, rather than to address the real underlying problem; and the people who are inside this system don’t see anything wrong with it, in fact they may even like the comfort of it.  It’s easy: you follow the rules, do what you always do, and if that doesn’t make the problem go away, blame someone else, because it can’t be the system that’s wrong.  Because if the system is wrong, what is there left to believe in?

With my old professional hat on, I would rail at the management’s responsibility for the  reduction in shareholder value because of the fundamental  inefficiency in the company; but I’m not a shareholder (and never will be), and these days I look upon these sorts of experiences as great material.  There’s definitely the grains of a story in it…….

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     /  April 6, 2013

    Oh god – this sound all too familiar….


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