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Old 13-04-2005, 11:19   #1
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Smile Customer Service Article

This is the article that seemed to spark the current communication between ntl and Cable Forum.

ntl have again managed to pick up an award. However, this isnââ‚ ¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚¢t likely to be one they are going to be proud of. As reported in The Sun recently, ntl can now add †œWorst Customer Serviceââ‚à ‚¬Ã‚ to their many other titles.

Is this a shock to ntl? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Is it a shock to their customers? Based on what is being reported across multiple websites, definitely not.

Was it always this way? Based on what I have found, yes, but not to this degree.

Undoubtedly, any company providing services to the public are subject to complaints from their customers when things go wrong. The credibility of any company within this arena is based on their response to those complaints. It would appear that although ntl have received complaints in the past, on the whole their customers were happy with the service they were getting. That was until around about June 2000.

The History

What happened ??

ntl had advertised itâ₠¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚¢s †œcompletely free internet serviceââ‚à ‚¬Ã‚ and had been completely overwhelmed by the response. This caused a huge backlash from the Customer base. A massive public relations disaster. The Customers were not happy. The big question here was, †œDid ntl learn from this?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬Ã‚Â

For a while, yes they did. However dark times were looming, the first indications were November 2001, in an article produced by the BBC.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BBC
†œ
Quote:
Originally Posted by BBC
NTL, the UK's largest cable operator, has reported a rise in earnings for the three months to September.

But the company has also seen a slowing in the growth rate of how much each user is paying.

And net losses for the quarter increased, partly due to higher costs of servicing the company's huge debts.

NTL said it has enough funds available to see it through to the point at which the business starts to generate cash.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬Ã‚Â


By December, jobs were going †¦ and more evidence of money problems.

Another article in the same month by the BBC, warns of the results.
Quote:
Originally Posted by BBC
†œLow morale

Scrolling through pages and pages of horror stories from disgruntled subscribers on nthellworld.co.uk is an occasionally entertaining, generally depressing reminder that the UK cable industry's notorious levels of customer service don't seem to be getting any better.

Contributions from members of NTL's own staff help to explain why - revealing helplessly low morale, which scarcely surprising in the circumstances.

Or they show a frightening "them-and-us" approach to customers whom some staff clearly view as a whingeing enemy to be outwitted wherever possible.

NTL's problems are deep-seated. A take-over by the banks may save the company from the knacker's yard, but it may make things worse for customers, by distracting senior management and choking off funds to expand call centres and improve staff training.

In the long run a merger with rival Telewest looks inevitable.

But if I were Telewest - which has its own (rather smaller) debts and its own problems with customer service - I'd think very hard indeed about adding NTL's troubles to my own.â₠¬Ã‚

The highlighted paragraph, closer to the truth that the writer probably realised.

By March 2002, the promises of surviving with enough cash dissolved.
Now at this point ntl werenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t alone. Telewest were also experiencing similar problems.

What mattered now, was how they were going to recover and move on.

In April ntl bought out the complaint site www.nthellworld.com with a view of improving the Customer Service experience. This was not to be though.

By June 2002, plans were in place and things started looking better for the company. However, the complaints about the Customer Service werenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t looking any rosier.

January 2003 sees ntl emerge from the bankruptcy scare, 8000 members of staff lighter, and then immediately seem to attack itâ₠¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚¢s customer base by changing the rules.

The rules that were changed angered the customer base, not so much with what the new rules were, although harsh in many peoples opinions, but more so with the way that is was conveyed to the customers. The customers were not going to be told, however, the information was published on the nthellworld.com site in line with its editorial policy at the time. ntl execs decided that someone had to take the fall for this news leaking out. This resulted in attempted disciplinary action against Frank Whitestone, the editor of nthellworld, who at the time also worked for ntl. This disciplinary action was later overturned as FrankÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šà ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s managers, receiving heat from above, had acted hastily and violated his rights and company procedure.

This signaled the beginning of the end for the nthellworld site, as Ashley Grossman appeared on the scene and took over editorial control. In mid 2003, after conditions at ntl became intolerable for Frank, he published his grievance on his website after it was rejected by ntl. ntl exec Aizad Hussain then decided to pull the plug on nthellworld.com, as this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Quote:
Further reading on this chapter of the nthellworld.com site can be found here:

In the mean time, it was obvious to the nthellworld.com moderators that ntl were not to be trusted, and were, at that current time, not interested in communicating with the customers who had severe service problems and came to nthellworld. They created a new customer complaint portal, in the form of nthellworld.co.uk, which launched in the dying days of nthellworld.com. It was created as the moderators felt that ntl would not be true to their word & use the site as a genuine way of improving customer service.

The customers suffer again later in the same year as ntl announce they are to shed a further 2000 jobs.

2004, more bad news, 1500 job losses and the closing of most of its call centres. If things were bad for the customer already, they were about to get a lot worse. The call centres that are left do receive some good news, Glasgow and Cardiff are to get new staff.

Can 850 new staff replace the 1500 that are going †¦ maybe if they had training.

The company receives some more good news in May, subscriber numbers are increasing.

Today

The company is in a much better position than it was during the bankruptcy; however the Customer Service has never recovered. Searching the Internet shows sites such as:-

www.nthellworld.co.uk
www.cableforum.co.uk
www.ntlhell.co.uk
www.digitalspy.co.uk

which are full of complaint stories based on bad experiences There are a number of other sites that also show complaints.

here, here, here, here and here.

There have been recent press reports still highlighting the problems.

The Mirror
Teesside
Watchdog

The problem is not getting any better, in fact itâ₠¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚¢s getting worse.

Future

What happens now, as reported to the press and Watchdog, †œNtl has given assurances that customer service is paramountâ₠¬Â. If this is the case, what are ntl doing about the issues raised by the aforementioned sites?

It seems that there is no doubt that the services that ntl provide are not the problem, we have already enjoyed increased Broadband speed at no extra cost, and are about the enjoy the same again with the new 1Meg, 2Meg & 3 Meg tiers. Itâ₠¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚¢s when we have issues with these services, that problems occur.

With that in mind, I sent this article to Simon Duffy, to seek some clarification as to what is currently being planned in regards to customer service.

This was the reply:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Simon Duffy
Hi Simon

Thanks for sending the draft. Since I only joined the company in 2003, I'm not really qualified to comment on what happened before then or even in the first part of 2003, though as far as I can tell your account of the history to that point is pretty accurate. I would like to comment on what has happened since the middle of 2003, which is when I took over.

Let me begin by telling you what I found in 2003. I found a lot of good people working very hard to deliver the best overall customer service they could...and customer service wasn't bad. However, despite the best efforts of many people, it also wasn't very good and there was no obvious way of making it better. This was because our associates were struggling to deliver good service under the handicap of antiquated systems, poor data, inefficient processes, poor organisation and far too many locations from which to try to serve the customer. For example, we operated from 12 call centres to serve about 3 million customers. Sky, with over 7 million customers, operates from two call centres. This is not an issues of cost, though operating from so many centres is certainly costly and inefficient. It is more about being able to effectively handle customer service from such a complicated operation - you can't attract good call centre managers to run so many small operations, call routing and work balancing between centres becomes almost impossible, putting the necessary network and technology into so many centres is both complex and very costly, and so on. In addition to 12 call centres, we also had 9 fault management reception centres, 9 fault management support centres, 10 retention centres, 7 dispatch centres and 8 collections centres. Our Home division was also organised as 6 vertically integrated business units, each operating in their own way and each responsible for managing their own part of the local newtwork. As bizarre as it may seem, even our network was not managed in a unified end-to-end way. We also had 9 different billing systems. As I'm sure you can see, our organisation was more like spaghetti junction than anything else...and managing spaghetti is not easy. We clearly had to simplify things so that we could have a sound organisational and operational base from which to improve customer service.

During 2004 we reduced the call centres from 12 to 3, the fault management reception centres from 9 to 3, the fault management support centres from 9 to 1, the retention centres from 10 to 1, the dispatch centres from 7 to 1 and the collection centres from 8 to 4. We also consolidated the 6 vertically integrated business units in Home into one sales and marketing unit and one operations unit and put the local network back into our network division so that it could be properly managed end-to end. We also invested in the technology and people to operate the three call centres and three fault management reception centres as single 'virtual' operations so that it makes no difference to the customer where they call. We also reduced the number of billing systems from 9 to 3. We also did quite a bit more, but I won't bore you with all the detail.

This was a massive amount of change to manage, but it had to be done if we were to create a sound platform from which to improve customer service. To be frank, not all the change is complete and we still have one or two more things to do, but I am happy to say that the vast majority of it is behind us. That now puts us in a position where we can concentrate on investment and training to start to make things better - and we are doing so.

For most of 2004 our customers were unaware of what was going on because the people responsible for the change, which started in February last year, handled it so well. However, one thing went wrong in September which caused customer service to take a turn for the worse. We had a problem with part of the new billing system, which drove inaccuracy in bills, delays in provisioning and problems in collections. This in turn drove significant increases in the number of calls into the call centres and we struggled to handle them properly. As a consequence, call waiting times and call abandonment rates went up and customers became understandably frustrated. We also upset a lot of people by asking them to pay amounts they had already paid or by not disconnecting them when they asked to be disconnected. Both these problems were due primarily to the issues with the new billing system. We could see all this happening in the call statistics, which began to rise in September and rose very sharply in October and November. We were already on the case of fixing the underlying problem but it couldn't be done overnight. However, we got on top of it as quickly as we could and the number of calls began to fall in December and have been falling in the first three months of this year. In fact, the service levels we are seeing today are the best they have been for a very long time. That is not to say they are perfect or that we do not acknowledge that we can do a lot better, but the crisis is over.

So in summary, in order to lay the foundations for much improved customer service, we had to go through a massive amount of change in 2004. With one exception - the problem with the billing platform - it all went much better than anyone could have expected. However, the billing problem bent us out of shape towards the end of the year and many customers suffered as a consequence, for which I apologise. Things are now getting back to normal and we are on a path to much better service than ntl's customers have ever seen in the past. I am confident that when we look back on 2005 we will see a story of much-improved service.

I would like to comment on one or two specific points you make. You rightly point out that in late 2003 I said that up to 2000 jobs would go as a result of the reorganisation, though I also pointed out that this was not the main purpose of the changes. The main purpose was what I have described above, but it is inevitable that as you reduce the number of locations you will also need fewer people - ntl had the worst of both worlds: it was both ineffective and inefficient and I wanted us to become the opposite. You say that in 2004 we announced more bad news in the form of another 1500 job losses. This is a misunderstanding - the 1500 were part of the 2000 I talked about in 2003. We have concentrated on three call centres - not two - Glasgow, Swansea and Manchester and are making very significant investments in technology and training to ensure that the new staff we have recruited there are fully-qualified to serve our customers.

Simon, I hope you find this response helpful and that it puts things in context and answers your question - 'What is ntl doing about the issues raised by the aforementioned sites?' The short answer is - we have done a great deal though we know we still have to do more; we acknowledge that a problem with a new billing system created a host of customer service issues towards the end of last year, for which we sincerely apologise, but that is now mostly behind us; we are investing in people, in technology and in training to raise customer service to the standards our customers deserve and rightly expect; and we fully expect that 2005 will show significant improvements over 2004.

With best regards,

Simon.
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Old 13-04-2005, 13:10   #2
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Re: Customer Service Article

Thanks for the info Nemmie, 1 thing though, there are 2 S's in your links teesside sorry mate, not a biggie to you southerners but ............
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Old 13-04-2005, 14:55   #3
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Re: Customer Service Article

Quote:
Originally Posted by bopdude
Thanks for the info Nemmie, 1 thing though, there are 2 S's in your links teesside sorry mate, not a biggie to you southerners but ............
Corrected
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Old 14-04-2005, 13:00   #4
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Re: Customer Service Article

Interesting read Nemmy. Never knew half of what happended, and as an ex NTL customer of some time I have not had to deal with NTL cs for a long time now.
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Old 15-04-2005, 07:01   #5
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Re: Customer Service Article

Good on him for replying. The CS isn't as bad as it once was - well, waiting times aren't, anyway - what is bad is CS rep knowledge.

Tech support are excellent, though.

My main problem with NTL is their broadband service. I'm going to have to leave in May, because they won't offer me the service I need, thanks to their caps. It's just totally uncompetitive.
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Old 07-05-2005, 14:02   #6
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Re: Customer Service Article

i would love to understsand where you guys are coming from, but in my heart speaking as an ntl employee i cant see it ever changing under present managment.
all we ever get is it cant change over night, but this nightmare didnt happen over night.
it was always an accident hot spot waiting for sombody to be killed before they got them selves on watch dog.
wot did simon and peter think that everything in ntl world was hunky dory prior to that.(well out of touch in my opinion,and hoping to be well out of it soon!!)
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Old 07-05-2005, 14:03   #7
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Re: Customer Service Article

We heard you the first time
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That's odd. Your post was showing up twice just now.....
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by the way
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Old 07-05-2005, 14:25   #8
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Re: Customer Service Article

Quote:
Originally Posted by bopdude
Thanks for the info Nemmie, 1 thing though, there are 2 S's in your links teesside sorry mate, not a biggie to you southerners but ............
yeah wots that all about!!!
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Old 07-05-2005, 15:07   #9
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Re: Customer Service Article

[QUOTE=Raistlin]We heard you the first time
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That's odd. Your post was showing up twice just now.....
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by the way just getting used to it matey
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