Try to order BT Sport temporarily as a non-BT customer and you’ll be astounded at what you find. I’ve just spent a frustrating morning trying to do just that, and found out that in this commercially sophisticated age a major company’s system is unable to take money from a willing customer. In fact, the entire experience of dealing with BT reminds me why I left them in the first place – except for the efforts of a very capable and friendly customer service operator who was as stunned as I was at the inability of the company to deliver on a basic commercial transaction.
I get my TV through Sky via cable, I have no outside aerial. I get my telephone and broadband through another provider, not BT, because they offer me a better deal. The BT Sport website provides me a button via which to order BT Sports. I wanted to order BT Sport for one month. The price is a rip-off – £12 for the service and £15 for an ‘activation fee’. Expensive work, flicking a switch, it seems. But, mug that I am, I chose to pay it in this case.
I went through the online sign-up process. After filling in several boxes, I was told I needed a black Sky HD box to receive the HD sports service. I have a white Sky+ box. Some web research, though, revealed that it was possible for non-BT customers to receive the service in SD. But that option was not available on the online sign-up form I was presented, and there were no alternative routes.
So I phoned BT. Finding a contact number is not easy – BT seem to prefer to direct customers to long lists of online FAQs. But I found a number and was plunged into an automated system. After clearly stating I did not want to talk about the phone number I was calling from, I was asked to enter the phone number I wanted to talk about! I let the question run through several times so that I was put through to an operator.
The operator proved very helpful. She agreed that yes, I could order the SD service and couldn’t understand why it was not an option online. I had a bit of a conversation sympathising about the amount of aggravation they must get because of how badly the whole thing had been set up as she input all my details. The system went down twice – hard to get a reliable infrastructure with the paltry profit BT makes, I guess – but we got there. Then ran up against a brick wall.
My account could not be registered because, when I was a BT customer previously, it was set up with my initial, not my full first name. So it would take 24 hours before the old account could be cleared and I couldn’t register. I asked if I could then register this time as M rather than Martin. But computer said no again. So I cancelled my order, because the event I wanted to watch would be over by the time my account could set up.
I’ve written about the TV sports deals as a journalist, so I know what the corporate strategies are and I know the packages are set up to incentivise people to take full service. But I can’t be alone in being in the position of never being able to afford to pay for multiple, permanent sports services. Plus, it is impossible to receive more than one full-service package.
I also can’t be alone in being prepared to occasionally pay for a one-off event. While this might be the level of income companies such as BT want, some income is better than no income. In this case, BT’s model is set up to prevent a customer giving it money in some cases. I may not be the most enthusiastic advocater of pure capitalist economics, but even to me this seems utterly ridiculous. I also realise I am a minority case and therefore don’t matter – it’s all about volume. But I wonder how many one-off fees the cable sports firms are missing out on because of the way they have chosen to set up their packages. Or, in this instance with BT, because their basic system of establishing customer accounts is not fit for purpose.
I wanted to make a complaint about the fact that the way the system was set up prevented me from buying a service from BT. But I wanted to check that this wouldn’t reflect badly on the rep I was talking to, who was very helpful, understanding and equally flabbergasted at the inept system. But any compliant would go on her record, so I didn’t push it. That’s very convenient for BT’s senior executives, further insulating them from the consequences of their flawed decisions. They, like too many senior executives, are only interested in taking responsibility for success, and for trousering the profits they make.
I left BT because it was expensive and inflexible. I’ve voiced criticism of the current cable sports market in a piece for the New Statesman. Nothing that happened this morning makes me more likely to return to BT for anything, and I think it proves the points I was making in that New Statesman piece.
We’re constantly told free markets are good for consumers. In the cable sports area, what would be good for consumers – and entirely in keeping with an approach that puts individual freedom to make unrestricted choice to the fore – is for consumers to be able to buy whatever event they wanted on whatever platform they wanted. It is entirely plausible that this would create more spend in the marketplace. Instead, cable sports packages are set up to establish exclusivity, all the better to raise prices. The aim is not to provide the best deal to the customer, but to drive the opposition out of business. That’s good for whoever wins. But not good for the consumer.
The myth of competitive benefit is, once again, exposed.