British Gas Woes lead to 9 Technology Failures

I thought technology was meant to make our life easier?

Got a British Gas Customer Services email today saying my new bill was ready online. As they sent a meter reader only the other day, for the first time I thought I’d check the bill online. Seems the doddery old fool needs new glasses, as he read the meter wrong: he read 6,013 when it should have been 5,013. Which means we were over charged to the tune of £250 !!

The first technological challenge then was to print out the bill, which appeared to be much harder than it should have been. First off, Print Preview crashed Firefox for some reason and I had to reload (2 browsers and 30 tabs take a minute or two!) Technology failure number 1. Then the bill didn’t fit on the paper with the default page margins, so I had to keep fiddling the Page Setup and going back to Print Preview to stop it cropping the actually numbers off the bills right side. Technology failure number 2.

Then I noticed that the bill slightly over ran to 2 pages, but that page 2 had just some rubbish footer stuff on, so I elected to save a print page and printed only page 1. Silly me, the printer only printed the first half of page one, missing out the vitally incorrect meter reading info. So I went back and printed just page 2. Nope, that gave me… just page 2, sans the missing info. So now I had page 1 and page 2, without the actual bit I wanted to keep a record of: the incorrect meter reading, doh! Technology failure number 3.

I try again and do a full print of both pages and miraculously, all the info is there, including the British Gas incorrect meter reading. Finally.

So back to the British Gas site as I still need this fixed. The “Submit your meter reading online” button is tempting, but I’ll be putting a reading in that’s less than the last “official” meter reading. I didn’t spend years working on Utility Company billing systems without realising that that’s just the sort of scenario that’s going to lead to 3 months of hell trying to sort out the billing mess that’s inevitably going to ensue. Anticipated technology failure number 4. So no, I resist the allure of the easy path and trot off to the help section….

I navigate the help sections and can’t find anything that deals with my problem. No mention of incorrect meter readings anywhere. So I search the help for “incorrect meter reading” and get 64 hits, with the page showing results 1-10. No, no help on the first page, they are all about meter readings, but nothing that addresses my problem, so off to click “Next Page”. Hmmm, that’s strange, it still says showing results 1-10. Huh, I’m still on the first page of results?!? 2 minutes of clicking and redoing the search and refreshing later, and I can still only get results 1-10 of 64. Technology failure number 5.

Ok then, the dreaded Contact Us page, fully expecting to get a premium rate number only option. Hold on, what’s this? A form to fill in, and it’s pre filled some of my details as I’m logged in, that’s nice. And there’s more, it’s a simple form, with just a few options, and they seem to make sense. Excellent, I make my selections and type in the nature of my “query” explaining carefully what’s happened, and what needs to happen to fix it. The form informs me that I have a 5,000 character limit (generous by today’s standards) and helpfully has a counter that shows how many characters I have left as I type. All very thoughtful and my confidence increases as a result.

Over confidence, that was my mistake. Conned I was. Lulled into a false sense of security!

Finishing my diatribe, I go for the submit button… Click…. What’s happened? I don’t understand? I appear to be still on the Contact Us Form page. Yes yes, there’s all the details I just filled in, that’s right. But what’s this, now it wants my name and contact details and account number, but it already knew all that a before. Ah I see, it’s logged me out while I’ve been typing my query. Even though I only used 1,000 of the 5,000 words available, the session time out time is too short to cope. Technology failure number 6.

I copy my text to the clipboard. Login again. Go back through the help, back to Contact Us, and refill out the form, pasting my text back into the query box (as I predicted, it hadn’t remembered what I wrote). And now off to click Submit again…

Huh? What am I still at the Contact Us Form? What happened? Nothing it seems, oh wait, there’s something different: everything is the same except now there’s a message above the Submit button that wasn’t there before, it says (paraphrasing): “Click to submit your query, be sure to click the submit button only once, when you do, you’ll be given a reference number”

!?! But I just clicked it already! Technology failure number 7.

Hmmmm, maybe British Gas will email the reference number to me. Check email, nothing. Wait 5 minutes, check email again, nothing. Nope. Ok the forms broken, lets try that submit button again. Click. Ah now we’re cooking on gas, a new page has appeared, what does this say: “System Error, please try again” Gah! Technology failure number 8.

Back. Submit. System Error, please try again.
Back. Submit. System Error, please try again.
Back. Submit. System Error, please try again.
Back. Submit. System Error, please try again.

I give up. I’m going to have to call them. Oh God, this is going to hurt, both in terms of my phone bill and my sanity.

Actually, this is where the story takes an unexpected turn. I’m going to call customer services of British Gas, and it’s not going to go how I expected at all, this is one story you won’t believe!

First to find the phone number, ah there’s a “Call us” link. Hmmmm, select your number: “Online Gas and Electric Account Enquires” that should do it. Oh, there’s a surprise, not a 09xxx premium rate number at all, a 0845 4p per minute number. That’s still too rich for me, so off I trot to www.SayNoTo0870.com which has a database of 08xx numbers and gives you their geographical numbers, ie the number that you can call that *is* included in my mobile phone tariff.

Sure enough, I look up the British Gas Customer Services problems number 0845 6005001 and get given this geographical number: 0113 338 1022. So I call them on the mobile (I get 5 free hours per month, which I never use up). As I expected, it goes straight away to music and I settle in for a long wait on hold, putting up with musak and sporadic announcements about how wonderful British Gas is. Did you know for example that their 5,500 qualified engineers (grrrrr, technicians they mean. But don’t get me started on that hobby horse!) will fix 3 million boilers this year? No, neither did I. Nor if I were British Gas would I publicise the fact that say many of the boilers that they have undoubtedly sold to their own customers over the last few years, seem to break down so often. But I digress.

As I *didn’t* expect, my call was answered within about 4 minutes. That’s not bad. Nor did I expect not to hear the sound of Bombay Rickshaws in the back ground, this girl was English! (Nicola I think, or something.) I paused, waiting for the normally scripted opening: “Can I have your name, account number, address, date of birth, mothers maiden name, inside leg measurement of your dog….” but that didn’t come either, just a pleasant “How can I help you?”

Not to be put off, I immediately started by grumbling about their broken website, to which I got what actually sounded like a sincere apology! Hang on, what’s going on here, this isn’t how things normally go? Ignoring my placated grumbles, I braced for the full impact of dealing with some numpty who I had to explain the problem to 5 times, in between her “checking with her supervisor”. I dove straight in:

“Your meter reader has over read my meter and your last bill has charged me for 10x the gas it should have. I didn’t want to use your Submit an Online Meter Reading form as I’d be putting in a lower number.”

“Ah right Mr McNulty, no problem.” That was an unexpected start, but even my wildest optimistic side didn’t expect what happened next: “You did the right thing by calling, I need to cancel your last bill, take your meter reading, and issue a new one. Let me do that now. There, that’s your old bill cancelled, what’s your current meter reading?”

“Errrr 5,030” I said, rather stunned.

“5,030, right” she continued, “There that’s a new bill done for you, you are actually £137 in credit Mr McNulty. You can check online now, that will be immediately updated for you. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

…… pin …. falling …..

“Errr, no. That’s fine. Thanks. Goodbye.”

Sat at my desk, not really knowing what to think, I notice that email is coming in. It’s 5 identical emails from British Gas, they all say this:

————-
Dear ,

Thank you for submitting your query online, the details of which are given below:

Your query

“”.

We shall be in touch shortly to resolve this query with you.

Kind regards,
British Gas Customer Services
————-

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Technology failure number 9.

So if you’re reading this Ms British Gas representative (like eSure did to my post about my experience with eSure customer services) I can conclude that your website needs a lot more work, but your Customer Service Staff are doing a fine job and should be congratulated. Well done for having a 0845 number (even though I didn’t use it); well done for answering the call quickly; well done for having a UK call centre; well done for having well trained knowledgeable staff; well done for exceeding my expectations, and well done for solving my problem to my complete satisfaction on the first call.

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