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Belgacom again

I don't want to keep writing whiny entries about Belgacom, but while they keep failing to provide the promised service I need to vent somewhere.

The latest is that on Monday they cut the office phone and internet without warning (as it turns out, because I had refused to pay the reconnection charge for the last time they cut it). I paid up under protest, and they told me that the line would be back by the end of the day Monday.

Come Tuesday, no line. Called again. (In that simple phrase "called again" should be understood as ten minutes on hold, to be answered by someone who can't deal with your problem and puts you on hold for another 20 minutes until the phone is answered by someone else who can't deal with your problem.) Conclusion: internet connection at least was restored, phone and fax still out.

In the midst of last week's problems I had phoned and emailed Belgacom's official spokesman, Mr M*****, who had sent a suitably apologetic reply and promised to send my complaint on to the director of customer services. I raised Mr M***** again on Wednesday, and got a reply at last late that night (by which time I had left Belgium) from Mr C**** in Belgacom's customer services, telling me that my line was now working again, and incidentally the correct number to call is 078 150036. He also agreed to refund the disputed payment.

On Thursday my long-suffering assistant discovered that the phone line is still down, and also that the 078 150036 number does not work either. I shall let my assistant tell the story of her day yesterday in her own words:
11:15 The Belgacom saga has nearly brought me to tears of frustration. I can’t understand Dutch well enough to navigate their menu (though I understand enough to get to the third level of the menu) but actually as I have tried every menu option and NONE has sent me to the correct person (each person subsequently sends me back to the menu page), I think the options are a bunch of bull. So I’m now back on the general help line, which will mean that I will then have to be transferred (if they’re capable of doing so today, as yesterday they weren’t) to the i-talk department and then they will probably tell me that everything is working on their side so it must be our side, which will require someone coming out to the office probably, meaning the saga will continue tomorrow…

11:24 After having no luck with the Dutch version of the I-talk number given to us by Mr C****, I again tried the number shown on the website page that Mr M***** sent us (080055700). After finally getting through, I asked to be directly connected to someone responsible for i-talk and was told that he could not do that but could write me a “ticket” for being called back by the relevant department in 30 minutes.
[Of course, nobody called her back from that department until much later, and by then she was on the phone to Belgacom again.]
16:03 I have HAD it with Belgacom: My last call was made at 15:23. I called the 0800 55 700 number, as it seems to be the only one in English. As I-Talk seems to be in a category of its own, I chose “all other Belgacom services” from the menu. T** answered; I specifically told him that my PHONE was not working and could he please transfer me to the department responsible for I-Talk. I also asked if he could make sure the person spoke English. He was accommodating. However, he sent me to the TELEVISION I-Talk department. From there, I was transferred again and the person I spoke to said he would check to see what the problem was and put me on hold. The next thing I know, I was connected to T** again!! He was baffled. He transferred me again (I asked him to please put me through to the CORRECT I-Talk department) and I was then connected to someone who said that there had been a lot of problems with I-Talk both today and yesterday but he would try to help. I was put on hold again and then after 10 minutes on hold, the line went dead!

Summary: T**-> I-Talk Television -> I-Talk Phone -> T** -> I-Talk Phone -> Dead line, total time wasted: 30 minutes

16:59 I got a call and was literally on the phone for 6 minutes. During these 6 minutes, Belgacom called and left a message, saying that they had been “trying since very long to reach [me]” (which is absolute bull). They left no contact name or number (just the general number that I have called at least 5 times today).

I nonetheless called this number again, got the customer service desk, was put on hold in order to be transferred and was then cut off AGAIN.

I am now on hold again.

17:32: After being on hold 10 minutes, I was again connected to the I-Talk phone department. The staff member said that there was no problem with our account from their side. I explained that as the phone was still not working, I disagreed. I asked if he could send a technician the next day. He replied that they wouldn’t be able to fit us in the next day but could send someone next week!  I opined that Mr M***** and Mr C**** would probably agree that someone should be sent the next day. He said he would have to transfer me to another department which could arrange for the technician to come. After waiting on hold for 10 minutes, a French-speaking woman answered. In broken French (she could not speak English of course), we confirmed that she was NOT the responsible department and she promised to transfer me to an English-speaking person who could help me. This time, a French-speaking man answered, though he could at least understand English. He informed me that I had been connected to the general French telephone customer service and he would have to transfer me to the I-Talk department.

Summary: English customer service -> I-Talk Phone -> French customer service -> French general phone service -> I-Talk (though at this point, I decided it was time to call it quits for the day). Total time wasted: 33 minutes 
Meanwhile I had received a text message asking me to call a particular number to set up a service appointment (which I cannot do since I am not in Belgium); and an email alert sent at 1730 saying that they had tried to reach my assistant on her mobile phone but been unsuccessful; could she call their general number again? (Interestingly this message was flagged as "Solved" which tells us that Belgacom assume the problem has been fixed if the customer does not call back and complain.)

Mr C**** sent me another email last night saying that the technical people have been told to contact my assistant in the morning and that he will follow it up personally. This morning's message from my assistant:
Apparently there is a problem with our I-Talk platform, which only a technician can come out and fix (hmm, I seem to remember asking them to send a technician 24 hours ago…). However, this time, instead of transferring me to that department, the staff member I spoke to (should have gotten his name, darnit!) said that he would fill out the “ticket” and call me back when he had received confirmation.
But shortly after, a technician got through on the land line to the office, and I am glad to report that 96 hours later, my office phone finally actually works again!!!

But it really should not be like this; customers should not have to badger senior members of staff in order to get the service that we have paid for.

My problems are not unique. Just have a look at the latest Facebook updates which mention Belgacom. Or these blog entries by other people:

Jon Worth, 24 August:
I placed my order online on Tuesday last week and they promised a delivery of the equipment today. Nothing. So I called them.

Belgacom: “But sir, your account has not been opened?”
Me: “Sorry I don’t understand. I have made the order.”
Belgacom: “Yes, but the account has not been opened.”
Me (frustrated): “What does that mean? Is there something I need to do?”
Belgacom: “No, it’s that your account has not been opened.”
Me: “But my modem was supposed to be delivered today. And I urgently need the internet connection.”
Belgacom: “I’ll see what I can do.”

The woman then typed away on the other end of the phone, told me the modem would be delivered Wednesday and that the line would be opened Friday, 4 days later than I had previously been told. No apology, no explanation. And if I had not called to push the matter I wonder when anything would have been fixed!
Fons Tuinstra, 15 September:
End August I had to look for a telecom and internet provider in Belgium. Because that is mostly packaged in a deal with TV, it needed some more study, but I initially decided to deal with Belgacom, the former state-owned telecom company. Our first appointment for the installation was three weeks later. Panic started to emerge, since my internet connection would be gone the next week.

My whole business and a big part of my social activities had moved online, I had – hail Google – retired most of the Microsoft software and did all my writing online. Without a connection I could not keep up with my speakers’deals and miss potential lucrative assignments. For my work on the WageIndicator, I had to deal with online operations in 45 countries. Without an internet connection I could as well retire myself too. Customer service at Belgacom seemed to deal nicely with this despaired customer and promised to speed up the process. Installation was moved and it looked that I would only be offline for a few days and I started to look for local wifi-connection.

At the agreed day – we had to stay at home, since they could not give a time – an engineer arrived to fix a phone line. That was the only thing we still had and we started to make a set of annoyed calls to the Belgacom customer service. After much switching, talking and yelling, we learned that somebody had killed the request for an internet connection. Next appointment we could only have in two weeks time.

We decided to kill the deal, went to the only real competitor of Belgacom, Telenet, and they promised to have us online in less than a week.
"Jaywalker", 1 December:
I spent last night spinning in fury at the mind-boggling sadism of Belgacom (who failed to turn up, or indeed call, during the allotted NINE HOUR call out slot yesterday, this after a two month wait for phone/tv/internet). This included scratching away at my legs until they bled with irritation induced, well, irritation, marching up the road to the Belgacom shop to huff around and call them exceptionally rude names, curling up on the hall floor in a wailing snotty ball unable to breathe for crying, and lying on a bench in the park keening like an orphaned spider monkey.
It's that last testimony of despair that captures very well the gutwrenching horror of listening to Belgacom's awful music without having any confidence that the person at the far end will be able to deal with your problem, indeed knowing that they will probably try to blame you for dialling the wrong number or pressing the wrong button.

I'm lining up several other telcom service providers to talk to when I get back. And I have an appointment with Mr C**** to see if he can persuade me that Belgacom actually takes customer service seriously.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2010 10:24 am (UTC)
Wow, telecoms companies are infamously bad but with various language barriers to deal with as well they sound even worse!
Jan. 22nd, 2010 10:51 am (UTC)
We dealt 3 months with them. Reminds me, I still need to send off that 4 page complaint letter. I forgot to note the dates we were out of a phone again.
Jan. 22nd, 2010 11:00 am (UTC)
1. Why are you protecting the identities of these individuals?

2. Is this appointment with Mr C**** an actual face-to-face appointment? Or is he scheduled to speak to you on the phone? If the latter, do you have any confidence at all that he will do so?

In my experience of telecoms companies, including ISPs, the actual technicians are generally skilled, smart, able, helpful, and polite. Once you can get an actual living breathing technician on the line - or in the flesh - as opposed to some sort of call-centre operative, then you're golden. However, in broken customer-service operations, call-centre operatives have detailed scripts - which they usually have to follow, however absurd, under threat of termination - which entirely prevent them from doing anything to help the customer, including connecting them to anyone who is capable of understanding or fixing their problem. Any organisation like that simply cannot provide good customer service, until the call-centre is fixed, which requires a major corporate upheaval. In other words, no matter how much you complain to Belgacom staff, even at executive levels, they will continue to suck. You are suffering not from a simple failure, but from a systemic failure. Your only option for improved service is to change provider.
Jan. 22nd, 2010 11:02 am (UTC)
Far and away the best telecom service I have ever had was from PSINet, from whom we used to have an internet leased line at work. There were all sorts of differences, but in the end they boiled down to this: when things went wrong, within about 60 seconds I could be talking to an actual network administrator.
Jan. 22nd, 2010 11:22 am (UTC)
Just have a look at the latest Facebook updates which mention Belgacom.

I can't read Flemish, but my broken French is good enough to realise that there aren't many happy people there.

Glad you've finally got your phone service back. I'll never complain about BT again.
Jan. 22nd, 2010 12:23 pm (UTC)
Have you thought of preceding every call with "Hello, I am calling to close my account with you"?. And to repeat that at every hurdle?

Honestly - I would close my account with them. And send them a letter explaining why you did it, resist every enticement, and tell them that they need to sort out their customer service if they want to maintain a customer base, and that you'll reconsider doing business with them when you receive third party assurances that their customer service has indeed improved.

It seems pretty obvious to me that any customer service in Belgium, which hosts the European Parliament, must at least be able to handle the three official languages of the European Union. Or, at the very least, English.
May. 26th, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
I have closed my account with them, and i was cheated twice by their employees, they promised to send me final facture, and after this no communication with Belgacom , but it was a lie, after 9 months they started to bother me with payments requests, additionally to that final, and the reason to close account was that i didn't had internet, it was broken during their works, and i spent time and money with no result to order repair! They didn't answer for my complaint, but continue sending of payments requests for not provided service. Does EU consumer protection laws? No rights to pay for provided only services?
Jan. 22nd, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
Sympathy, but no surprise. Belgacom really does suck this badly; I am very glad to have got out as quickly as I did. I still occasionally get a phone call from them, asking if I would like to "save money" on my phone bill, to which my answer is always "Merci, je m'interesse pas du tout, bonne journee. *click*"

I think I mentioned this before, but Mobistar should be able to provide the services you need through a phone line without recourse to Belgacom, so alongside Telenet it may be worth checking them out. I recently had a dispute with them over a charge I hadn't agreed to; it took a good half hour of my time, but they sorted it out, reconnected my phone and *gave me my money back.* The contrast with your Belgacom saga is mind-boggling.

For an immediate internet connection in Brussels, the service provider of last resort is clearwire. It all works by radio, so the bandwidth isn't that great, but I gather they can normally get you online within 24 hours.
Oct. 6th, 2012 12:20 pm (UTC)
Internet in Belgium is worse than in some 3rd world countries. Belgacom is a prime example of what happens when monopolies get out of hand; even with the "liberalisation" of the Belgian internet market, all you got from the previous monopoly is an oligopoly where a handful of companies have divided Belgian regions and communes into their spheres of influence and rule happily ever after... With the dark presence of Belgacom overseeing them all.

But to get back on topic: Belgacom customer service is abysmal. Today I spent 2 hours trying to get my questions answered. The joke of the day was when pressing "2" to get connected directly to an operator, an error message was played (something about "the service you are trying to reach in unavailable for technical reasons"). Twice I managed to reach a Belgacom operator, but she didn't speak Dutch (helpdesk of the Belgium's national telecom provider, I honestly thought for a moment she was joking) and as my previous contacts with them were entered into their system in Dutch, she couldn't help. Twice she transferred me to the Dutch helpdesk and twice I had to wait on the line (with that incredibly annoying music looping endlessly) and twice the call was dropped due to the hilarious technical problem mentioned above. Finally after 2 hours I got hold of a Dutch speaking operator who was able to help and after checking their system confirmed that my previous complaints have been processed - strangely enough, my e-Services page showed "ongoing complaints: none, closed complaints: none". Very reliable webpage indeed!

All that just to learn where I was with my previous complaint for a botched change of address service courtesy of Belgacom one month prior. At least 1 day a week I use my home connection to work remotely and for that reason I asked Belgacom well in advance to make sure that all is done on the agreed date and that I have my access as requested. I even received a written confirmation that on the agreed date the line would be available as of 18:00 with no additional action required on my side. You can guess the result...

After spending Friday evening and a good part of Saturday on phone (again, that music is just too annoying), I was informed and mis-informed by several heldesk representatives and technical support that:

- The line would be working on Saturday morning, because every time Belgacom activates a line, it actually only starts working the morning after;
- The line should definitely be working within the next 2 hours, "I checked it in the system";
- There is no problem with the line on our end, the system shows it as active;
- The activation team did not do their job, they just marked it in the system as completed, while the actual work has never been done.

The last bit was delivered by the only competent person I have encountered during my dealings with the company and he was helpful enough to configure everything and schedule the activation for the very first available moment.

Finally, on Monday the line was active, but I had no access. The modem was not compatible with the type of my new line (I had an old ADSL modem, whereas the new line was VDSL). Remember that bit about "no additional action required on my side"? I even asked the guy scheduling the move whether I need to upgrade my modem, as I knew the one I had before was getting rather old. The clear answer was "no", I would only need to plug in the cable...

During my attempts to lodge a complaint, I was informed by an extremely rude helpdesk representative (she kept interrupting me, rasing her voice, etc.) that there is no specific complaints department and that they handle complaints themselves (which was obviously corrected later by the complaints department which I managed to reach after a few more calls with the helpdesk). A most unprofessional customer support representative, that rude helpdesk person actually offered me a compensation of what would amount to 6 euros for the screwed up job Belgacom had done. What a way to handle customers!

Now I am informed that a credit note has been prepared and I would get 1 month for free - somehow I'm not getting my hopes up...
Oct. 6th, 2012 12:45 pm (UTC)
I'm not at all surprised to hear this. If you want to contact me by email or Facebook message, I can pass you the details of the senior manager I spoke to at the time of my own problems. They need to hear these things at the top, and the call centres are obviously trained to obstruct the chance that any feedback about their performance might penetrate through to anyone who might do something about it.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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