NTL do not understand the concept of moving house

We moved house last month, and it took NTL four weeks to reconnect our TV, phone, and broadband---counting from the date they agreed that the changeover would occur. Including the ten days' or more lead time we gave them, we were deprived of all three services for over a month. We have yet to discover whether they are billing us for the services we did not get.

There were two main problems, one major and one minor. The minor problem is that, since I was moving house rather than a new customer, I has to phone the special reduced-service House Move line, which has reduced hours (09:00-17:00 M-F) and very long queues, unless you call before about 10:00.

The major problem is that wiring up the new place is something that requires the physical presence of an installer, and NTL cannot schedule visits for toffee. In the second week of May we arranged the visit for the 21st. I stayed in all Saturday, but no installer arrived. When I phoned afterwards I was told that the install was marked as 'complete' and that they would email the field office to get them to phone us to make a new appointment. They did not phone until Tuesday 31 May, and arranged a visit for 1 June and (after another no-show) 8 June. Eventually, after I called to say I had had no call from the field office (again) I got someone at NTL's call centre on my side and an offer for a visit later that very day. I cycled home and poked about the kitchen for random scraps of food for lunch, and waited for the installers to arrive.

Once they were there the installers did a fine job, running wires in all sorts of creative ways to allow us to have our TV upstairs and the cable modem in the opposite side of the house from the phone, and so on. So far as I can judge, they worked efficiently, did not dawdle or waste time, and took a little over two hours. During this time they at least twice recieved phone calls demanding they add another visit to their rounds today. These they ignored as obviously impossible: they already had two more 'triples' that day. The impression I get is that the people scheduling visits have un unrealistic idea of how many installs can be done in a working day, and once they have to start juggling today's scheduled visits with extra visits for irate customers who got missed last week and doubleplusurgent visits for people three weeks late the schedule all goes to pot. I idly wondered if all the analysis computer scientists have done with scheduling algorithms would help here.

I also think there is a terrible lack of useful communication between the organizing centre of NTL and the people on the ground who actually do the work. NTL's database spent weeks claiming the job was done---I had to start each phone call explaining that the installer had not told me why the job was unfinished because I had never met him. Now the job was done, it was I who had to persuade them that the visit had occurred, and I was calling them from the phone that had just been wired in...

I could not get my broadband connection to work. When I phoned their broadband support line, it turned out the solution was to visit an obscure web site (she had to recite the IP dotted-quad over the phone) and enter the password assigned to us a year ago when we first got broadband. This wored fine, and the support person could not have been more polite and efficient in diagnosing the problem and correcting it. The only problem is that I should never have had to make the call in the first place! NTL knew I was moving house, their database knew my router's MAC address and all that jazz, so why did I have to reregister at all? And if I did need to reregister, surely they could have told me I needed to and saved a call to their support lines? But, no, it seems their system for co-ordinating the change-over is to just wait for the customer to call technical support.

In similar vein, I then spend several days phoning repeatedly to ask why we were not receiving any channels beyond BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and C4; each time they said the billing system had not quite understood that we were installed now, and that they would try entering my box and card numbers again. Finally I experimented with calling the fault line rather than customer service and lo! the TV started working almost as soon as I hung up. I wonder if they have some system where customer-service employees can't really make changes, whereas the fault-fixers have greater access to the bits of the database that were going wrong? The fault line also has infinitely preferable on-hold music.

Conclusions? Well, most of my friends gave up long before we did, and have Sky + BT + DSL as their comms solution: in at least once case, a friend has switched from NTL because of their customer-service problems. We stuck with NTL partly because installing a satellite dish would be no fun, and, besides, we don't want to give Murdoch any more money than absolutely necessary. My advice to other people struggling with NTL would be:

  • call very early (as soon after 09:00 as possible), especially during the student-go-home period of June;
  • get a speaker phone or hands-free headset if possible to allow you to get some work done while on hold;
  • a pocket-sized notebook with your account number, smart-card number, box number, and phone number etc. will allow you to phone NTL in random bits of free time and track which parts of the menu tree remain to be explored; and
  • if you can figure out a way to construe your problem as a fault, you may get a better service from their fault line.

A word of caution: the story is not quite over yet: NTL have not yet sent us a cheque for the £110·89 they overcharged us for the year before we moved, and neither have we seen any evidence as to whether they intend to charge us for the period we had no service.