Philip Sheldrake

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BT’s social failure drives customers away

You'll know that consumer facing organisations are investing shed loads in social media. Right? But how intelligent is this investment? Are they even getting the basics right?

Thinking or just acting?

This is the number one differentiator in my book between the success stories and the also-rans. There are those who truly 'think' social. They have reviewed operations from the ground up in light of the age of social media. Every aspect of business is reviewed systematically through the lens of social media, and strategy is developed on this basis. And whilst they are to be celebrated, this post is about one company that has visibly #failed in my eyes in recent weeks.

BT's woeful social inadequacy

BT Ireland logo (2005 - Present)

Image via Wikipedia

BT is the UK's number 1 Internet Service Provider, yet a May 2011 upgrade to the firmware of its customers' home routers left Linux users unable to connect to it.

And in case you didn't know, Android, the world's fastest growing operating system for Smartphones, is based on Linux. So BT does not currently provide me Internet service for my Android phone, leaving me and other customers in my position having to use the more expensive 3G data networks than home broadband. Disgraceful.

But this isn't a blog about ISPs. This is a blog about social media and customer relationships and business performance. Enter BT's support forum (at http://community.bt.com).

The specific post about this technical fault runs to 20 pages already, and was going nowhere fast. No resolution from BT. So I took to Twitter and moaned a bit, and ended up in conversation with Dinah Greek, a journalist for ComputerActive, one of the UK's most popular computer and Internet related consumer publications. To its credit, BT was also monitoring Twitter (and I had helpfully hashtagged #BT and the name of its router #homehub). To its discredit, all @btcare could do was point me to the 20-page thread where no help from BT was forthcoming. And then go silent.

And this is where it gets completely bonkers. If I'm being kind, it's where one gets taken back in time to a pre-social age where support forums were the be-all and end-all of interacting with customers online.

You see I posted my frustrations to the support community, thanked Dinah for helping us resolve this problem and invited readers of the thread to get in touch with her. I provided her email address as she had invited me to do via a public Twitter exchange.

The next thing I know, that part of my contribution is deleted by an admin, and I was furious. Another member of the forum pointed out the deletion, and then guess what?... the admin deleted that too!! Unbelievable. I haven't seen anything like this since the pre-social dark ages. In another post to the thread, I then pointed the BT admins to the Tweet in which Dinah had given me permission to publish her email address to the forum, and this post got deleted too. Double gobsmackers Batman.

I then receive an email pointing me to the "private messages" left for me by the community's admin. Here's the main parts of these messages:

Hi psheld,

I wanted to let you know that I have edited your recent post in the thread about the Ubuntu [Linux] isssue. The elements I have removed break section 7.1e of our Terms of Use:

7.1 You agree not to use the Site (or any part of it) to:

e) solicit participation in public discussion, debate, comment or activity outside this Site;

...

I also want to let you know that discussion of moderator actions is also not allowed on our boards as perm term 6.3h -

h) Discussions of moderator actions on the boards. If you need to comment on a moderator action, please private message any administrator/moderator;

...

I know this is a frustrating issue for you, but we are aware and working towards implementing a fix. Any updates regarding timescales for this will be posted on the thread.

You are welcome to post in the community, but please bear in mind the terms and guidelines for any future posts.

Thanks for your help with this. Kerry

So social media BT-style requires that one not solicit public discussion or debate or activity beyond BT's website. And you're not allowed to discuss BT's partipation in this conversation either. Wow, sounds like one of those repressive regimes we're seeing so much of on the news of late (without wishing to be flippant about what such regimes must be like).

How long will BT's customers put up with this behaviour? I for one have decided not to participate on this community ever again (apart from one last cheeky post linking here, until it's deleted that is), and to change my ISP as soon as my current contract expires.

So rather than culture great customer relations, BT's social media policy has had quite the opposite effect. Well done.