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BT residential customers Services

Nick Godley for Guardian Money StoryNick Godley, a retired bed and breakfast owner, has been a BT customer for more than 40 years. Photograph: Miles Brignall/The Guardian

Lots of people complain they have suffered terrible customer service at the hands of a major company's call centres, but not many will have followed Nick Godley's example and got on a train to take their complaint to the firm's headquarters.

So frustrated was he that no one at BT would reconnect his phone and internet service for more than six weeks – or, he says, even call him back to explain why – Godley decided that, rather than spending another day on the phone, he would visit its headquarters in central London.

The retired bed and breakfast owner, a BT customer for more than 40 years, spent £30 on a train ticket to get to the capital this week after hours trying to get BT to connect him and his wife after they moved home from Wales to a village near Braintree, Essex.

After spending a great deal of time talking to the company's call centre staff, he claims BT's customer care is "not fit for purpose". He went to London, he says, because he wanted senior staff to hear his experiences first-hand.

"I wanted to convey the unbelievable sense of frustration in trying to deal with BT's call staff in which no one seems bothered or is prepared to take ownership of a customer's complaint, " he told a BT media relations boss at its City of London HQ after Guardian Money intervened.

His comments mirror the experience of other Money readers, who have said it is often impossible to talk to someone capable of sorting out quite ordinary problems. On the same day Godley contacted Money, an email landed from a reader who has been trying since early April to get a line installed for her 92-year-old aunt, who is blind and disabled, and lives in a care home.

Godley's travails also started in April, when he and his wife moved house. Before the big day, he called BT to tell them it was happening and give them the date. For an unknown reason, the previous owner told BT that he didn't want Godley to take over the line, at which point the telecoms firm simply let his request lapse.

When he realised after the move that nothing had happened, Godley called again. He was told that, rather than simply transferring the line he had inherited, BT would have to treat it as a new line installation.

An appointment to reconnect the line was cancelled. Godley says he can't say who cancelled it, as no one at BT knows. Calls to the Indian call centre were fruitless, and a promised return call from a manager didn't materialise. Eventually he got through to a supervisor at the UK call centre. He repeated the saga, and was promised a return call which didn't happen.

Godley rang back and was eventually given a reconnection date of 6 June – which was then 10 days away. As part of the broadband order, he was asked to give his email address. He gave the one he had used at his previous address as a BT customer, and was told he couldn't use that, as someone was already using it. When he pointed out that it was him, the call centre worker couldn't or wouldn't accept this.

"Calling the company is a nightmare. The queues are too long, the options too many and you never get to speak to the same person twice. No one is prepared to actually take control of your complaint. There is a BT line into the home – so how hard can it be? BT clearly take the view that ordinary residential customers are of no account and do not deserve even the most basic courtesy. If you spend a few minutes on the web, as I did at my brother's, as I had to go there to check my emails, you will see I'm not alone. Thousands are suffering this dreadful service."

A BT spokesman said: "We are sorry for the delay in providing service to Mr Godley. We have now connected his phone line and activated broadband. Although Mr Godley had a poor experience, BT has been improving its customer service generally. In fact, over the past three years, we have reduced customer complaints by 50%. We continue to take action to make substantial improvements to the delivery of our services. This means keeping our promises to customers, being easy to contact and straightforward to deal with, keeping customers informed, and taking action to address the reasons why they complain." BT is also sending Godley two bottles of wine.

However, another customer, Jenny Patrick, who lives in Harbury, Warwickshire, has also been struggling to get a line installed for her aunt.

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