February 9th, 1999.

REF 34973.

You know it is not at all easy to come up with something new, original, and/or interesting every week. 'Meanwhile (Back in Reality)' was a great idea when I had a lot of time on my hands but these days I am pretty busy all the time, leaving me little time to sit down, and ponder the subject of a 'meanwhile' then write the article. More often than not I end up writing it in the blurry hours of the morning with just the annoying beeps of my American spell-check program to keep me from falling into a deep comatose state!

This week is much the same as every other week. It has just gone midnight and here I am sitting in front of my trusty old Mac pondering on what I can tell you all about this time.

I could tell you about how confusing I find my all-new central heating system to be, having somehow managed to mess it up to the point where my changes to it have now made it cease from working at all, leaving me sitting here in the attic room quite literally shivering as I write this.

Or maybe I should tell you all about the ceiling caving in at the flat below my old place in Birkenhead. But then, no, thinking about it, that might not be the wisest of ideas. "Anything you say may be used as evidence" and all that.

Truth is I haven't gotten a clue what to write about this week. I guess I have a case of what they call 'writer's block'. I'd write about writer's block, but then that's an extremely overused cliche, isn't it?

Instead, I think I'll just sit here in the cold and gripe about something that really annoys me. That is companies that don't return your calls or emails.

I know, this is a really lame excuse of a 'Meanwhile' subject, but for weeks now I have wanted to moan about the fact that companies don't appear to care about customer service once they have gotten your cash. For example; Microsoft. Has anyone in the world ever gotten a reply from someone at the 'Outlook Express' or 'Internet Explorer help email address? Or what about Postmasters. You know the situation, you have written to someone and the mail gets bounced back to you like a kids ball, with some so-called informative message saying something like 'illegal seek'?! You reply to the 'postmaster' with a question to the tune 'what does that mean', and the said postmaster never replies.

Recently I have paid British Telecom the unearthly sum of one hundred and sixteen pounds to come and put a telephone line into my house. A quite unfair amount of cash, in my opinion, because they are going to be charging me for every single second I spend on the damn phone! Anyway, to cut a long story short, there have been problems aplenty with the whole BT service since I decided to have the line installed. So many in fact that I decided to complain.

As a believer in the web and the age of electronic communication, I decided to go see if BT had an area on their website for me to lodge a complaint, or at the very least get an email address for me to write to.

Like all good multinational corporations, their site was as bloated and mammoth as their profits. Once I have found my way through the swamp they probably call 'site navigation' I managed to find a link to get details of how to contact them via email. I followed the said link and found myself at a web form (with no apparent email address either on the page or within the code of the page I might add!).

I filled out the form with my details and the issues that had been raised in my dealings with them. There was a choice box giving me reply options from which I chose email. That was on the 27th of last month.

Two days passed and so I decided to take the unique reference number the web-based form had generated for me and give BT customer service a call on 150. I quoted the reference number to the assistant who had the misfortune to pick up my call, and they timidly came back to me telling me that their computer did not recognize the reference number. Neither did they know anything about the web, let alone the company website. The excuse was "we have not been trained on that".

A few more days passed, and yet more complications to the whole telephone issue were cropping up. Again I called 150 and spoke to some other clueless assistant who, try as they did, was not able to help me with the whereabouts of my reply from the web-based form. They even went as far as to tell me that "the website has nothing to do with us", this coming from the companies customer service bureau?!

In the end, I gave up all hope of ever getting an email from BT. I had consigned that email to the same place as the ones that Microsoft and Postmasters the world over ignore. The damage had been done, the impression made. We've got your cash mate, so we don't give a toss now!

Then today, from the dark recesses of internet nowhereness, came this response from BT's 'Multimedia helpdesk'.

Dear Mr. Jones

Thank you for your e-mail of 27th January 1999 regarding BT connections charges.

Unfortunately, the set connection charge is 116.33 inc vat where no BT line has existed before. This cannot be reduced no matter how long you have been with BT at previous addresses.

I have checked your new address and noticed you have decided to go ahead with BT connection. For whatever reason I am please that you, ass a valued customer, have decided to stay with BT.

Yours Sincerely Donna Oakley Multimedia Helpdesk ref 349731

Now hang on a minute. " I am please that you, ass a valued customer"? What the hell? This nice helpful Multimedia helpdesk person has not only shrugged off my email with alarming decisiveness, but they have also made some fairly basic typo's that almost call me an ass!

This response has come way too late, been completely unhelpful and what's more, when I called BT to ask for the 'Multimedia Helpdesk, the operator said "Sir this is British Telecom, we don't have a multimedia department, we are a telecommunication company. Who are you trying to call?"

When this is the so-called help people receive, why even bother? The disappointing thing is that this is not an untypical response from companies with regard to email. Telephoning may not always be fruitful but it has to be said, most companies at least have someone there answering the calls. With email, it seems everyone, from the big to the small, considers your electronic mail less important than more traditional forms of communication, and in a world that is getting increasingly wired, that really tangles my cables!