Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Cheaper than BT - Scottish and Southern sells mis-information

I'm registered with the Telephone Preference Service and I always 'opt out' from receiving marketing calls - even from companies I buy from. So when I get 'cold called' at home I want to know why.

Today Southern Energy Gas and Electric called me. I buy my gas and electricity from them and now they want to sell me my home phone. When it comes to energy they are top for customer service and very competitive on price. But as a telephone provider well, let's see...

It's a surprise for the badly briefed sales operator that (following my recent spat with BT) that I'm so up to date on the price of BT's calling plans.

Southern Energy are 'much cheaper than BT' gushes the young salesman. 'We've rented lines wholesale and are renting them on to you much cheaper than BT want us to - and our call packages are much cheaper too'.

Once the Southern Energy salesman explains their line rental is £10.49 a month and evening and weekend calls just £2.49 a month I tell him this is actually more expensive than BT - if you sign up for a 12 month contract (rental £10.50 with paper free billing - and free evening and weekend calls). He is taken aback and confused.

I ask for my call to be transferred to his manager. I ask the team leader to repeat the sales proposition so I can discover whether the problem is with the sales script or the salesman. It's the script.

Clearly Southern Energy hasn't done its homework - and is misleading BT customers into believing that their offer is cheaper. I ask to speak to a senior manager. I explain my concern that their sales script is misleading and factually incorrect. He says they are cheaper than BT's 'Standard service'. I reply that there is no 'standard BT service', all BT customers are on one of 3 calling plans - unlimited free weekend, unlimited free evening and weekend or an inclusive paid for plan. I want an explanation. He promises to phone me back within the hour.

An hour later, true to his word, he phones back. He assures me that if their initial sales call is successful it is put through to the 'verification' team in Portsmouth where additional questions are asked. He stresses that the sales team must ask all the questions to establish what a prospective customer's existing contract is before making any claims over savings. He agrees that BT is cheaper for the contract I have described and assures me that the entire sales team has been re-briefed as a result of my call. (To close, I point out that I am opted out from receiving marketing calls from Southern Energy and registered with the TPS, so their sales call is also a breach of the Data Protection Act).

During my wait for a call back I checked the Ofcom website. The regulator is investigating 'Slamming' and mis-selling of home phone contracts and wants to hear from people called by Tesco Telecoms and Economy Calls Ltd. Ofcom is also conducting a wider consultation of home phone contracts and the fairness of additional charges (like cancellation, direct debit discounts, itemised billing). So to conclude, I decide to call them. At least if Southern Energy doesn't do what it promises then the regulator is alerted (after all I'm not going to be receiving any more sales calls from Southern Energy again, ever).

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