Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chess PLC and the evergreen contract. Beware!

I am in charge of the IT and telephone systems at an Independent Financial Advisers in the London area. Their call spend had increased dramatically as their business had grown and they had expanded to 10 channels of ISDN30. The bills they were getting from BT were now in excess of £1000 monthly. In an effort to reduce their call spend we experimented with least cost routing. We use a company called Chess PLC.

We used them for over a year and had no problems at all. The call spend was lower and everything was going well. At this point we were contacted by Rainbow Telecom - who claimed that they could even further lower our bills by removing the minimum call charge and lowering the cost of calls to mobile tariffs. As Chess had been good to us I felt it would only be right (and good business practice) to allow them the opportunity to lower their prices even further.

As I suspected they would they price matched Rainbow on calls and asked if a representative could come down and discuss a way by which we could save even more money by transferring our lines to Chess. In return for a 12 month contract they would offer us a 15% saving on BT line rental. They would deal with everything from their end - no engineer would need to visit and the line would still be maintained by BT. All I had to do was sign on the dotted line. Including the Businesses other sites and old analogue lines (required for BT Redcare and ADSL) there were in total 17 lines to be transferred. The cost saving would be around £450 annually. How could I loose?
Everything went smoothly for a further 4 months and then our Midlands branch started developing a crackling on the line. My initial investigations showed that internal calls were unaffected. I decided the problem lay with the lines. Our staff told us that the condition seemed to worsen when weather conditions were bad and that the problem was intermittent. I reported it immediately to Chess PLC who told us that they would forward the problem to BT.

Days went by and I heard nothing our staff were still reporting the problem so I decided to give Chess another call. They told me that the problem had been shut down same day by BT as they could detect no problem on the line. I explained the problem was intermittent and asked them to re-report it to BT.

Again days went by - the problem was still there, I phoned Chess again. They had once again shut the problem down as BT could not detect it. I explained that the lack of communication was unacceptable and that the problem should not be shut down without confirmation that it no longer exists from the end user. I asked for an engineer to attend the site. Chess explained that if BT could not find a problem with the line I would be charged for the call out. This was fine as I was certain the problem lay with the lines and our business could be losing money rapidly with a prolonged period without functioning telephones.

The BT engineer arrived and confirmed the problem did indeed lay with the lines. The lines appeared clear afterwards, however, the problem was intermittent - I asked him not to shut the problem down without consulting me.

A few days went by and the problem occured again. I phoned Chess and was told that once again the fault had been closed by BT.

I phoned BT who told me that they were unable to speak to me as my telephones were serviced by Chess.

At that point I threatened to leave Chess as the level of service I was receiving was unacceptable. They explained that I would have to pay 6 months average call spend (£6000) to release the company from the contract as I still had 6 months to run on my 12 month contract. 6 months? I was 18 months into a 12 month contract. Chess PLC explained that my contract was "evergreen" and it was automatically renewed every 12 months unless they received by recorded delivery a cancellation notice. Despite repeated complaints and an email to Ofcom that never received a reply. Chess refused to budge in their stance.
I experienced further problems when a line went down earlier this year and Chess were unable to redirect it. BT could have done this within 10 minutes. Our Midlands site was without phones for over 2 days. We have 5 lines there. Were we with BT we would have received £50 in compensation - there was none from chess.
On another occasion I would have liked to redirect a number for a period of 24 hours. Chess explained that whilst they could enable the redirect immediately it could take up to 3 working days to remove it. Which made the service pretty useless.
My 12 months is up on the 16th of June and I'm returning to BT with my tail between my legs. They have convinced me to try their new VOIP system. I will report the results.

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