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Pipex Broadband - The Sad Demise of a Once Best in Class Service
Member Name: Hishyeness
Advantages: Reliable connection. Decent Speed.
Disadvantages: Abysmal Technical Support. Much Better Value Available Elsewhere.
As an early internet user, I have been online since the days of pedestrian 24k modem dial-up access in the early 1990s. I consider myself a fairly sophisticated user, and as such, have tended to be quite picky about my Internet Service Provider (ISP).
My first ISP was Easynet, who I first signed up with in 1994. Despite giving their residential customers many years of excellent, first class service, the company decided to shift its focus to the business sector, and re-invented itself as a business to business ISP. Although they did not actively try to shed home users on their dial-up packages, the resources they committed to supporting the service (in terms of both technical support and hardware) steadily declined. I finally bowed to the inevitable and started looking for a viable alternative.
HAPPY DAYS WITH PIPEX
I signed up for Pipex broadband about six years ago and was immediately impressed. The switch from Easynet was expertly handled with the minimum of fuss. The promised hardware (a wired broadband router and ADSL filters for my phone sockets) arrived very quickly and I was up and running in no time, thanks to the software included in the package - a CD-ROM which walked me through the set-up process step by step. I even received a call to notify me that my connection was live - three days ahead of schedule.
I was so delighted with the service that I convinced several friends and family to switch - and managed to reap some loyalty bonuses as a result (Pipex offered a free month for every new customer you introduced). Calls to the technical support line were at local call rates and usually answered in two or three rings by knowledgeable, patient and courteous staff.
Fortunately, the service was so reliable that I rarely had occasion to call, and when I did, it usually turned out to be a hardware issue at my end rather than an ISP issue. I was on a "Pipex Xtreme Solo" unlimited package with a very modest 1MB download speed, but it was suitable for my usage (my local exchange is limited to 6MB anyway). I was paying £17.99 a month for it (VAT inclusive) and was - at the time - quite happy to pay a little bit extra for the stellar service.
Everything good about Pipex changed when Tiscali UK (a subsidiary of Tiscali S.p.A - an Italian telecoms and internet company) took over the business in July 2007. To be fair, initially, the change of management passed me by. I had no immediate technical issues, so no need to call the help desk. However, in October 2008, my broadband inexplicably stopped working, so I called the new technical support number to try and get some help.
After thirty minutes on hold, I spoke to a barely intelligible Manila-based (as in the Philippines) call centre flunky who stuck slavishly to a script (think David Walliams' inspired "Sorry, computer says No..." character from Little Britain USA). I patiently persevered, yet after forty-five fruitless minutes at national call rates and still no obvious solution, the agent told me there was nothing further he could do, but assured me that my so-called "trouble ticket" would be escalated to "second line support" and someone would call me back.
Unfortunately, I neglected to ask him how long this would take. In any event, no one called that day, so I spent forty-five minutes the following afternoon going through the same process and same script with another hopeless flunky with an even thicker Filipino accent than the first chap. In principle, I have no objection to foreign call centres - its a price we pay as consumers if we continually mistake "value for money" to mean "as cheap as possible" - but is it really too much to expect a UK-based company to employ people who have at least a decent level of clearly enunciated English?
After being offered another call back, I refused it, and insisted that I be transferred to "second line support" immediately. Another twenty-five minutes on hold later, I ended up speaking to yet another apologist who had little idea what the problem could be. Through gritted teeth, I asked to be transferred to someone in the UK who could manage the problem, only to be told that there were no staff based in the UK anymore.
What galled me most was their apparent willingness to transfer me around the houses. Absolutely no one took responsibility for resolving the problem, no one actually listened to what I was telling them, no one demonstrated any initiative or common sense, and perhaps most tellingly, no one appeared to care. It was a stark contrast to my previous experiences with Pipex tech support (chalk and cheese) and completely at odds with everything I thought I knew about their standard of service.
A few days later, in desperation, I asked a friend who works in IT support pop over to my house to have a look at my set-up and, after tweaking some connection settings, he managed to get me up and running in less than five minutes.
After all the time I spent on the phone (five hours by the end), the only solution Pipex could offer was to suggest that I buy a new router (there was absolutely nothing wrong with the old one), as this would "probably" fix the issue. Having been left without broadband access for over a week and a half and, thoroughly fed up, I made up my mind to leave as soon as possible.
The biggest obstacle to an immediate exit was my e-mail. I had been using the same e-mail address for over five years (with friends, family, subscriptions, banks etc.) and needed to ensure that I would not lose touch with people who had my Pipex address.
I opened a Google web mail account and slowly started transferring all my e-mail off the Pipex service to facilitate the move to a new ISP (essentially, I wrote to, or updated my e-mail address, with every relevant person and/or organisation who wrote to me for a calendar month, and also e-mailed all my stored contacts to advise of the new e-mail). I have now resloved to use Google Mail for all of my main e-mail needs, so that I am never reliant on my ISP, and can change services with more ease and speed.
Two months after the tech support fiasco, I learned that Tiscali UK were in serious financial trouble, having failed to agree the sale of the Pipex business to BSkyB - news that gave me fresh impetus to leave the ISP as quickly as I could.
SOURCING A REPLACEMENT
I read some trade magazines for an alternative ISP and was a little taken aback that I was now paying way over the odds for a substandard service. Pipex must have loved my inertia. As previously mentioned, I had, for almost two years, unnecessarily been paying £17.99 a month for a 1MB service, when the industry benchmark was less than £10 for an 8MB service.
Internet Magazine was a great resource, and it includes a monthly section ranking ISPs according to a number of criteria. I was not at all surprised to see that Pipex, so often a top five in every category in the past, was now dwelling near the bottom of each list.
A RELUCTANT "RETAINED" CUSTOMER
Having selected a new supplier, I called Pipex for a MAC code (Migration Authorisation Code - a 17 to 19 digit code needed in the UK to change ISP - it has to be provided by your current ISP, free of charge, within five days of your request) to enable the transfer. I was put through to their specialist customer retention team and immediately cross-examined on my reasons for leaving.
I was quite frank, matter of fact, and to the point - the chap I spoke to was clearly based in the UK (which rather gave the lie to what I was told by tech support in Manila), so there were no language issues - and gave them full details of the diabolical service I had received, as well as the competitor offer I was thinking of taking up.
Without further prompting, I was immediately offered an unlimited "up to" 8MB service for £7.99 a month, with the first six months free if I signed for another twelve months. The service is subject to a Fair Use Policy, so not technically unlimited, but that's what they call it these days. I didn't know whether to laugh (at getting a much better deal on the face of it) or cry (for permitting myself to be such a mug for the last two years) but, in the end, I decided the deal was too good to pass up.
Effectively, I am now paying around £50 for a year's service, so I have opted to ride out the contract extension in the hope that no further technical issues crop up. That's hardly a glowing endorsement of the service is it? Meanwhile, my e-mail migration to Google continues, with a view to bailing completely on Pipex as soon as my contract ends.
CURRENT RESIDENTIAL BROADBAND OFFERING
As of May 2009, Pipex has re-badged and re-branded itself as a business-focussed ISP (much as Easynet did before I joined Pipex!), and as such, you will be hard pressed to find any details of their current consumer offerings on their website. It looks like they will continue to service existing residential customers, but are not encouraging any new business (it's likely to be offered as an "add-on" for Pipex business customers). Details of current residential services can only be accessed by current subscribers via the www.mypipex.net web-site.
For the record, existing customers are offered "up to" 8MB broadband with free modem and connection, plus, if you elect to, a telephone call package offering free weekend and evening UK calls. Also provided are free web space for setting up a personal web-site and 12 customisable e-mail mail boxes. You can also access unread messages in your inbox via a web mail facility.
The biggest learning point for me is to ensure, in future, that I periodically benchmark my service providers to ensure I am getting the best possible deal - even if I am happy with the current service. The same holds true for all services - whether gas, electric, telephone, banking and/or credit cards - whose providers often rely on our inertia and complacency to line their pockets at our expense.
In my opinion, given declining subscriber numbers (the acknowledged metric of success in the ISP business), awful technical support and disinterested customer "service", I would give this once-best in class ISP a wide berth - and I mean a REALLY wide berth. There is much better value to be had from the wide choice of alternative suppliers in the ISP market, particularly now that Pipex has so obviously turned its back on the residential customers that formed the bedrock of its initial success. I will hang on until my renewed contract expires in January 2010 before looking elsewhere to take my business.
It was announced on Friday 8th May 2009 that Tiscali UK's assets - including Pipex - have been sold lock, stock and barrel to the Carphone Warehouse and will become part of their Talk Talk brand. This is good news for existing customers, as it means no disruption to services or e-mail accounts and should signal an end to the disruption, uncertainty and underinvestment that has characterised Tiscali's unsuccessful tenure. That said, Talk Talk are no great shakes either, so it could be a case of "out of the frying pan..."
© Hishyeness 2009 - Previously published under the same username on Ciao.co.uk
Summary: Avoid at all costs!
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