Unable to pay! Just want to pay! No end of obstacles being put in the way.
Before going into too much detail about my experience as a customer, I just want to highlight that I echo many of the thoughts and sentiments being raised and expressed via other platforms including this one, that of trustpilot, facebook, twitter and the official plusnet community forum. It goes without saying that nothing could be more damning for a business than to rate so poorly on trustpilot, for example; it is clear to see that customers are feeling aggrieved and let down by Plusnet, and yet when it comes to it, very little, it would seem, is being done in the way of damage limitation - and I'm afraid that just about sums up how bad things have apparently become for Plusnet, or so it seems from a customer point of view.
It pains me to have to come on here to post a negative review, but sadly none of the official channels are listening; my message just isn't getting through to them (and I don't mean that in literal terms, just from the perspective of constantly being ignored and fobbed off with promises that are never delivered).
Okay, so where should I begin with this one? Well first things first, I should point out that I am a loyal customer. I have been with them now for a good number of years, since March 2013 in actual fact. In that time the service has been pretty much consistent, and exceptional value for money, with perhaps the occasional connectivity glitch which was always happily nipped in the bud and corrected quite promptly. In the rare event of anything ever going wrong, communication with this company was always top notch, and in most cases, I wouldn't even need to chase them, they would reach out to me with an apology and explanation. Indeed, if I was to travel back in time, say up to around this time last year, I would certainly be giving them a 5 star positive and glowing review, but how things change - and not for the better, it would seem!
So what happened I hear you cry? Well, I guess it won't come as any surprise to those taking the time to read the other reviews on the likes of trustpilot and broadband.co.uk that I too am a victim of Plusnets inability to migrate from one billing system, to another without catastrophically messing things up along the way. What's happened is of clear detriment to me as a customer, and frankly I'm really annoyed by the way this is all being handled.
In September 2018 Plusnet moved over to a new billing system which was somehow meant to improve the customer experience. This apparently followed on from many years, it would seem, of customer feedback and complaints being raised and shared on the community forum. This fine post here being one such example: community.plus.net/t5/Plusnet-Feedback/Why-I-have-left-Plusnet/td-p/1389353 I dare say that's the Plusnet I knew and loved; one that always put the customer first, by listening, learning and adapting.
In reality though, what was delivered in September of last year was an ill-conceived rush job full of holes, errors and a huge step backwards in terms of what was on offer. For example, prior to the introduction of the new billing system, communication was fantastic. Every month a reminder email would arrive stating that payment would be taken on the set billing date, and following a successful payment, a confirmation email would land in one's inbox.
What's not to like? Well perhaps that some irrational individual for reasons unbeknownst to the customer, suddenly decided to adjust this procedure so that the email communication was banished until failed payment. Instead customers now had to log in to the member centre to keep track of bills in the form of PDF invoices, and even they proved hard to reach with blank pages and timeouts being encountered in the process of trying to view them. The invoices only state the amount due; for if the customer expected to see if payment had been successful taken, well frankly they were out of luck. For this you now had to visit a second page, which rather unhelpfully only states the total amount paid.
You could argue that the sudden lack of email communication could offer the illusion that if the customer didn't hear from plusnet by email, then everything must be fine and dandy. A huge step backwards, I'm sure you will agree!
From around October 2018, I noticed that the reminders and confirmations had stopped coming in. This shouldn't be anything to worry about, given how the new system works, but how wrong was I to assume this? What a mistake to make. In January of this year, I was rudely awaken to the sound of 'internets down!' and indeed it was. In the first instance, you would most likely inspect the router to see if the connectivity lights were on. Well what do you know; wan was connected. So, yes, I logged in to the router to ascertain whether or not this was true. Correct. The link was up, the modem was happily connected. Odd, I thought to myself, what could possibly have gone wrong? It was only when I, myself, decided to try and connect to a webpage when I spotted the URL in the browser was attempting to load failed.billing.plus.net/apps/payment/failed instead of the requested page.
Aha, slight problemo. Clearly something wasn't right, nothing a quick call to Plusnet wouldn't solve, after all, their ads state they're "happy to help". Did I say quick phone-call? Perhaps I should scrap that part, as there was nothing quick about it. On average it was taking around 45 minutes to actually make first contact. Recorded messages and annoying music bite your ear during the frustrating wait. Of course by the time you actually get through to anyone, not only are you desperate for a tinkle and most likely feeling a tad grumpy too, but your phone is starting to nag you that it's battery is exhausted. Marvellous! So, were they "happy to help"? What I will say is the advisor on the line was friendly and mostly helpful, and occasionally sympathetic putting himself in my shoes and looking at things from a customer perspective, which can only be praised. Sadly though the positive experience was somewhat short-lived.
It was explained that the account had incorrectly hit failed billing status, and assurances were offered that this was of no fault of my own as a customer. This is when I learned of the catastrophic mess the new billing system had caused, and what followed was a prime example of this. The system had failed to take continuous card payments automatically dating back to October 2018. This then put me in a scenario where multiple months were now owed. I'm not one to like owing money, and when payment is due, I always promptly ensure this is dealt with. As my account was in failed billing mode, access to the internet was now 'restricted'. The quickest way to remove further restrictions is, of course, to pay - nothing a manual payment over the phone couldn't resolve! Or so you would think! Upon trying to process payment, I was informed that the entire billing system was down, and therefore payment could not be made at this time. Given that I had tried to make payment, and the fact the system hadn't taken payment automatically for a number of months through no fault of my own, I was told any late payment fees would be waived, however I was advised there shouldn't be any in the first place as the error was their end due to the billing system catching up, and the fact the account had erroneously been placed into restricted mode too early. Apparently this should only happen 14 days after failed payment - anything before that should simply be a case of alerting the customer of the failed payment, rather than restricting access.
In this instance restrictions were lifted, and I was advised to visit plus.net/pay later in the day to try and make a payment via the website rather than having to phone back. It's worth noting that when restrictions are applied to the account, Plusnet send out an email alerting of the failed payment, and this tells you to go to plus.net/pay to make a payment. This then presents two issues the first being that email communication is absolutely pointless when access is restricted, as it is impossible to access email via a restricted service, and secondly that the restrictions actually block and prevent access to the plus.net website including that of the payment page.
How ridiculous! I asked the advisor why it was that Plusnet hadn't made any attempt to alert me of the failed payments up until this point, to which I was cheerfully informed that they are now a paperless company and they won't post anything out or phone the customer about such issues, it's generally accepted that these days customers are likely to have an alternative means of accessing their email and/or Plusnet account should their primary method of internet connectivity go down. To be fair though the advisor also stated that email communication was daft given that restrictions prevent access, and that he had personally raised this as feedback via the internal teams on numerous occasions. (Make a mental note of this part; I'll come back to it later in the review)
With the restrictions now being lifted, naturally the first thing I did was to visit the member centre to try and make a payment - but just like the advisor on the phone, I couldn't process this due to errors and timeouts. I gave it a bit of time, around an hour, and tried again - same problem. So I kept trying, but eventually gave up. I reached out to the social media team explaining the situation, and the growing concern that if this couldn't be resolved within 14 days, that billing would apply late payment fees. The social media team took note, and promised to phone me when payment could be processed. Later in the day I received the phone-call as promised, but once again payment over the phone could not be processed. I was advised to keep trying via the website, so that I did. After many hours of trying, I spotted that the member centre had the ability to process a one off manual payment, so I opted to use this method instead. It worked. And yes, I did use the exact same payment type and details that plusnet held on my account for continuous card payments. Odd, then, that it worked and payment could be made using this method. That then brings me onto an observational point - payment via this method, it seems, does not generate a receipt. I had nothing to confirm that payment had been received. With that in mind I contacted the online chat team, and after security checks, they were able to confirm that payment had been received, and that nothing was now owed.
As, by this time, I now had a lot of information to hand, and experiences to share, I decided to reach out to the CEO to try and highlight what I had been through. That was easier said than done. The only means of being able to reach this team was by opening a new complaint - although I had no intention of raising a complaint, as this was the only option open to me, I reluctantly chose this path.
As the large bill for many months of failed payments arrived so soon after the festive period, as part of the 'complaints' process, I cheekily asked if there was any option of a refund - given that the failed billing was no fault of my own, and owing to the amount of time I spent chasing up and trying to process a payment. To cut a long story short, I was told, as a service was provided, it was up to me to pay, but as there had been a disappointing response, a goodwill gesture of one month's refund in the form of a credit would be issued should I accept. But, should I wish not to accept, the case would be deemed in 'deadlock' and thus any further communication would have to be with the ombudsman rather than Plusnet themselves.
I wasn't about to enter a deadlock situation as I didn't regard my communication as a complaint; it was meant to be something of a learning experience to ensure what happened to me wouldn't happen to other customers; of course though the goodwill credit was gratefully received and accepted. It’s worth noting that at no stage did I contest payment or refuse to pay. Plusnet had provided a service, and I was happy to pay the agreed amount owed for the service being provided, however the issue was that the ability to pay was somewhat restricted at the time due to numerous faults and errors on the billing system.
Now, as a payment had been processed, you would expect this to be the end of it, but alas, no! After the free month of service, in the next chargeable period, my account went back into failed billing. Clearly lessons had not been learned, and the billing issue was still present on my account. Once again, the same issues encountered in January repeated themselves - failed billing email sent out, account restrictions applied and access to the plusnet website and payment page blocked.
With this in mind, I once again reached out to the customer services team, who removed restrictions and advised to pay via the website. Once again though, any attempts to pay via the website failed with error messages. What's more, after the restrictions were lifted, I noticed that the solution I used in January to make a payment had been removed from the member centre, leaving manual payment over the phone as the only method to pay - so that I did.
My communication with the complaints team had been closed due to a period of inactivity, so I opened a new ticket requesting that the complaints ticket be re-opened thus to allow me to feed in my second experience of failed billing. My complaints handler wasn't in the office to respond on this occasion, but thankfully someone who was extremely honest and understanding responded to my query. At this stage it was stated that after thorough investigation, the problem affecting automatic monthly payments on my account had been located, and would be raised with the internal faults team to investigate further. "After some considerable searching I have located the internal fault on your account preventing the Continuous Card payment processing per month. I have now raised this to an internal faults team and they will, now your account has been specifically flagged, apply the fix to your account once the issue has been fully rectified. Meaning that, and I will be as brutally honest with you here, given your significant loyalty as a customer I will speak to your like a member of our family - I have no idea when this will be resolved. These are not always simple resolutions and can take a few months, so I will say prepare yourself for the fact we may have to continue in the same vain for a little while. Please be assured though now it has been diagnosed fully, the correct back office team are now specifically looking at your account too in regards to a resolution." Another goodwill credit was added to my account, this time covering two months of service.
That's the end of it; right? Wrong! Three months later, my account entered failed billing again, with all the usual problems. By this time I was quite frustrated. Remember that mental note I asked you to make earlier in the review? I will add to that at this stage, a trend is becoming apparent - that the managerial level of Plusnet seem not to be listening to important feedback and concerns being raised by their own colleagues, so, evidently, it's not just the customer being ignored. You would think the internal faults team would have immediately applied a fix or remedy to my account, but clearly this didn't happen! I'm not sure why, but having to continually chase plusnet to try and make a payment, given that it should be a painless automatic process, was becoming something of a frustrating experience.
The original message sent in response to the 'complaint' is certainly valid, given that Plusnet are providing me with a service, I am happy to pay, but I just wish they would let me do so using the method I opted for when signing up as a new customer. That’s their contractual obligation as this was the payment method chosen when signing up for the account back in 2013. Again, to remedy this, I resorted to paying manually over the phone. As, evidently, the complaints process didn't resolve anything, the next best option available was to share my experience via plusnets own community forum.
At this stage I learned that there were in fact numerous faults affecting my account, the first of which being that where restrictions had been applied to the account, what was meant to be happening was a splash page should appear in the web browser alerting that the bill had not been paid. This splash page, apparently, has an acknowledgement button which, when clicked, removes restrictions until the next notification period, thus allowing the payment page and other websites to be accessed without any restrictions. That was the first discovery, the second was that the billing error seemingly has multiple triggers and failure points, whether it's a change of details, a product or service being added to the account, and so on. Standard policy, it seems, is for Plusnet to respond by telling the customer that they are aware of the issue, are working on applying a fix, and that only a small handful of customers are affected by the issue. "We’re aware that a small number of customers are still experiencing problems from our new billing system and we’re working hard to fix these legacy issues. We want to reassure those affected that may not have received a bill from us recently, we’re doing all we can to get everything back on track. We’re sorry that this isn’t the service customers have come to expect from us and give our assurance this will be sorted as soon as we can. Apologies for any inconvenience caused." The other element learned via this communication, and this is worth noting if you are in the same situation, is that when restrictions have been applied to the account, if these are manually removed by plusnet, rather than by the customer (on the splash page), even if an amount is still outstanding, the system automatically jumps forward to the next billing date, thus making it harder to pay. It would seem the best option is to phone in, pay over the phone, and then wait for restrictions to be lifted. It’s also worth noting that even though the billing date jumps forward to the next due date after a manual removal of restrictions, the system will still automatically re-apply restrictions at various points throughout the month! Bonkers!
Through researching the issue, I noticed that where others had shared similar experiences (failed billing) via the community forum, and twitter, another standard reply seemed to be "We can also confirm that once your bill has been generated we will only charge for a maximum of 90 days leading up to the invoice generating so if for example we've not generated your bill for 4 months then we'll just charge you for the last 3 months. If you also need a payment plan to split this cost over more than one month then we're happy to offer it."
With this in mind, I presented a number of different possible solutions to Plusnet, the first being the option to migrate my service to a new account thus to hopefully escape the billing issue. "As the issue is not account specific but is related to the payment method I feel that is is unlikely that setting up a new account will allow you to make payments via a card". The second was an offer to pay by cheque, which was seemingly ignored, even though the cancellations page states, and I quote "A posted cheque can be accepted in exceptional circumstances. When sending a cheque, the username must be written clearly on the reverse, and this should be sent by recorded delivery to Plusnet plc, The Balance, 2 Pinfold St. Sheffield, S1 2GU." The third solution I put to the team was the suspension of billing until such a time as a fix could be applied to the account, as has been offered to other customers encountering the same billing issue. The community staff decided to offer option three, should I be in agreement. It's by no means a perfect solution, after all, a service is being provided, and I expect to pay for said service - but, arguably, it is their own system error preventing this from happening in a smooth and seamless way, so with that in mind, it seemed like a viable temporary solution, and one I was happy to try.
Is that the end? Of course not. As payment could be made manually over the phone once a month, the billing department apparently declined the request(s) to suspend billing - yet another example of Plusnet ignoring their own staff! Instead they recommend that I change payment method to one I didn't agree to at the time of registering as a new customer. One of the main reasons I chose Plusnet was because the option to pay by credit card was available, and thus that's what, contractually, I signed up to. So I now find myself in a situation where I've got to phone in once a month to manually pay by card, chasing them for something which was never my fault. How do I feel about this? Well to be honest, I'm not happy! Remember, should the billing system fail on their end, as a customer I've only got 14 days to keep trying, otherwise late payment fees are applied no matter what - anything beyond that gets sent out to a collection agency, and there's plenty of examples of that already happening on the forum and social media platforms. The other ridiculous point, worthy of note, is Plusnet seem unable, or unwilling, to take payments in advance. So in my case, should I wish to pay for the next month prior to a 'failed billing' status being applied, it is not possible to do so. I have to wait until restrictions are applied, and then phone in!
What happened next is just abhorrent on every level, and severely damaged any last shred of trust and confidence that I had remaining in the company. In addition to the billing department refusing to suspend billing on the account until such a time as a fix could be applied (but at no stage have they ever told me this directly, they simply ignore requests from their own colleagues to action this as a reasonable request) – yes, you’ve guessed it, after a brief period of little or no communication from plusnet, suddenly I find I am back in restricted mode again due to failed payment. This time, apparently, I owe them for two months of service. What’s worse is I specifically reached out to plusnet to seek an update last month, only to be told it seemed like automatic card payments had resumed, that the request to suspend billing had never been actioned, and that everything is back to normal on my account. Well how wrong could they be? Failed billing and restrictions again this month! After raising this with the social media team in an attempt to resolve this, I was offered a good-will by way of apology, and this would consist of two separate credit notes. Upon the first credit note being applied, which should have covered one months bill, the account immediately went back into restricted mode as the current month was also due to be paid. And, surprise, surprise, the second credit note never materialised. This company has, it would seem, adopted the mindset of elected politicians – they tell the people what they think the people want to hear! And they clearly think they can get away with it too.
As you can tell, I do everything I can to share my experiences with Plusnet to try and help them learn from them, and to ensure that nobody else will ever have to encounter the same issues I’ve had to endure for 11 months. This is where the mundane becomes frankly absurd. At this point I was informed, and I quote: “I am sorry that you were previously advised by one of my colleagues that we could suspend the billing on your account. It has been confirmed that this would not be an option and would not resolve the issue. In order for this matter to be resolved we would recommend setting up a direct debit payment on this account. We would be unable to offer any further options of resolution as we are unable to support card payments.” Do what? So we’ve gone from please phone in every month to make a manual payment over the phone to suddenly being unable to take any card payments, at all? Which then begs the question, if that’s true, then how would Direct Debit be unaffected by this issue? And also, in which way would suspending billing not resolve, at least temporarily, an ongoing billing issue? A rather contradictory response from plusnet there, I am sure you will agree!
Given the number of similar complaints being raised on other review platforms, the community forum, social media platforms, in the press, and elsewhere, you have to question why it is that trends haven't been spotted, and why this has been allowed to continue for so long. Certainly from my own experience thus far, there has been an eagerness from the complaints handler to push me to the Alternative Disputes Resolution Service, the ombudsman. I can easily find many examples of customers who have been in a similar situation to my me that have followed through with this process, and in most cases it would seem the outcome is far from satisfactory. It does beg the question, though, of how it is even the ombudsman has seemingly failed to spot a very obvious trend where the level of complaints regarding the billing system is concerned.
Personally I think the auditors and Chief Executive should be ashamed of themselves, and, accordingly, I have asked Plusnet to give me the contact details of their auditor so I can raise this directly with them, but of course, that request has fallen on deaf ears.
Plusnet clearly has little or no regard for customer service, customer experience or delivering on the advertised slogan of “We’ll do you proud!” The billing date of each month now fills me with dread, and the nagging thought of having to spend so much time continuously chasing this has, I will admit, taken its toll now.
I can only assume that the well rehearsed statements in response to billing issues are some sort of code for all is not well behind the scenes. Admittedly I haven't sussed out what's actually happening, but if you start putting the pieces of the jigsaw together, given the length of time this has gone unfixed and unchallenged by the powers that be, including the auditors, one can only assume that the business is either set up to deliberately push more, unnecessary costs on to the customer or to deliberately push legacy customers away, or, even worse, maybe Plusnet have completely lost control of their own payment gateway (I say their own, but transactions seemingly get sent to the BT payment gateway via a plusnet domain).
If that is the case, surely that opens an even bigger can of worms, namely how safe personal and financial data is at this company. Food for thought! In the early days of this billing issue, where the entire system failed, I was told “When trying to take this payment from yourself I was unable to do but I have raised this due to it’s an issue we are experiencing where we are faced with an empty assignment key when trying to take payment.” They were obviously aware of an issue at that stage, in January, but it would seem there is now a much bigger issue arising here. The question is, what is it, and how can it be resolved?
To me it seems to be very similar behaviour and traits of that of a company that knows it’s on its last legs and about to call in administrators. It's the whole let's blame everyone but ourselves mentality. That’s the message that is coming across from Plusnet, and they are doing nothing to remedy this hopefully false perception.
Why did Plusnet even let it get to this stage? They had ample opportunity to put this right, but they have failed me miserably for something which, to be honest, would be quick and easy to resolve from their end.
I was hoping to remain a loyal customer for many more years to come, and I keep my fingers crossed that this can be promptly resolved in a satisfactory way that not only helps restore my trust and confidence in Plusnet, but reaffirms what I said at the beginning of this review - that a 5 star glowing review from me was possible – so let's make it happen. I’ve done my bit by airing and sharing my experiences, concerns and feedback, and I have logged and documented every step throughout this miserable 11 months. Time for you, Plusnet, to do your bit and, yes… do me proud!
In its current state, regrettably I'm unable to recommend plusnet to others at the moment as I wouldn't wish others to encounter the same disappointing experience I've been through now for what is fast approaching nearly one year since the problem first materialised, which I base on early indications raised via the community forum in September 2018, but of course for me, it's not quite a year yet as my problem began in October 2018 - that being said though, should we reach October 2019 and I’m still in the same situation, I dare say the easiest way to conclude it will be for me to completely abandon plusnet as a customer - but even then, there's a fairly strong chance the damage has already been done, as it it possible Plusnets inability to process an automatic payment, and accusing me of failed payment due to their own systems error has, no doubt, been of detriment to me as a customer as it has likely been flagged on my credit rating. And going by other reviews, even closing the account doesn’t guarantee that they won’t continue to get things wrong and send out payment reminders and collection notices in the future!
I just hope this isn't the case, but cast iron assurances are going to have to be offered to me now. Plusnet, no standard responses here please - I'm willing to work with you to resolve this in a way which is mutually acceptable to both parties, but to achieve this, I feel there is a real need to re-evaluate my experience, to assign a named advisor/contact from a senior management level to engage with me, and to hopefully resolve this and learn from it. I do not want the current named complaints handler to continue with this case as, well you can see for yourself, he’s only made matters worse and hasn’t resolved the issue at all. I want you to escalate this to another more sympathetic, caring and understanding advisor within Plusnet who will go above and beyond to read through the case history, become familiar with the issue, and offer a practical solution at the earliest possible opportunity. It needs to be someone who has the authority to make changes to the account, to action and deliver on any agreed promises, and to have direct contact with myself throughout. Communication and honesty is integral to this working.
Let's turn this around and make the negative a positive - I have every confidence that it can be achieved. I have to say though, with statements like “Whilst this issue is being investigated we are unable to provide a date as to when this matter will be resolved” do little in the way of filling me with any actual confidence that you will ever do me proud. Such a shame as I was a really happy and a loyal customer until this billing mess started. Throughout the whole thing you’ve put endless emphasis (and stress) on me as a customer to resolve this – and I just wish I could actually resolve this. As a customer there’s nothing I can do to access your back-end billing software to fix the issue, so please, use your initiative here and be sensible – stop making this my problem. I have spent many months and hours chasing this, by gathering and submitting the evidence of each step as requested, and still you treat me like this! How about you actually stick to the part where you say you will speak to me, and I quote “like a member of our family” I really hope you don’t treat your own family (colleagues) in this way! But, going by the job ads, you do treat your family quite well with a very nice package of free phone calls, broadband and TV – so at least they never have to encounter the dreaded billing issue. I just hope they actually get paid for their time and efforts. Would you be happy, as a representative of the company, if you had to go to such lengths and measures as I’ve been through to chase payment for your time? Thought not. Well don’t do it to me. I want to pay for the service, but your system won’t let me. Fix it!