Robert Hampton

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2nd March 2008


I felt quite smug when our Sky box conked out a couple of months back. I was able to easily swap it with my sister’s old digibox (no longer used by her since she switched to Virgin Media) and get our TV back. Unfortunately my smugness, as so often happens, was misplaced, and this box has now also failed. The usual tricks (power off, then on; switch on while holding down “back up” to force a software download) didn’t work. Cue call to Sky’s expensive 0870 technical helpdesk.

I hate phoning technical support for anything. I’m a fairly smart, intelligent guy (stop laughing, you) but for some reason I always turn into a gibbering idiot when speaking on the phone to someone in a call centre, and find myself mumbling “OK… OK… I’ll try that” like a simpleton to every suggestion offered by the operator from their script.

Things started out extraordinarily well, as I was immediately connected to a nice lady with an Indian accent. Unlike my previous Dell Hell experience, the quality of the telephone line was sufficient to allow verbal communication – she could understand me and I could understand her. At least, I thought so, until I explained that our box was stuck in standby and I couldn’t get it to switch on at all.

“OK,” she said, “I just need your viewing card number. You can find it by pressing Services, then bringing up the System Information menu.”

Given I had just told her that my box WASN’T WORKING, this was unlikely to happen. Fortunately I had planned ahead and jotted down my viewing card number before phoning, so I gave this to her. It seemed a more palatable option than yelling obscenities down the phone (but only just).

After assuring her that no there’s no green light on the front, and no, there’s no picture, she asked me to reset the box by switching it off at the mains, then back on again. I’d already done this, but previous experience has shown that even if you tell them this, they’ll make you do it again anyway, so I complied.

Still nothing, so she said she would have to transfer me to a more senior technician. Okey-dokey, so I got treated to some happily jingly music interspersed with sales pitch from Mr Murdoch (would I like a Sky+ HD box? Hm, no — I’m paying for this call, remember).

The operator came back on the line. Unfortunately all the operators are busy, am I happy to wait — it could be ten minutes. No, we can’t phone you back — what do you think this is, a call centre? I continued to hold and listen to more jingly music and pre-recorded messages (if you live in a conservation area, you need planning permission for a dish — duly noted).

I was hanging on the line for at least ten minutes. At this point the cordless phone bleeped. This is its way of telling me, “you idiot, you forgot to put me back on the charging cradle last night, and now my battery is about to run out.”

Shortly afterwards the operator came back on the line to inform me she is going to transfer me to the next operator. If the phone were to die, I would face having to start over and go through the whole excruciating procedure again. Would my phone’s battery last long enough? At this point it was actually quite exciting and the closest I am ever likely to get to living life on the edge.

The new operator (a brusque Scotsman) asked me to switch off the box at the mains and switch back on again while holding down the “back up” button on the front panel. Again, I’d already tried this with no luck, but did it again just to humour him. The box is in a cabinet and the electrical socket is tucked away behind the cabinet so to get into the appropriate position to handle both simultaneously required some contortion on my part. Nothing. No twinkly lights. Nada.

“Right,” he said, “your box is out of warranty so you have two options: you can book a service call for £65, or you can take out a repair protection plan for £8.99 a month which would make this and all future call outs free of charge.”

I was tempted by the repair protection plan, but mindful of my phone’s impending death and that this option would probably involve sitting on hold in a different queue, I opted for the one-off payment. After convincing him that yes, that was exactly what I wanted (“I’m trying to save you money here,” he protested), I was kept on hold again while he arranged the engineer.

Total time on the phone: 32 minutes. That’s Thirty. Two. As I hung up I suddenly remembered the existence of the Say No to 0870 web site, but it was too late, of course.

An engineer is coming out on Tuesday morning. Meanwhile, we’ve swapped our set-top box for a set-top aerial and Dad is in the living room now watching Life in Cold Blood in glorious 14:9 snowyvision. Isn’t technology great?

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