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Revealed: Why BSkyB is slow to pick up … then keep you on hold

BROADCASTING giant BSkyB is under fire over a "deplorable" call-centre bonus scheme which has led to accusations of staff hanging up the phone on customers.

Employees at the firm’s Livingston base can be penalised financially if they cannot persuade customers against cancelling their account.

An investigation has revealed how the new targets system appears to work against the interests of consumers and the workforce, as:

l Staff try to dodge “cancel” calls by pretending headsets are not working;

l Staff keep customers on hold in the hope they get fed up and put the phone down;

l Staff quarrel with colleagues in an attempt not to take calls that may reduce their bonus.

Around 6500 staff work at Sky contact centres in Dunfermline, Uddingston and Livingston, with the firm being the largest private-sector employer in the West Lothian town.

BSkyB’s largest shareholder is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Staff on a wage of around £14,000 a year can top up their low pay with bonuses, which can add another £200 a month.

However, the Sunday Herald has been told there is unhappiness about the practices in the Retention department, otherwise known as Turn Around, which deals with customers who want to leave Sky.

The dissatisfaction is based around a bonus scheme, Customer Value Change, that was introduced around 12 months ago.

Turn Around staff earn a bonus by retaining customers, but if a call handler fails to persuade a SkyWorld subscriber – who pays £52 a month – not to cancel, then the loss can help reduce the same staff member’s potential bonus.

The “pretty deplorable” system, according to call centre insiders speaking on condition of anonymity, creates the perverse incentive of staff not wanting to answer certain calls.

One member of staff said: “If a customer is moving abroad or moving into a listed building, you are not going to be able to save them, but that goes against the adviser.”

On the Turn Around division, he added: “They don’t like to take the calls because it means that the customer is going to cancel. The more services the customer has the more it affects their bonuses.”

On the tactics used by the sales team, he said: “It encourages cutting customers off ... I’ve [also] had advisors pretending there is a problem with the headset.”

He also said: “They try and keep [other advisers] on hold for as long as possible so the customer gets fed up and then hangs up.”

A second member of staff said of Turn Around: “You don’t want to take a lot of calls as a lot of calls means you are cancelling customers. There are people who deliberately don’t take calls.”

He added: “It’s a shocking environment to work in.”

A third Sky employee said of the new bonus scheme: “The system really is not fair on the customer or the employees. A customer could benefit from a cheaper package ... but we as sales agents are being targeted and not really offering the customer the best solution.”

All three sources said members of the sales team who do not meet their targets go through the company’s disciplinary procedures.

One said: “If you don’t start hitting the targets you get HR [human resources] hearings.”

Graeme Morrice, the Labour MP for Livingston, said he would be seeking a meeting with the firm’s chief executive: “This is a shocking way to treat staff and customers but hardly surprising given the way its biggest shareholder has run some of its newspapers. Call-centre staff already face some of the grimmest employment conditions in modern workplaces but this takes things to a new level.”

Lucy McTernan, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), said: “We have become increasingly concerned recently about the operation of the telecommunication industry in general, in terms of mis-selling and poor customer services.”

A BSkyB spokeswoman declined to comment.

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