By Lucy Baker MBE, All-IP Director, BT Consumer
The landline as we know it isn’t going away, but it is changing. The industry-wide rollout of digital home phones forms part of a national upgrade to the communications network that connects our homes and businesses. This will see power-hungry end-of-service analogue technology, originally rolled-out in the 20th century, replaced with future-proof, digital technology and full fibre networks capable of supporting the connectivity needs of UK consumers and the broader economy for the next century.
As part of this, we are taking steps designed to help deliver a necessary upgrade to the technology that supports our customers’ phones in their homes. This will bring a service fit for the future that runs over broadband and with the ability to prevent the vast majority of scam calls.
Since pausing this programme last year, we’ve listened to our customers’ questions, concerns and their specific needs to make sure we have the right options and equipment available to support them every step of the way.
In our blog from December 2022, Nick mentioned that we founded the Digital Voice Advisory Group – an association made up of charities and representative groups that has been advising on the needs of customers most affected by the switch. Following extensive consultation and feedback from its members*, as well as customers in our pilot scheme areas, we’ve listened and are taking a number of steps to help ensure we’re giving our customers the best possible experience.
Extending pilot schemes
As of next month, we will be expanding our trials with a small group of customers, extending beyond our pilot schemes in Salisbury in the South West, and Mildenhall, Suffolk. This group will be made up of lower usage landline customers, who have a full fibre broadband connection already.
These customers will be contacted four weeks before making the switch, to help ensure they’re ready to make the switch to a digital home phone. For the vast majority of customers, the switch simply involves connecting your phone to your router.
Over 95% of phone handsets are compatible with our digital home phone service and for most handsets that aren’t, they can simply be connected via an adapter which we can provide.
Supporting customers with additional needs
We’ve taken time to listen and understand our customers with additional needs, who may require extra support to make the switch to a digital home phone service.
Over the next 12 months, during the early phase of the expanded trials, we won’t be switching customers who fall under any of the below criteria, where we have this information available:
- Customers with a healthcare pendant
- Customers who are over 70
- Customers who only use landlines
- Customers with no mobile signal
- Customers who have disclosed any additional needs
These customers will be delayed from switching as work continues with stakeholder groups to make sure they have the most suitable options and support available to make the move.
Driving regional engagement from Summer 2023
From Summer this year, we will invite customers to switch to our digital home phone service on a region-by-region basis. We will focus on customers who have full fibre broadband, as the most ready to make the switch.
When we do switch back on, the regional approach will be supported by a multi-million pound advertising campaign, delivered across local and regional media, to raise awareness and explain to customers the simple steps they can take to make the switch.
The campaign will also signpost local community engagement activities – a new part of the programme, designed to directly address customer questions on the ground. We will be present on high streets across the country and even at local town hall drop-ins.
New products and services
We have been working to review and improve our customer experience to ensure they have confidence in their new home phone service, with a host of new additional support and services. These include:
- Hybrid phones that can switch to a mobile network and have a built-in battery.
- Customers can now nominate a family member, friend or carer who will receive all the information about switching on their behalf.
- Existing customers with additional needs such as health pendants, or those without mobile coverage at home, will be able to take advantage of free additional support. These options range from free battery back-up units to engineer supported installations or hybrid landline phones.
- We’re also continuing to invest in the Shared Rural Network, improving mobile coverage in more than 900 areas across the UK by the end of 2023.
- And we’re continuing to work with healthcare pendant and burglar alarm providers to ensure the most vulnerable customers continue to get the service they need.
If customers are ready to make the switch to Digital Voice, they can also contact us at any time, as many have continued to do.
A service fit for the future
We understand that any change can be unsettling – that’s why we are here to support our customers every step of the way, to make the experience as seamless as possible.
Taking the time to listen to our customers and having experts on hand to help has already been a great success at our pilot scheme locations. We plan to mirror this approach across the country. I am committed to ensuring we provide customers with a great customer experience and we will be visiting every region in the UK to ensure we are answering our customers’ questions and helping them with the switch to digital home phones.
To find out more about our digital home phone service, Digital Voice, please visit: www.bt.com/broadband/digital-voice
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