October 9, 2019 / 10:03 AM / a month ago

BT seeks to repair customer ties with new services and products

LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - The boss of Britain’s biggest telecoms provider BT on Wednesday set out plans to improve the company’s relationship with customers with new superfast services, more technical support and a return of its brand to the high street.

In one of the first moves since taking over in February, Philip Jansen outlined the group’s aims to rebuild BT’s reputation after clashes with the regulator, government and customers who complained about poor service.

Under the plan, BT will create a team of experts to help customers in the home and small businesses, speed up the return of its customer support teams to the UK and Ireland, and bring BT back to the high street by putting its products and staff into its EE mobile store network.

It will also upgrade 700,000 homes and businesses to faster broadband speeds at no extra cost and simplify its multiple operating systems to make it ready for greater automation, a move that is likely to result in a smaller workforce over time.

A new product called Halo will draw on its fastest broadband and mobile networks to offer unlimited data and calls on mobile and at home.

The new customer strategy does not touch on the biggest issue facing the company - how it will work with industry to fund the building of a new national fibre network - but is designed to tackle its position at the bottom of customer surveys.

“We’re starting a journey today with real changes that will have a positive impact for people and businesses,” Jansen, formerly the head of payment processing company Worldpay, said.

Jansen was brought in to tackle a host of problems at the former telecoms monopoly, including intense competition, an underperforming IT services unit and a huge pension deficit.

His main challenge will be to secure an agreement with the regulator and government on how it can build a full fibre network and make a sufficient return from rivals, at a time when the government is focused on securing Brexit.

Jansen told reporters late on Tuesday there was a risk the cable group Virgin Media, owned by John Malone’s Liberty Global , could allow rivals such as Comcast’s pay-TV group Sky to access its network to provide superfast services to customers.

Sky relies on BT’s Openreach network to rent lines, meaning any tie-up with Virgin could mark a significant challenge to BT as it seeks a model that would enable it to fund the build out of fibre.

BT’s Openreach is building a full fibre network to reach 4 million premises by the end of March 2021 and has an ambition to reach 15 million premises by the mid-2020s.

Finance director Simon Lowth said the dividend and balance sheet policy could be reviewed if the company strikes a deal with the regulator and government that allows it to make a sufficient return from building a full fibre network across the country. (Reporting by Kate Holton. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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