We are forced to provide ADR to customers. That is an "alternative" dispute resolution, using an arbitrator as an alternative to the courts.
To be honest I never saw the point, country courts are cheap and simple and easy to handle. They are fair (loser pays) and have controlled costs so low risk.
I am all for sorting out disputes if they arise - don't get me wrong. We are even quite happy to err on the side of the customer if things are not clear in a dispute. We do try to avoid ambiguity by having things like call recording and ticketed email systems, and so on, but lets be fair with customers!
It is the nanny state that insists on ADRs for all telcos and ISPs.
Thankfully we work hard to avoid disputes in the first place and to ensure they are resolved if ever they happen. We are keen to be fair in our terms and dealing with customers, and for that reason we have never had a matter actually go to ADR. Phew! FYI, we pay for ADR, win or lose!
I was already pretty resolved to avoid matters going to ADR as I have heard horror stories from other ISPs where decisions are made against the ISP/telco on what are apparently quite clearly wrong grounds. The ADR decision is binding on the telco (but not the customer!).
After a discussion today I am even more resolved to not go to ADR. Thankfully this is not yet a dispute, but has involved discussion with the ADR (to decide if to take on a dispute). The exact details are probably considered confidential, but the nature of the potential dispute is simple and generic.
In a possibly unrelated matter, I think there is no reason not to discuss what would happen if a customer asked for a directory entry for their VoIP number from us.
We make it clear when ordering that we have no facilities to provide directory entries. Also that access to directories are via Internet access to web sites, etc. The important point is that we have no way to get people listed, as yet. Nobody has asked, and that is why we have never investigated further.
I would stress that this is something we are working on anyway, as it seems like it may be useful, even though customers have not asked until recently. It is also something we would have to do if BT directories asked us. So we may as well preempt it and try and get it sorted. It will take time.
Common practice is indeed that telcos have a contract with BT directories, and pass all new and changed directory entries to BT regularly. BT then provide access to the database to companies providing directory services.
The problem would be if someone insists that we are "required" to provide directory information to BT, and to state that to our customer. We would not like that.
There are two relevant parts to the regulations, GC8 and GC19.
GC19 is pretty simple even if it does not fit with common practice. It is a regulation making it clear that if BT (or anyone else doing directory services) comes to us, we have to accept requests from them to enter in to an agreement to provide directory information.
That does not mean we have to approach BT or anyone else. Whilst that is indeed common practice, it is not required by that regulation. So, no quibble that we comply with GC19.
There is one other regulation, GC8, which requires us (and every other telco) to offer directory information, e.g. a phone book, which includes all numbers from all telcos (that want to be listed). We normally do this via Internet access, but we can send a real phone book if needed (and can charge for it too).
This is a possible sticking point. If we do not provide the directory information to BT directories, then no telco can comply with GC8 as they are not providing our customers number in the directory and hence not providing all numbers of all telcos.
However, in my opinion, we are in fact the only ones that can comply with GC8, as we can get the local phone book, staple our customers details in it, and send it out. Thereby ensuring it does have all numbers including our customer's number. This assume no other telco is in the same spot as us, in which case nobody complies with GC8. If the phone book we send has all directory numbers in it then we comply, simple as that, in my opinion.
The potential argument is that unless we provide the details to BT then nobody else can comply with GC8. Well, to be frank, so what? That is their problem. I am not responsible for ensuring other telcos comply with GC8! I can comply with GC8. Yes, it is silly and pointless, but it is compliant, and that is what matters.
Basically GC8 means that directory compilation companies have to come to us else they are not complying with GC8. And, of course, if they do that we have to sort a suitable contract with them and provide the data (as per GC19). So the system works and hang together.
The issue is what happens when it does not work - when BT directories have not asked use for directory information. Who exactly is in the wrong there?
Well, the way it is all worded, to me, it is clear. We comply with GC8 and GC19. Other telcos are not complying with GC8. So it is everyone else that is in the wrong and not us!
Why argue this though?
Because I try my hardest to "do the right thing", and if someone says to our customer that we are not doing what is required, that is something I object to. We do what is required, in my opinion. We do what is agreed with the customer, which is also very important. The fact we do not follow common practice is not the point, and to be honest if someone said we are not following common practice I would not be upset. I do not try to be conformist :-)
So where now?
Well, given that one person, after many years and many thousands of numbers, wants a number in the directory, we have approached BT... again... and again... and eventually got someone that may have some clue and be able to progress matters. We have to get another reference number from OFCOM and then sort the standard contract and the technical means to send the data, but why not? I expect it will take months.
Also, it seems, after a lot of badgering, that a customer has managed to get BT directories to list his entry directly. Well done.
But what of ADR?
If it is true that the arbitrator cannot understand that being "technically correct" is still being "correct", then we will have problems if any dispute does get to ADR. Yes, this would, in my opinion be a close one, in that to comply with GC8 we would have to staple someone's details in to a BT phone book and send (on request and payment) to any of our customers that asks for it, but close to the line on the "correct" side of it is still "correct"!
Anyway, I can't do anything about a non dispute that will go away, even if someone has made statements about the company that are not strictly true. I'll just have to put up with it, and ensure we take every step to avoid ADR in future.
There are, in theory, ways to avoid ADR, including a rather nasty one... If the matter is going to court then it cannot go to ADR. This means that any dispute where we are asking our customers for money will go to court and not ADR, sorry. I am all in favour of the courts. My experience of them has been good mostly.
As usual, I'll keep trying to do the right thing...