Telecoms giant BT has admitted that it had its own phones disconnected in 1998 because of nuisance calls from customers. The company’s extraordinary admission came after a team of disgruntled business users worked round the clock in shifts for four days to negotiate BT’s automated call handling system but failed to get through to an adviser.
After months of industry speculation, BT chairman Sir Michael Rake conceded that the company scrapped its phones because ‘everyone was being driven mad by people calling at all hours of the day and night to complain that their phones weren’t working or they were being overcharged or stuff like that’.
He said that the company’s initial response had been to put callers on hold for a time to let them think through the implications of what they were saying, but then operators would go back and find them still there, sometimes becoming very unpleasant.
He said, ‘We went to Ofcom for advice and they suggested going ex-directory which worked for a while, but then somehow someone got hold of the number and the whole nightmare started all over again.’
‘The pattern of calls was unrelenting,’ said Sir Michael. ‘This wasn’t working, that wasn’t working – they just never gave up. The company’s morale was only rescued by a major investment in a new automated call handling system that saved us from going under completely – it gave us our lives back.’
‘From that day on, no-one at BT has been bothered by a single customer, and the website which we spent months ensuring answers nobody’s questions is a complete success. I am particularly pleased with the FAQ section, which goes well beyond the industry norm of 85% non-relevant questions.’
Sir Michael said that senior board members could still make phone calls using Skype. ‘Look, I can patch my broker and lawyer into this conversation by just pressing this button… Hmm, doesn’t seem to be working. Hello? Hello? Sounds like the line might be down. Oh shit, I hope they don’t use the BT exchange. How the hell am I going to get hold of an engineer?’