If a contact centre is like running a family, there are some bad parents

Written by on June 1, 2016 in Opinion with 0 Comments

Angry elderly manIf the next generation of contact centre should resemble running a family – catering to different needs and different speeds – then companies like BT make very bad parents.

Having talked up the importance of customer service, the customer experience and the focus on the customer at every press opportunity, it is time for companies like BT to actually do something.

I have an 81 year old mother. She is, thankfully, in good health. Yet, having tried phoning her three times last week, without success, I decided to check whether there was a fault on her line. She lives 500 miles away, so it is tricky to check personally.

I rang BT.

I got the usual cheerful, ‘if it’s broadband, it’s three’ choices for which button to press.

I pressed the relevant buttons. Of course, when I entered my mother’s number, the logic of the system ran into a brick wall, because it could not resolve my account with her number.

So I pressed 9 to talk to a human being.

To be fair, the human being did not keep me waiting long and it seemed that I was important enough to be answered rather than left in ‘music on hold’ hell. Mind you it was the middle of a sunny Bank Holiday afternoon.

The transition from machine to human was where the experience went badly wrong.

I had to go through the entire process and questions again. It was as if the information that I had carefully typed had vanished.

I had to give her my land line number. ‘Ah, wait, that is not the number you wish to speak about. Can I have that number? Ah, that number is not on your account’.

‘That is because it is my mother’s number’.

‘What is your postcode?’

‘Mine, or my mother’s?’

‘The postcode of the number you wish to talk about.’

I gave it.

‘Is there a fault on the line’, she asked.

I took a deep, cleansing breath.

‘That is what I would like you to find out’.

‘What is your relationship with the person whose number you want to find out about?’

‘Still my mother’.

Finally, she asked me to hold.

‘There is a fault on the line, and it has been reported. I have been told that the issue will be resolved within the 1st June 2016′.

‘That is still two days away. Could you add a note on the system that says she is 81 years old and that it is her only means of communication’.

‘I cannot do that’.

‘You cannot add a note to the system?’

‘If I cancel this, then the engineers will take 30 hours to schedule the visit’.

‘But I do not want to cancel the visit, I just want you to add a note, to hopefully let the engineers know that she should be a priority’.

‘I can tell you that the problem should be resolved within the 1st June 2016.

So what do you think I should do?’

A pause.

‘Perhaps you can get a neighbour to come with another form of communication’.

‘She lives in the countryside, and does not have mobile coverage. That is why I would like you to prioritise the issue’.


I thought she had hung up.

Eventually, she reappeared, and repeated that the issue would be resolved within the 1st June 2016.

Clearly, this an example of the contact centre of the future, full of empowered people resolving issues for their customers first time and via any channel.


They are not alone.

On our way back to Scotland on Sunday, we checked in to our BA flight to discover that the seats we had selected and paid extra for (don’t get me started) had been arbitrarily changed from 6A and B, to 34 E and F.

We went to a desk called ‘Assistance’.

We explained to the lady on the desk the problem.

She looked at her computer with a slightly confused expression.

She could not help us.

We said that it was not acceptable to pay for allocated seats and then be moved to the, presumably, very back of the plane.

Eventually, after phoning people and poking at the screen, she explained that there had been a plane change.

We asked why we were not in row 6 on the new plane, or even close.

She didn’t know. Normally that would, indeed, be how it worked.

She couldn’t do anything about it. She could get us to Row 22.

No, we couldn’t get a refund because they hadn’t guaranteed row 6. We said that was not acceptable.

She said she couldn’t help.

We walked away, the computer having said ‘no’.

It turned out that the plane change was due to the flight being shared by six other airlines, literally. They needed a Boeing 777.

It also turned out that Row 22 was Premium Economy, and was, for the short flight north, not only very acceptable, but very comfortable.

But, she didn’t know. And she couldn’t assist.

So why put her in charge of a desk called ‘Assistance?’

These are not the only examples of farcical and embarrassing customer service that we have reported over the years and they will not be the last.

What baffles me is that we have talked, CEOs have talked, everyone has talked about empowerment and multi-channel this, and omni-channel that for so long.

And still nothing has actually been done about it.

Tags: , ,

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.