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Ian Smith
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The Independent Culture
BT's managing director of customer services on criticism of the directory enquiries service

IN ANSWER to your article ("Need a number fast? Not when BT answers", 12 October), I'd say you may be surprised how big an operation BT's directory assistance is - two-thirds of a billion calls a year, 30 calls handled every second of the day, with more than 90 per cent of callers satisfied with the service.

You could say it's the classic win-win - we're in the business of phone calls, and people can't do that without the numbers. While it may amuse your reporter to say that we send our staff on courses on how to put the phone down on customers, of course it's complete nonsense.

What our customers want is speed and accuracy. That's what they tell us, and we listen to their needs. Then we brief our employees on the best way to give our customers what they want.

Recently we reminded our employees of the best way to find the right number from the 30 million on our database. Without the basic information - surname and address for individuals, company name and locality at least for a business - getting the right number often becomes guesswork. That's a waste of time for the caller to directory assistance and an unwarranted intrusion for the person who subsequently may get a call to a wrong number.

Often, especially with companies, we can come up with the right number with a little less information. But if you want to call my home - and you don't have your phone book to hand - directory assistance will need a little more than, say, "Ian Smith somewhere in the UK".

Yes, we do want to speed the service up. But to suggest that this is cost-cutting is to look through the wrong end of the telescope. It's our customers who want a quick, efficient service.

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