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Need a number fast? Not when BT answers

BRITISH TELECOM has sent its staff on a training course on how to put the phone down on customers who ask too many difficult questions.

In an attempt to cut down the average handling time for an enquiry from 30 to 25 seconds, operators have been told to rebuff enquirers who do not provide a full address or who want a search of the entire country.

In future, callers who ask questions such as "I want the number for John Smith in Birmingham" will find their call abruptly terminated. They will, however, still be charged. The service was free until 1990, but calls to 192 now cost 25p each.

Calls by The Independent to directory enquiries revealed frustration as normal.

The enquiry, for an organisation called the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners, was met by a polite lady prepared to spend over four minutes on her keyboard.

However, she didn't have any luck, even though the organisation in Crowborough, Sussex, is listed in the directory. A second call for a private number seemed to show the new rules were working well:t

"Mark speaking what name do you want, please?"

"Clark." "And the address?"

"Er, I haven't got the exact address. He lives near Cambridge I think." "I need the address." "His initial is R."

After precisely 20 seconds, we were cut off, and advised"please hold on if you require further assistance.

After a few seconds, Mark was back: "How can I help?"

"I seemed to get cut off." "You weren't cut off, I just need the address."

"It's very near Cambridge."

"There are two pages of R Clarks near Cambridge". After two minutes 10 seconds Mark lost patience and we were cast into the outer darkness.