Oh for a warm body to answer BT's phone

Related Topics
British Telecom has spared no expense telling us it is "good to talk" and now it is spending tens of millions of pounds teaching us how to talk good (so to speak) with its new TalkWorks programme. This is all about the art of conversation and its secrets can be found in a 94- page book that is being sent free to 20 million households.

Mine was not one of them so I rang British Telecom. "Good afternoon, welcome," said a voice and I realised this was not going to be a quick call. This is what the experts call an "interactive voice response" unit or IVR. So far, 38 per cent of all calls in western Europe are answered by these machines. The others get what they call a "warm body response", and that was what I wanted: a warm body to order my booklet from.

The Voice had other ideas and was already on a tangent, asking personal questions about touch-tones and telling me to hit my "star" key. This had to be a bad idea and yet for some reason - curiosity? honesty? frustration? - I did. Five options followed but none even got close to my request. "I'm sorry, I didn't detect a valid key press," said the Voice, and started repeating herself.

I rang back but - very daring this - did not hit the star key and waited for the warm body that surely must follow. To my horror, the Voice was back: "To use this service, you will be asked to speak your response." She ran through the same options. I refused to speak. She refused to react. I hung up because that is what you do when you realise you are having a fight with a machine.

More calls, more voices, musical interludes and wrong numbers. Finally a warm body put me on hold and came back with a Freephone number. This time I expected the Voice but it just kept ringing. I hung on, charting emotion as follows: irritated at ring 10, frustrated by 20, angry at 30, seething at 35 and amused and amazed at 40. By the time a warm body answered on the 47th ring, I just said "hello" and asked for the booklet.

TalkWorks has lots of tips for being loving, giving, caring, sharing. It advises us on being a good storyteller, a good understander (sic) and how to "give feedback". It says that we should "avoid the blame game" and "make conversations like dancing - a two-way partnership with neither side dominating".

For most people this would involve five years of therapy, minimum. The Inuit may have at least 12 words for snow but the British are minimalists who have managed to make the word "sorry" mean anything from "I think you are an idiot" to "I think you are fabulous". Stiff upper lips do not make the best dance partners and there is some way to go before we are tangoing and not just tangled (or even know the difference).

Of course BT has even further to go. We humans can always keep on trying but machines couldn't dance if they tried.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)