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NHS Direct – Comedy Hour!

I’d like to share a story with you, dear blog reader, about NHS Direct. This is partly due to my hurtie leg problem (see Owie, Ouchie or Hurtie post) but also my desire to share my general opinion of this service. I’ve called NHS Direct a dozen times over the last several years and the quality of service has ranged from perfect professionalism to abysmal joke.

It should be noted that some of these events are completely false –  a riot of fictional inaccuracies. However, some are not – behind every dirty lying troll is a fairy of honesty. Either way this is what I’m reporting.

Shut Down!

About 2 years ago it was announced that the NHS Direct service will be shut down within a matter of weeks and replaced with 4 phone lines in an abandoned BBC broom cupboard manned by immigrant midget’s who don’t speak English. Excellent news, doncha think? What a smart move by our poorly elected government.

With this brilliant revelation made by the new coalition gang, I mean government, I decided to go undercover and get a job as an NHS Direct call centre operator to find out how this move was being received by the staff and what it was really like working as a professional medical technician. I’ll tell you now, it was a hoot!

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Number withheld…Moron Alert!

Who are you??????

Yesterday I was at home, working on my novel, researching how to create an e-book and catching up on my blog reading. It would have been a productive day if it wasn’t for the ridiculous amount of garbage phone calls from morons who withhold their number!

(OMG! I just started writing this and the phone rang, a salesman from British Gas asked me if I want to upgrade the cover on my central heating! Actually he wasn’t technically from British Gas, but “a representative acting on behalf of British Gas”, so it was a call centre dick moron reading from his script.)

Back to my point. Yesterday morning I took 18 calls from various idiots asking me pointless questions or trying to sell me something. When lunchtime came around I decided to stop answering the phone altogether. We have Caller ID so when the phone rings I can see who is calling and decide if I want to speak to them or not. Oh, I wish it was that easy!

The problem is that so many of these call centres don’t get displayed properly on the phone’s digital display. It’s either an 0800 number, meaning the call originates anywhere in the UK, or WITHHELD which means someone is being a sneaky bastard, in my opinion.

You’d think with the amount of technology oozing out of every crack call centres would have a better way of informing a potential customer of who they are. But then I guess no one would ever answer them! I could choose not to answer the phone at all unless I recognise the number, but it could be a friend calling from a place that uses a switchboard, or even an emergency call from a hospital.

BT woes, again.

Regular readers will know about my BT Rant a couple of months ago, and how I’m not a happy bunny when it comes to land line calls, costs, customer support…you name it. Years ago we signed up to a something called TPS (Telephone Preference Service) which essentially it blocks all unsolicited calls from unknown numbers and in theory numbers that start 0800 or 0845 for example. It probably only works for UK folks, though I assume other countries have a similar service.

Does it work? Um, nope. BT claim it does but in reality you have to regularly call TPS and instruct them not to share you number with anyone. Shouldn’t they already do that anyway? What gives them the right to hand out my phone number to anyone with a fist full of cash?

Hello caller….oh it’s you.

After the third phone call I decided to make a list of the callers, take a look. It’s quite shocking. BTW the first call was in fact at 08:10 although we have received sales calls as early as 07:30 in the past!! The following isn’t a precise account of the conversations but it’s close!

09:20 – British Gas “representative” #1 – 0800 number – Good morning sir, how are you today? I’m…er, okay. Great! I’m enquiring if you would like to take out additional cover on your boiler for the low, low price of blah blah blah – random number – blah blah blah. No. Where did you get this number? No answer. Can you not call again please?

09:43 – Survey Moron #1 – number withheld – Hi! Would you like to take part in a survey about cinema and theatre in your area. You can sing a song or bark like a dog for a few minutes if you like, we don’t really care. No. Where did you get this number? Silence. Please don’t call again.

10:07 – Insurance Company Sales Moron #1 – 0800 number – Do you want to change your water pipe insurance with extra special cover just for you, a one time only deal we’ll offer you again in a few weeks. No. Where did you get this number? It was on my screen. Please don’t call again.

10:32 – British Gas “representative” #2 – 0800 number – Do you want to switch your electricity supply over to us for improved savings and better customer service that we can prove by calling you up without any permission at all? Um, we already get our supply from you, how can you not know that? No answer. Please stop ringing us.

11:09 – Accident Compensation Company – number withheld – Did you know that if you’ve had a trip or fall in the last 10,000 years you might be entitled to compensation if it wasn’t your fault? No shit Sherlock, your TV adverts are on practically 24 hours a day. If I wanted to be an arse and make a pathetic claim against basic human error I would. Where did you get this number? A database. Then please remove it and don’t call again.

11:38 – British Gas “representative” #3 – 0800 number – Are you interested in upgrading your cover from 4Star to 5Star service? That’s a whole extra star, sir, that’s gotta be tempting, right? Nope. Where did you get this number? You’re a British Gas customer so it’s in our database. Oh really, and is there a comment there stating not to call this number? No. Then put on in there now.

11:53 – Automated Call #1 – number withheld – Hi! You have been specially chosen for our introductory offer for our superb range of… I hung up.

12:07 – Orange Customer Care – number withheld – Actually this was for me personally! Nice chap asking how I was getting on with my new mobile phone. Glad I took the call!

12:22 – Survey Moron # 2 – number withheld – Would you be interested in taking part in a short survey about public transport in my area? It doesn’t matter what you tell us, we’re going to reduce the bus service to one every few weeks anyway. No. Where did you get this number? This question was answered with: “May I take your name sir?” No you bloody well can’t! Do not call this number again.

12:48 – Automated Call #2 – number withheld – 10 seconds of silence then: Good morning! (I can hear the sound of waves and bird song in the back ground) How you would like to spend 2 weeks in tropical paradise? Our customers benefit from…I hung up.

13:15 – Sky TV – 0800 number – Would free installation of SKY TV, complete with phone and broadband interest you? I bet that word FREE caught your attention didn’t it? No mate, not since I called you a few weeks ago asking if you do unlimited broadband in our area, which you don’t. He tried to interrupt me but I cut him off. Sorry, I’m not interested. Don’t call this number again.

13:21 – Home Energy Sales Moron #1 – number withheld – If you switch energy suppliers today you can save 20% on your annual fuel bill, and given the credit crunch that must make sense to idiots like you, right sir? Actually I…oh, why bother, get off my line. I hung up before he could speak more words at me.

13:45 – Survey Moron # 3 – number withheld – Do you have a few minutes spare to take part in a survey about local government in your local area? Actually we don’t give 2 shits what you say so long as we sell our randomly generated statistics to big companies who will parade them on the news to scare the population. No. If you like you can post a questionnaire to me and I’ll promise to wipe my arse with it and post it straight back. I’m sorry sir, we don’t send surveys in the post. Shame. Don’t call again.

14:10 – Home Energy Sales Moron #2 – number withheld – Are you aware of a government scheme where customers can get financial assistance to help reduce heating costs by fitting loft insulation and cavity wall insulation? Did you know about this scheme? Did you? Hey, I’m talking to you in an overly cheery voice packed with caffeine induced enthusiasm! No. I let the poor sap drone on for a couple of minutes before sighing and hanging up.

I must be a sucker for punishment.

Yes, I know, I didn’t have to answer any of those calls but like I said it could be an important one that I miss and I’d regret it. Occasionally I’ll see an incoming call on my mobile phone with the Caller Withheld ID and I don’t answer it. That’s my personal line for people who know me. If a minute later the land line rings then I can assume it’s something that needs my attention.

BT insist the Telephone Preference Service does work but it takes time for our phone number to be cycled out of the system. They advised me to request unsolicited callers to remove our phone number from their database, but honestly it doesn’t make any difference.

It’s got to the point now that I’m quite comfortable with being outright rude to unsolicited callers trying to sell me something or asking me for information. Take the phone call I answered yesterday evening for example, which I did record!

18:47 – Home Energy Supplier – number withheld.

Moron: Good evening sir, I’m calling on behalf of (some stupid company name I promptly forgot) and I’d like to…

Me: Are you going to try and sell me something?

Moron: Well sir, our offer is about making sure…

Me: This is a sales call, isn’t it?

Moron: If sir would let me finish, he’d learn that…

Me: Excuse me? Are you being rude on purpose? Is that in the script you’re following on your screen?

Moron: Script sir?

Me: Yes, 99% of sales calls are made by people reading from a script prompt on a screen right in front of you, anyway, I’m not interested thank you.

Moron: The offer is only available today so if you want to take advantage of our…

Me: I said I wasn’t interested. Where did you get this number?

Moron: [Silence] It would only take a few minutes of your time to…

Me: Listen. I’ve had one call after another from morons like you trying to sell me crap I don’t want or need. I try to be polite but you just don’t listen. I get that you’re just doing a job but try to listen to what people are saying, if they’re not interested just leave them alone. If they ask a question that isn’t on your screen how about you go find out instead of reading out your bullshit?

Moron: Okay sir, thank you for your time today.

Me: One sec, you still haven’t answered my question. Where did you get this number from?

[Silence]

Me: Fine. You can’t or won’t tell me. I want you to remove this number from your system. Am I making myself clear? May I take your name please?

Moron: Why?

Me: So I have a reference of who I am speaking to, for legal and security reasons. If not your name then your staff ID number or other reference. I am entitled to request this.

[He gives his staff ID number]

Me: Good. Now get the fuck off my phone line.

Click. Brrrrr.

I thought I was quite polite. To make matters worse I should mention I was in an evil mood yesterday as I’ve got a bad ear infection that’s left me kinda deaf in one ear, so everything is sounding quite muted at the moment, not to mention the throbbing pain in the side of my head that just won’t go away no matter how much medication I throw at it. Sigh.

Most of the time I listen to roughly 20 seconds of their bullshit then sigh and say “just fuck off” and hang up. If that offends them, tough. It’s bad enough that we have to put up with sales crap from every media source all around us without having to listen to the same through our phones. We can choose not to look at advertising – change the channel on the TV or radio, don’t click that pop-up or use an ad-blocker in your browser. But telephone calls are different. You simply don’t know the true reason for the call until you answer it, regardless of what it says on the Caller ID.

Funny thing just happened.

An incoming phone call with the Caller ID displaying WITHDRAWN, weird. It was a sales woman with a very strong Indian accent who addressed me by my name and tried to tell me she wasn’t selling anything, I asked for the name of the company as I didn’t understand her, partly due to the accent but also my fuzzy head. She blurted through a few lines of script and I stopped her and asked where she got our phone number from.

What did she do? She hung up on me! Jesus freakin’ Christ! Makes me so angry.

Deep breath. In and out, nice and slow. Ahhh, that’s better.

I’m sure you must have similar experiences. How do you cope with morons trying to sell you crap over the phone? Do you answer even if Caller ID says WITHHELD? Are you polite or as rude as possible?

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