2 Apr 2001
A long time ago, when Margaret Thatcher was at No 10, I benefited as one of her Ministers from one of the few perks of office. If my telephone at home was out of service, we could ring British Telecom – obviously using someone else’s instrument – and report the fault. It would then be attended to promptly, on the grounds that the management of the country should not be disrupted because its Ministers were incommunicado. When the Scouts camped in our field and lit their bonfire under the telephone cables – giving new meaning to the concept of a hot line – British Telecom responded promptly. When British Telecom was privatised, this swift response was regularised by subscribing to some Premium Service, which guaranteed the same high quality response.
Out of office, we are rightly exposed to the same service as everyone else. A few days ago, both our lines at home were cut off. A kindly neighbour rang up on the Wednesday evening, to be told that the fault would be attended to the following Sunday.
As this was just before a decision was expected from the Prime Minister on a General Election, being out of contact for so long was a handicap we could have done without. One of the nerve centres of local political activity would have been isolated. It would have been good to talk, had we been able to.
Chasing up progress was a ritual familiar to anyone who has had a similar problem. Dial 151, press the star button twice. Then a series of questions, asked slowly, to which the relevant answer is usually at the end of the menu. Then there is the promise of contact with a real person. You are told, reassuringly, that you are moving up the queue. All the staff are attending to the needs of other customers. And then there is someone to talk to.
But instead of asking how they can solve the problem, the customer is cross-examined, threatened with a £70 callout fee, asked to disconnect every attachment, to check the batteries – all to rectify a fault back at the telephone exchange.
We are now back in touch with the rest of the world; but I wish to re-subscribe to the Premium Service at whatever the cost is. I have looked through the BT booklets and it isn’t mentioned. And I can’t face ringing up to ask about it.