Like many people in the UK, from time to time I have to call a support line for an internet or mobile / service provider about some sort of problem.

I am sure I am not alone at dreading the thought of making this call – being put on hold, having to push 1, 2 etc and being transferred into an endless loop between departments…you know the 1990’s way of “dealing with” customers.

In contrast, the way forward for call centres might be to ditch the endless maze of “interactive” voice response (IVR) systems and instead deploy these agents to listen and respond via twitter and instant messenger (IM) channels.

Let me share a recent example.

I recently renewed my BT broadband account, and was given a shiny new “BT home hub” and also a free BT mobile broadband 3G modem and SIM card.  Thrown into the deal was 12 months of free BT mobile broadband (their MVNO using the Vodafone network) with 1GB of mobile data thrown in – not a bad deal.

I ordered it and everything worked as promised.  I signed up online to add my BT mobile broadband number to my online account.  Here’s where things started to go in a circle.

Trying to add the mobile number online, I received the following error (click to enlarge)

So…I called the 0800 number – and was asked to “enter the phone number I am calling about”.  I entered the BT mobile broadband number.  “This is not a BT number” the IVR told me.

So…. frustrated I tweeted @BTCare the BT twitter support channel.

@btcare pls help trying to register my mobile broadband number get message at call 0800 = not BT number endless loop!

Their response was

BTCare@andrewgrill Hi, the helpdesk would like to speak with you personally please call them on 08007832326. Lines open 8am to 8pm

Ok so I called that number – and sank deeper and deeper into the IVR system….

I actually spoke to 7 people, over the period of 5 calls and nav`igated 15 IVR “trees” (push 1 etc), but I was still no closer to a resolution.

The 5th person I spoke to actually walked me through the website to the part where they offer live chat with a customer care advisor and suggested I use this to have my problem resolved.

Below is the transcript with the BT advisor Keith McKiernan who was super helpful – he actually CALLED ME and walked me through fixing it.

Here is the transcript of the live chat session on Tuesday 15th September 2009.

GoToAssist (13:47):
Your advisor has arrived.
GoToAssist (13:47):
Advisor Keith McKiernan has requested system information from customer Andrew Grill.
Keith McKiernan (13:47):
Hi Andrew
GoToAssist (13:47):
Customer Andrew Grill has sent system information to advisor Keith McKiernan.
Andrew Grill (13:47):
hello am trying to add my BT mobile broadband number 077 xxxxxx to my account but get an error – see screenshot at
Keith McKiernan (13:48):
ok, sorry about that, are u able to call the number on your link?
this will get you through to the mobile team
Andrew Grill (13:49):
yes but 4 handoffs and 12 IVR prompts later I have given up – last chap I spoke to suggested I use live chat. Can someone call me instead?
Keith McKiernan (13:50):
i am unable to call you at present as i have 2 customers, let me check to see if i can get this account added manually do u already have an online account on
what is your email address?
Andrew Grill (13:51):
yes – have 2 lines on it already – I got the error from within my account when logged on
Andrew Grill (13:52):
(email address provided)
Keith McKiernan (13:56):
do u have your mobile account number please
Andrew Grill (13:59):
BT mobile broadband SIM xxxxxxxx
SIM number: xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Your BT account number : xxxxxxxxxxxx
Services in this account : BT Pre-Pay
Keith McKiernan (14:01):
i just have to make a call to get this account online
sorry to keep you
Andrew Grill (14:01):
ok thanks – you are being super helpful
Keith McKiernan (14:06):
no worries
Keith McKiernan (14:11):
have you had a bill from your mobile bb yet?
Andrew Grill (14:11):
no – I should have 1GB free data per month but no BB bills yet – the BB worked for a while but doesn’t work any more
Keith McKiernan (14:13):
ok, there is some problem with the account number,this may be what is causing your BB not to work i may need to call you and pass you through to the billing team
Andrew Grill (14:13):
ok can you call me on 07xxxxxxx
Andrew Grill (14:20):
call just dropped out
Keith McKiernan (14:21):
ok, i will call u when i have explained everything
Andrew Grill (14:21):
ok thanks
Keith McKiernan (14:21):
will bring u back into the call
Andrew Grill (14:21):
ok no problem
Keith McKiernan (14:27):
sorry about this, had to call a different dept!
Andrew Grill (14:28):
ok – glad you’re on the case – I have already hit 8 different departments (9 including you)
Keith McKiernan (14:33):
ok, mate, its the end of my shift. this service is open till 5 if you need to come back
Keith McKiernan (14:34):
lauren seems pretty clued up though so you should be fine
Andrew Grill (14:34):
ok thanks for your help – have a great rest of the day
Keith McKiernan (14:34):
u too, thanks, have a nice day
Andrew Grill (14:34):
she has just sourced a supervisor so fingers crossed!
Keith McKiernan (14:34):

So BT – it appears that for some things a live chat session can deliver the right outcome, but the old, outdated IVR’s have to go!

As an aside, I sent a reply back to @btcare after getting off the phone and before going on the live chat

@BTCare have u actually tried calling this number yourself? Have had 4 handoffs and 9 IVR trees am no closer – can someone call me instead?

Update: Keith has just called me and patched in the right person at BT but in between there has been no twitter response.

Keith handed me to Lauren who simply created a new account (I can’t have the BT mobile account on my existing account) and all is fixed!  If only the other 7 people I spoke to knew about this and were able to point me in the right direction sooner.

The whole experience has also shown that the instant message channel was the most efficient.

The other day I was speaking with the head of PR from a major bank.  I shared my prediction with her that in 5 years time customer care centres will have fewer people on the phone and more using online channels such as instant messaging, twitter etc.  She thought this was an interesting viewpoint and I know went away with a desire to look into this further.

My experience above has shown how the old IVR/phone methods of customer “care” are outdated.  With twitter and IM as a support channel, I can get on with other things in the background while a customer agent sorts the problem, and updates me when they can.

Companies with large banks of customer care agents need to urgently review the channels they support, and plan ahead to support new channels such as twitter and IM.

The first part of this process would be to listen. Listen to what customers like me are saying about the channels they prefer to use and learn how to provide these as part of the mix.

Have a look at my previous post on this very issue

Listen, Learn, Engage and Integrate – 4 rules for brands using social media Part 1

Hats off to BT for embracing these new channels – you should be commended for your forward thinking.  However with the arrival of these new channels, it is exposing the lower effectiveness (what is the cost of these 7 different agents I spoke to?) of traditional channels.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Do you agree with my thinking? If so leave a comment below of tweet me @andrewgrill