#27 Call Centres: The mills of the Twentieth Century.

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All our banking is normally online and the need to ring up and deal with an actual person disappeared around the turn of the century when my wife ate the security base sequence code she had, so no one could access our meagre money and laugh at us, or suggest charitable organisations. So it befell me the honour of ringing up the large bank that keeps what little money we have safe. ‘Data protection’ is a euphemism for ‘fucking ridiculously annoying.’


I had negotiated a series of questions, which I was never told I had passed or failed; but having obtained the next level, sorry, ‘security strata’, I assumed all was going well, then came the ultimate question, by this stage I have a feeling if I get it right, the curtain might sweep open to reveal a large motorised vehicle and a model in swimwear. 

This was the question from the Scoucer, sorry Scoucers (Liverpudlians), but she was. “On the 11th June this year, what money was deposited into your account?”

I asked her what happens if I get it wrong? “You have the opportunity to start the process again!” I told her to wait while I got the online statement up, not wanting to be caught out, as the previous question was how much did I take out of a service till at 1.43am on Sunday 11th December 1998 and I had quite cavalierly answered and assumed I had got it right–no news is good news. 

I get the statement up and say. 

“On that day two lots of money were paid into the account, one from an education consultants and one from a major power company, which do you want?” 

“I can only take one answer Mr Pindar.” 

“OK, but there are two possible answers, one for £125.04 from Acme Educational Consultants and one from Cartel-Power for £100 exactly.” [Names have been changed for accuracy reasons.] 

“I can only take one answer Mr Pindar.” 

“But there are two possible answers to the question.” 

“Sorry, I can only take one answer Mr Pindar.” 

“Ok, do you want me to guess which one you want, is it a psychological test?” 

“I can only take one answer Mr Pindar.” 

“But there are two answers and they both have a 50 percent chance of being right, if I get it wrong I have to start again. Can you pick a day when only one transaction went into the account?” 

“Sorry Mr Pindar, our security protocol does not allow me to change the question.” 

“But think about it logically, you want an answer that has an equal chance of being right.” 

“Yes. I can only take one answer Mr Pindar.” 

“Do you want me to toss a coin?” 

“Sorry Mr Pindar, I can only take one answer, Mr Pindar.” 

Now I am getting exasperated, I’m visualising myself on a tropical beach in a hammock with a cold drink in my hand – it’s not helping. I’d done well until this stage, but it was becoming depressingly plain that she was either in a vegetative state, or an educationally sub-normal prototype robot. 

“Let me get this straight, you want me to answer a question that has a 50/50 chance of being right.” 

“That’s right Mr Pindar, I can only take one answer Mr Pindar.” 

Is it, ‘Deal or no Deal’?” Unsurprisingly neither of us laugh. I’m also thinking this might be a wind up, as I have been informed somewhere way back at the start of this ‘journey’ that telephone calls can be recorded for training purposes! 

“Sorry Mr Pindar, I can only take one answer, it’s company policy.” 

She’s not sorry at all. Voice level rising at my end now, my years of training in that monastery in Tibet are evaporating while I count 10 blue objects in the room, and can only get to eight. 

“What answer are you giving me Mr Pindar?” 

“You’re an imbecile.” [Not proud!] 

“Are you calling me an imbecile Mr Pindar?” 

“That is the answer I’m giving you, put your manager on.” 

“Certainly Mr Pindar. I’ll just pop you on hold.” She may have been educationally subnormal, but she was very polite, almost to the point of Stepfordism. The tone of the male manager suggests she has not been so calm ‘off phone’ and told him, or it could have been more of a personal epiphany: ‘That she was an imbecile.’ I doubt she was wrestling with the fact it was a statement rather than an answer I had given her! I explain the situation to the manager, who has obviously got a degree in phone logic and his final uptake was, “erm, oh I see Mr Pindar. The good news is I will be taking this enquiry forward with you from now on.” It is more tactful than saying, ‘you’re absolutely right, she is an imbecile, but she has gone on her break with the other wives now.’

 He promises me he will send me another telephone code to alleviate this problem in the future (which he did, I keep it away from the celluloseivore wife). I wonder if there will be two and I will have to guess which is the correct one?, but I keep this thought to myself. 

With a code I am put through to a woman in India, which I cannot help thinking – this is a long way from the Yorkshire mill town where this company had its roots in. I then discover that the one off payment for the house and contents insurance they have taken twice from our account; is set to go out monthly for a full year in duplicate! This was arranged with an affable young man with social skills called Daniel, and judging by his logic and diction was undertaking the role after Uni until a better opportunity came along, it was probably his last ‘gung-ho’ day on the job.   

Three weeks later I get a letter to say our home insurance may not be invalid, as I have stopped the (unnecessary) direct debit for the year. This time I have misplaced the new code, or did I just eat it? 


@thewritingimp  www.ianmpindar.com 

50 Mistakes of a Fledgling Fiction Writer as well as ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series are out now. He has another three novels out within the year. He is avoiding call centres where at all possible! The security code in is a bank safety deposit box, that only requires a key!