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Call centre embarrasses UK officials

Is it possible for British Rail's call centre operator based in India not to be aware of Scotland or the difference between a 'slipper' and a 'sleeper'?

india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 14:32 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Is it possible for British Rail's call centre operator based in India not to be aware of Scotland or the difference between a 'slipper' and a 'sleeper'?

If the owner of a popular circus is to be believed, that is what his experience was when he called the British Rail number for information on rail sleeper services between London and Scotland.

Tony Hopkins, director of Billy Smart's Circus, has been narrating his phone experience at every venue he stopped during a journey in Scotland, evoking responses from people who have had none too pleasant experiences with call centres in India.

According to Hopkins, the British Rail operator based in Mumbai had no idea where Scotland was - in fact he had never heard of it, could not spell it and, finally, thought it might be a station on the London Underground.

He called up the British Rail number when he was planning the trip to Scotland to research venues for his travelling show.

"Scotland obviously puzzled the Indian operator. He asked me how to spell it about four times, but still didn't know what I was talking about. That's when he asked if it was an underground station.

"I was so surprised I laughed out loud, but he was still baffled. He eventually had to put me on to his supervisor. It was unbelievable."

There was even more confusion, when the supervisor reportedly thought Hopkins was asking about slippers instead of sleepers.

"If you want to go somewhere that's difficult to say and spell, like Auchtermuchty, I wouldn't even bother," said Hopkins, who eventually gave up in frustration.

He was planning to take his Big Top show to Stornoway, Scotland, but had not used the sleeper service in years. Hopkins thought that a quick call to rail inquiry would tell him which destinations could be reached by a sleeper train from London.

He added: "It's funny now, but at the time it was very annoying. Workers at these call centres don't have any local knowledge at all, but this was a pretty extreme example."

Hopkins eventually caught a flight to Scotland but he told the story at every venue he stopped at and has vowed to stay away from trains and call centres.

The service is operated by the Association of Train Operating Companies, who described the incident as "unusual".

A spokesman said: "Our staff in India are given training so they should know their geography.

"They know where Scotland is, because that's a core part of the rail network. It's very unusual for this sort of thing to happen and the customer should have complained to us."

First Published: Feb 18, 2006 13:38 IST