BT is testing an automated directory enquiries service, which uses a computer to answer queries.
The trial of the service called Auto DQ is taking place in Ipswich, Hemel Hempstead and Mansfield. Residential customers can call 0800 328 0192 to use the service free throughout the two-month trial, which began on March 14.
But Marketing Week calls to the number resulted in a computerised voice repeatedly failing to recognise the name and address for the requested number. It gave six incorrect suggestions and ended the unresolved enquiry with a polite “thank you, goodbye”.
A spokesman for BT claims the service is intended as an addition to the established 192 number, not a replacement: “The service is in the development stages; we will assess the results and then decide what to do. At this stage, there are no plans to roll it out, but things could change.”
A recent survey by Mintel revealed consumers loath calls handled by automated systems. Of almost 2,000 call centre users questioned, 60 per cent said they had been left seething by computerised services.
A National Consumer Council (NCC) spokeswoman says the NCC is investigating how businesses are communicating with consumers through the telephone: “I am glad BT’s digital service is only a trial”.