Success. Finally, I have made someone in a call centre do what I want, when I want and how I want it. I stumbled on the secret formula for getting jobsworths to co-operate quite by accident.
It was an ordinary day. I was sitting in my kitchen waiting for British Gas to arrive to change my meter. The way I look at it, I’m doing them a favour by letting them change my meter. Since I have no meter-changing desires or ambitions myself, their request to rip out my old meter, which works perfectly well, and install a new meter, for reasons unknown, means that they should, at the very least, go to the trouble of knocking on my door when they arrive.
I forgot that no one knocks on the door any more. I don’t know when door-knocking became obsolete but it has. Taxis are the worst. You wait and wait for a taxi and then discover that they have sent a series of hysterical text messages to your mobile phone, before driving off.
On this occasion, the British Gas engineer had been ringing the land line. Unfortunately, I always ignore the land line because it is invariably a cold-caller trying, for the millionth time, to persuade me to claim back mis-sold payment protection insurance — can there be any more mis-sold PPI in the world?
The British Gas engineer then must have knocked on the door inaudibly, because even the spaniel didn’t hear him and she barks when a fly lands in the porch. He then put a leaflet through the letterbox, which the spaniel brought to me in her mouth. It claimed that the engineer was sorry I was not in. This was a damnable lie. He wasn’t sorry. Not in the slightest. I know this because I ran outside and he was sitting in his van smiling. I waved at him and he got out. ‘I’m terribly sorry, I didn’t hear the door,’ I said. ‘Do come in.’
‘I can’t come in. I’ve closed the job down now.’ ‘You’ve what?’ ‘I’ve closed the job down, on my computer.’ ‘But you’re still here. And I’m here. Please, come in.’ ‘I’ve told you, I can’t come in. I’ve closed the job down.’
‘But I’ve spent the morning waiting in for you.’ ‘Look, I’ve closed the job down, see? On my computer.’ ‘So, to be clear, you, a human being, have to do everything you are told by your computer, do you?’ ‘Yeah, pretty much.’ ‘Go away and never come back,’ I said, which was harsh, but fair given the circumstances.
I rang the number on the fake ‘sorry’ card he had put through the door and a cheerful Indian chap went to town asking for my postcode, date of birth, mother’s maiden name and blood group of first family pet. ‘Do you know who I am yet?’ I asked him, as he then asked me to read out all the serial numbers on the ‘sorry’ card. ‘Yes, Miss Kite, I’ve got your details here.’ ‘In that case, let’s forget the serial numbers. I want to make a complaint and I want to make it before you force me to describe my DNA, strand by strand.’
I told him about the engineer who wouldn’t come into the house. He was deeply apologetic. He offered to send another engineer at a later date if I would just care to rebook the next available appointment, which was in two months’ time.
And that’s when divine inspiration hit me. ‘Madam?’ he said, ‘can we rebook the appointment?’ ‘No. You see, I’ve shut down my answering of the door now.’ ‘Madam?’ ‘Yes, I’ve shut down the whole door-answering to British Gas thing on my computer. I can’t answer the door to British Gas again. I’ve shut it down.’
I half expected him to hang up after admonishing me for abusive use of sarcasm, but he said, ‘I’m very sorry, Madam. We will send an engineer back later today.’ This was astonishing enough, but I decided to continue. ‘Later today’s no good. I’ve shut it down. Sorry.’ ‘Madam, we will send someone right now.’ ‘Right now?’ ‘Right now, madam. They are on their way to you.’
‘Not the same engineer, I hope? I don’t want him. I’ve shut down permanently the entire opening the door to him thing. I can’t reopen that job at all. I want a different engineer so I can open a new job of opening the door to him. And I can only keep that door-answering window open for the next hour. Then I’ll have to shut it down, and I won’t be able to reopen it, ever.’
‘Yes, Madam, I quite understand. We are sending a new engineer to you immediately.’ And so they did. It seems you just have to speak their language.