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Calling Line Identity – Why Doesn’t BT Know Who I am?

Calling Line Identity is a key attribute carried in the signalling that is used to set up and tear down a telephone call – or a media session, as we might more accurately say today. CLI presentation is something we take rather for granted, as it’s the means by which we can see who is calling us on our mobile or fixed devices. Yet only a few years ago this was a value added service offered by telecoms operators and, it seems strange to write in 2014, something novel to many.

Today, it’s hard to imagine life without it – it means we can screen our calls. If I see that it’s Rob calling, then I make sure to answer; if it’s a withheld number, then I probably won’t. It’s become integrated into our behaviour and we are conditioned to check who is calling us before we decide whether to take the call, let it go to voicemail or simply to reject it.

It also enables useful things when we call businesses. CLI can be matched against entries in a database, so that, in theory, customer service agents can deliver a more personalised service through recognising callers and summoning details that can help with their enquiry – calling history, perhaps, or recent purchases. That's the rationale behind what we used to call CTI (Computer Telephony Integration) and it’s something that we should just take for granted.

However, the reality is that companies don’t do enough with this information. Here in the UK, they often hide behind data protection regulations to request further identification before engaging in a conversation. Worse, they often don’t even try to personalise the conversation before going through their security checks. Even if these are essential, they could at least make an attempt to liaise with me directly when they see my number flash up on the screen pops.

What’s really surprising is that BT doesn’t do anything with this information either and one would imagine that they ought to know which fixed line number belongs to which customer. I had to speak to someone in BT’s sales department recently regarding my Infinity product. At a certain point in the conversation, the person with whom I was speaking asked me for my phone number. I was shocked. Surely she could see it on the screen in front of her? Apparently not – her PC held information about me, but didn’t display my number so that my records could not be correlated with the call.

Vodafone did something similar with me recently too – asking for my mobile number even though I was calling from a mobile. Something to do with security, apparently – in which case, why also ask for my PIN, DoB, address and so on?

I thought this genuinely astonishing and laughed about it with a customer, thinking he would be similarly amused. He was – but then he said that the same thing happens in Germany if a call is transferred between departments within his operator. Why? Why don’t operators and service providers make more use of the information in front of them to deliver a more effective and personalised service?

15 or more years since we first started talking about CTI, it would be really, really nice if more companies started to adopt some of the principles behind it – including the largest service providers. It’s this being taken for granted that creates lasting dissatisfaction. I was more amused at the stupidity behind the experience but I was reminded also of the views expressed by GPT back in 1998 when I asked a chap why, when I ring directory enquiries (I still did in those days), didn’t BT offer to connect me to the number I required? The technology existed to do it, but his reply was surprising. He said this was “because it was assumed that I would ring the number anyway”, so BT – and its supplier GPT – saw no need to implement a simple service. Guess what happened when the directory enquiries market was opened up? All the new entrants started offering this service – and charging a premium for doing so.

The lesson - don’t take your customers for granted and think you know what they want to do. Chances are, you don’t, not really. Start using information you have and services you can offer to deliver a better experience. It’s not difficult!