When Janine Diggle of South Shields said “bear with me” to a Barclays telephone customer, she didn’t realise how true those words were about to be. That’s exactly what she said a caller to the banking call centre complex in Newcastle, before hitting the hold button and cuing 3 minutes of Vivaldi at standard telephone rate. She then filed an urgent fingernail and unwrapped an unauthorised Gypsy Cream. And that’s when things went wrong.
Half an hour previously, Freddie the young North American black bear en route to Teeside Zoo had managed to slip through the bars of his cage at the Junction 65 service station. How Freddie gained access to the nearby call centre without photo ID or a pre-booked appointment is the subject of an RSPCA investigation.
What happened next was beyond coincidence. About thirty seconds after Ms Diggle fatefully said “bear with me” to a caller in Worthing, East Sussex enquiring about his overdraft facility, her words became literally true. Freddie, attracted by the smell of Ms Diggle's Gypsy Cream stood behind her workstation and kept her company for two minutes. So intent was Ms Diggle on her manicure she didn’t realise that the whole floor of the call centre was undergoing a silent and in most cases hygenic evacuation, causing exceptionally long customer waiting times. Luckily the call centre’s automated response system kicked in, apologising for the delay and playing an estimated 43,029 callers You Keep me Hanging On by the Supremes, while the 0845 system clocked an income of £5329.43 to be shared between BT and Barclays.
Freddie, said onlookers, was oblivious to the cacophony of ringing phones and police sirens, as was Ms Diggle. Freddie’s original keeper described him as “friendly, harmless and incapable of metaphorical action.”
Ms Diggle has now received treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as a biscuit-related warning, but Barclays say there are no plans to replace 0845 numbers with free 0800 numbers for customers held in a queue for whatever reason.
Freddie meanwhile was humanely shot dead by delighted police marksmen.
Now the phrase “bear with me” has been banned in newly published guidelines for call centre workers.