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Voice Services

Saving lives? That’s just part of what we do.

Not many call centre agents can say they save lives, but the 700 people who work in BT Voice Services do, every single day. And that's not even all they do. The team, spread across the UK, handles one of the most responsible call centre job in the world, taking 999 calls from people in distress and routing them to the right emergency service.

And as if taking tens of thousands of emergency calls each day wasn't enough, the Voice Services team also lends an expert helping hand to thousands of other callers.

I'm in awe of my team. What they do is absolutely incredible, and it takes a special kind of person with a special kind of training to do it.

Geoff Hickman, Head of BT Voice Services, BT

The 999 agents are trained from the word go to understand that human beings are on the other end of the line. It may seem obvious, but some other call centre people can come to think of callers as numbers, or targets. Our people understand that there is a human being on the line, possibly making the most important call of their lives.

And it’s not always a clear-cut call. Because of circumstances, people dialling 999 may be unable to speak to the agent. Our people have to distinguish what’s really happening on the other end of the line. Perhaps it’s a little child calling because Mummy has fallen down – or maybe it’s someone who is being mugged and has had their mobile snatched away as soon as they have dialled 999. On the other hand, it could be what we call a pocket dial, where someone doesn’t even know they’ve rung us.

At peak times, 999 agents can be handling a call every three seconds – on Boxing Day, for instance, more than 95,000 emergency calls were made. It can be dramatic work where the utmost calm is required.

Yet there are still quieter moments - and that's when training, people insight and focus that enables the agents to do their 999 job so well gets put to good use elsewhere. Our team, because of its special training and talents, is in great demand to provide other services.

For instance, because we are a 24/7 centre, we are able to provide call centre capability for lots of different parts of BT as well as other organisations. It means that in between emergency calls, the team is flexible and knowledgeable enough to handle calls of many different kinds. These can include providing support for BT customers who have had nuisance calls or feel they may have been scammed - the agents provide advice and pass information to the police or to BT Security when appropriate.

The team also handles directory enquiries calls for other organisations – in fact, around 65% of the UK's directories calls come through to this versatile team. Once again, it's not a simple business. In these connected days, people seldom want just a telephone number when they dial directory enquiries. Our agents often really have to use their initiative. For instance, a caller recently asked if a particular business was still operating. Our agent went onto Google Earth, found a street view of the shop and saw a closing down sale notice in the window. By zooming in on a date on the poster, he was able to tell the caller when the business had closed!

That high level of initiative and ingenuity makes the Voice Services team - based at six centres across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland - a prized asset. One of the things we're proud of is our good track record of being able to learn the skills to meet a new requirement and deliver to a very high standard within a short space of time. It’s all down to the professionalism and responsiveness of the team, which are second to none.

The team feels rightly proud of its work, too, which is demonstrated by the fact that many have stayed with 999 for 10 and 20 years, with some agents having as much as 30 years of service. "When I joined Voice Services, I sat in with trained agents learning about how they take calls, and I can honestly say I couldn't do what they do. It takes a special kind of person to take 999 calls – they’re amazing".

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