One million-plus calls and Flintshire man's still on the line

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PHONE operator Laurie Mitchell is a ‘millionaire’ with a difference.

Next month the 57-year-old joins a select band of customer service advisers with 30 or more years of service – during which time he has answered in excess of a million calls.

Laurie, who has never missed a day at work or been late, started in the days when operators answered calls on a ‘cord board’, using pencils and dockets.

He said: “Customers would ring in, a bulb would light up and you would plug in the cord and answer.

“You would then tick off the number they wanted on a docket so that you could charge accordingly whether it was a ‘collect’ call, ordinary call or a payphone call,
which would beep after three minutes.”

Laurie lives in Holywell and undertakes a daily 100-mile round trip to BT’s Bangor call centre. Yet he has no thoughts of hanging up his headset.

“I just love to come to work,” he said. “I have enjoyed whatever job I have done in whatever part of BT I’ve worked in. It has certainly been varied and I have seen a lot of changes. I can’t imagine not going to work. It’s my colleagues, the environment, the customers. I’ve found my dream job.”

Laurie’s career has taken him from London to Grimsby to North Wales, where he normally works a 10-hour nightshift four days a week as one of a 26-strong team of 999 operators in Bangor.

He was first based at Wood Street, near the Barbican Centre in London, before moving to Wren House where he had a bird’s eye view of Prince Charles wedding to the then Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul’s Cathedral in July 1981.

He has spent time in international directories and as an operator dealing with domestic, international and fault enquiries as well as calls to 999.

Laurie said: “It’s been calculated that I now handle around 490 calls a day, amounting to well over a million calls in my 30 years – give or take one or two.
There are times when it can be hard and upsetting but also funny and occasionally memorable. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Laurie recalls being on duty one Christmas Day. “A man rang 999 for the police,” he said.

“It seemed he had broken down on his way to pick up his mother-in law. He was in a real panic, though, as he said his wife would never believe him!”

Warren Buckley, BT’s managing director for customer service, said: “Laurie is an inspiration to his colleagues and an outstanding ambassador for the company.

“He is a model employee who loves his job and epitomises all that is good about customer service.

“He is polite and patient and won’t settle until he has done all he can to help callers. We are extremely proud to have people like Laurie working for us.”

After studying hotel and catering management and working as a hairdresser, Laurie joined BT as a telephonist because he was looking for a “safe and secure job”.

He has witnessed first hand how it has changed from a telecoms company to an international communications business.

“Computerisation has changed everything,” he said.

“I was so nervous to begin with but things became so much quicker and easier and I ended up becoming a trainer.”

See full story in the Leader

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