Thursday, June 27, 2013

Charity discovers automated phone system hasn't worked since 2005

Press "1" to get dead voicemail

A live person is answering the phones at Metro’s largest charity for the first time in eight years. The Metro Cancer Trust turned off its automated phone answering system last week after discovering it had been malfunctioning since 2005.

“I always wondered why people didn’t ever call us. In other places I worked I got phone messages, but ever since I started working here I’ve had zip. It made me suspicious,” said new Trust CEO Darling Turner, who took over after long-time CEO Wendy Snidely retired last fall.

A quick check of the automated phone system found that all callers were routed to the same dead voicemail box that no one had checked in years. The staff person who set-up the system in 2008 forgot to update it and the error wasn’t caught until two weeks ago.

“Everyone who called us got switched from one line to another while being forced to listen to 80s hit songs. They all wound up at Steve Larkin’s old voicemail box where they were asked to leave a message. Only trouble is that Steve left the Trust in 2008. There were 12,456 voicemails waiting for him,” said Turner.

Staff tried playing the messages back, but as soon as they told the system to do so it promptly crashed and went offline. The whole system started smoking, forcing staff to call the fire department. It hasn’t been able to work since.

Staff at the Trust initially hailed the system for being both efficient and effective. Long-time fundraiser Diablo Green says she thought the phone system was doing its job.

“When they initially turned it on, the number of calls that I received dropped significantly. I just thought it meant that the really unimportant ones were being routed to someone else. I mean, my spam calls dropped to near zero and I was happy,” she said.

Other staff who complained about the lack of phone calls were assured by IT that the system was working perfectly. Over the years, several donors emailed and even showed up to complain that they could never get through to the Trust on the phone. But these complaints were usually dismissed as being “Old farts who didn’t know how to use a modern phone system”.

The news about the phone system comes on the heels of continuing bad news about the Trust’s poor fundraising performance. Donations to the Trust have been steadily dropping over the last decade.

“This couldn’t come at a worse time. We’ve been losing money. Donations are way down. We’re laying off staff and might have to close. And we simply don’t know why,” said Turner.

In a related story, Trust officials found out yesterday that their Director of Finance’s email had been set to automatic “out-of-the-office-on-vacation” reply for the last two years. As a result, their annual report and tax filings will have to be done all over again.