Many businesses are recognising that social media and customers”voting with their tweet” can cause a tsunami of negative feedback but it’s interesting that some of them, although they’ve established teams of problem handlers to engage with complainants in the twittersphere, still make some fundamental mistakes.
I’ve calmed down now and feel comfortable trying to draw some salutary lessons from a recent exercise in resolving issues caused by, apparently, a mishmash of individual incompetence and institutionalised customer hostile processes and procedures at one of our leading banks, who will remain nameless.
We’ll preserve anonymity and refer to them as Banklays in case you’re thinking of selecting a bank to support your business needs in the near future.
Back in July I met with a chap who styles himself our “business banker”, I had a short list of simple things that we needed doing to help one of our associates out by transferring one of our companies, along with the bank accounts, to his ownership, along with the funds in those accounts.
The Banklays business banker had failed to provide me with a mobile number so I was unable to contact him and discover why he didn’t turn up on time, after thirty minutes I rang his office, they wouldn’t give me his mobile of course, they said they’d ring him, he turned up 20 minutes later. Relaxed and perfunctorily apologetic explaining that he’d been with a client, I’d assumed so, but, wasn’t I a client?
Although I’d made it very clear, the task at hand, he, our “business banker”, seemed more intent on impressing me by demonstrating his skills at coaching businesses, which seemed odd, bearing in mind that is what I do for a living and that he’d never started, built or run a business, and indeed had been a Banklays minion for some 15 years.
But he noted down each of the things I asked him to do, simple things. Transfer these two accounts. Change the recorded directorships. Amend the mandates. Simple banking things I assume. We discussed how we kept track on-line of our accounts and transactions and he offered to stop sending paper statements. To be honest I’d not been aware that we received paper statements but it seemed to be a good global citizen call.
“No problem” he declared skipping off to his next, presumably also tardy, assignation…
Nothing happened, nothing happened again, nothing the next day, it kept on happening.
I expected an email detailing the tasks he’d accepted and his plan for completion. The prevalence of nothing continued. I rang his office. They promised to chase him. A week later I got a brief email explaining that he’d been really busy but was actioning my requests.
It took three months and many calls, emails and form-filling by myself, my partner and our associate to get the simple transfer of accounts to actually happen, I’ve still to work out how, or indeed if, the business banker added any value. I chalked it up to experience, and then a slightly annoying thing happened.
I received a Banklays statement in the post. In the same post I also received a letter from the same address telling me that we would be charged thirty pence for the statement, this seemed odd on a number of counts. Why two envelopes? Why spend 62p sending us a letter explaining that they were charging us 30p for another letter which also cost 62p to send. And crucially, why were they sending me this stuff at all when we do all our banking on-line?
Really, really crucially, you may recall, our business banker had promised to cancel our planet-harming waste of two statements a month. Four months ago.
In trying to get hold of this chap over the previous frustrating quarter I’d finally managed to extract his mobile number. So I called him. I got a voicemail message from another banker, explaining that he was temporarily taking our bankers’ calls but actually he wasn’t as he wasn’t taking any calls so why not ring the (it turns out) ironically titled “customer service centre?”
So I did, a lo-call (0345) number, so I was still paying for the joy of helping them reduce their costs. How? By keying-in more than enough ID to satisfy GCHQ and then to hit buttons pretty much at random to select the lucky lady who would be fielding my very reasonable question. None of the menu options available were “to tell us we’ve screwed up and to help us put it right.”
So I finally got to speak to a young lady, I identified myself once more, apparently all the original account specific data recorded was simply to permit me to press buttons on my own telephone. My question, in essence, “why are you charging us for doing something you told us you’d stopped doing months ago?”
She couldn’t tell me, she made me go through another set of identification questions, then announced that the telephone banking system wasn’t working for our accounts.
“Why?” I asked, I’m curious like that.
“I don’t know”, she replied, obviously a less inquisitive personality type.
“Well” I offered, “that doesn’t matter to me, I don’t use the telephone banking system.”
“No” she replied “but we do,and I can’t do anything till I can see your account.”
I was confused, “Well I’m looking at our account online?”
“But I can’t”, said the nice lady from the Banklays customer service centre. I’ll have to talk to a colleague in another team to fix your problem.”
“Woah there lassie, not my problem, your internal system problem. Look I’m busy, once you’ve done that can you ring me back?”
“No, we can’t do that”
“We’re an inbound call centre”
“That, again, would seem to be your problem. So I have to stay on the line, paying for the call while you get someone else in the bank to fix a problem with your systems so that you can actually have enough information to fix a problem that you have inflicted upon me, your ‘customer’?”
“Oh well that’s just fine then, do you have some irritating music I can enjoy as the meter keeps ticking and my customers wait for me to get back to doing something useful for them?” (That might not be verbatim but you get the drift).
So after a little while I got to speak with another young lady, who made me identify myself, presumably in case I’d committed seppuku whilst waiting and some passerby had picked up the call.
She was mustard this new lady, she quickly worked out what had happened, for some reason they (not us, them) had suspended telephone banking as we transitioned the accounts back in July/August and never got around to reinstating it.
She reinstated it, she admitted that it should have been done as a matter of course, she had no idea why it hadn’t. Now that she could access my account, once I’d identified myself, again, she could address my original query, remember that? Statements? paper? 30p?
She could see that we’d been changed to paper statements after my July meeting with the “business banker”. She couldn’t explain why. I tried to convey just how frustrated I was that resolving a stupid 30p charge, inflicted on us by an incompetent, had, thus far, cost me nearly an hour and several points on an already borderline explosive blood pressure situation.
She offered to call me back, I expressed my surprise, but it transpired that I was now magically connected to a different call centre.
I kicked myself for not demanding proof of identity.
Thirty minutes later she rang me back, I had to identify myself. Of course I did!
She advised me that she’d reset our statements to on-line, couldn’t offer any explanation as to why the cockup had originally been implemented and offered reimbursement of the charges and a £25 compensation for my trouble. It was made clear that this would be an end to any complaint I might think I had whether it was about management incompetence, institutionalised ignorance or a customer-hostile service culture. (To be fair those are my words, not hers)
“Well” I thought, “it’s been a tough day, how much Valium can one buy for £25?”
Serious lessons, probably falling on deaf ears at Banklays, but relevant for everyone else trying to run a customer friendly business I think,
1. Stick to your knitting, only if you’ve delivered the banking tasks which I’m paying for might I be interested in your added value services, so get the basics right.
2. Empower your staff, trust your staff, to actually make decisions and help, New York hotel doorman can spend a grand to help a client, Banklays help staff can’t make a phone call.
3. No matter what it says in the script, leave out that last line. If we’ve fixed your mistakes, never ask if there is anything else you can help me with, I’ve helped you fix your mistakes, nothing in this interminable transaction has helped me to do anything.
Right, blood pressure back to normal, time for a call to Voldamortfone…
You’d think that a business such as Amazon, huge marketing spend, highly skilled, totally focused on driving out all the return it can from it’s customers (and crucially, their data) would be pretty slick.
Which is why I was surprised to see them making some of the fundamental errors that can move any organisation, instantly, from the customer aware, tailored, informed, targeted, trusted-advisor role and out into the marketing Death Valley of badly constructed, poorly managed, blitzkrieg mailing.
They know a lot about me do Amazon, they know that I buy and read a lot of books! they know which ones! which authors! which genres, which formats I prefer! they know how often I buy stuff! and they’re pretty good at predicting what I might want to buy next! often they’re right.
They also know my name, my address my credit card details, my friends, (the ones I buy stuff for and the ones I recommend stuff to) they know my email. So how is it that they send a generic mail to my email, but address me as “Dear Amazon.co.uk customer”, and deliver the exciting news that I like “books“.
Really? no kidding! what insight, what a personalised approach.
There’s a lesson for all of us here, I allow them to use my data because I get value from that, if they fail to treat it with intelligence and respect, they’re failing to live up to the deal.
And that’s a relationship killer when we, the customers, have choices, and voices…