Thursday, 9 June 2016

An open letter about communicating with your customers

Dear customer service twonks in general and Barclaycard slaves in particular,

You seem to be forgetting to meet your customers' needs these days; let me run this up your dirty corporate flagpole:

  • If I phone you, phone me.
  • If I email you, email me.
  • If I write you a letter, wr...

You get the idea. Picking up on your customers' preference to use one particular communication 'channel' is known as a "courtesy". A courtesy apparently unknown at Barclaycard:

  • If your website lectures me about how great your secure messaging is (even though you've done your best to hide it) and how it can be used for anything, I don't expect you to phone me up in response to an online message. Ever. Not even if it's because your complaints department is dealing with it or even if your CEO thinks he's above all that. It's either the way I communicate with your or it isn't. If it isn't, you said it is, so routing messages is your problem isn't it? Why make it mine?
  • If I wanted to speak to you on the phone, I would have phoned you. Why is this so hard to understand?
  • If you really only want to do things by phone, be honest and get messaging deleted from your web site. Stop misleading customers.

Why don't I phone you or expect calls to me?

  • I can never hear your staff clearly. Not only do I have some tinnitus but your phone system is old/dreadful and/or your operators whisper and often in a strong regional/national accent. Does anyone know what elocution means any more? Is it included in staff training?
  • Your security procedures have been a joke for 40 years and serve only to teach your customers bad habits. You phone up from a withheld number and demand to identify ME. I need to identify YOU first.
  • Phone calls are nearly always inconvenient or an interruption unless it's your job but it is most certainly not mine.
  • I have no record of the content of telephone calls and a memory like

Once you realise people do things for a reason and not to be difficult, your attitude towards customers will change.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Lloyds Bank survey fail

I spoke to Lloyds Bank yesterday. Today they send me an SMS:

Hello, as a valued Lloyds customer, your feedback matters to us. We have 5 quick questions, so you can tell us about your experience.

Setting aside the two redundant commas and the use of a numeric '5' rather than the word 'five', as convention should dictate, I really object to the nature of this. Why?

Firstly, it has been sent from an account I cannot reply to, so I am unable to send 'STOP' or even point out their grammatical errors. Sending messages which cannot be replied to is rude, nothing else. Some would call it spam when I haven't agreed in advance to receive it.

Secondly, I cannot complain that the follow up messages they send require a reply to be send to a short-code account which means I have to pay for the messages. WHAT?

Lloyds Bank: all I want to do is complain about your ill-conceived customer satisfaction survey. I am not going to answer it so the nice lady I spoke to (for 17 minutes) will not receive the excellent feedback she deserves.

All your ignorant management deserves is a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Perhaps Lloyds would like to give some feedback in the comments below.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Would you like to opt for emails from us instead of letters or paper bills?

I have always said this is a terrible business model:
  1. Allow customers to opt for email instead of paper in envelopes
  2. Send out emails which say "please visit our website as there is a message for you"
  3. The emails say "do not reply to this email" and "this address is not monitored"
  4. Do not provide a direct link to the message. If a link is provided, make sure it is wrong, out of date or take the customer to the front page, make them log in and plough through umpteen pages before arriving at the message
  5. Do not provide any means on the website to reply to the message in kind
  6. Provide an email help desk who won't reply because 'confidentiality', 'security' or some other nonsense about being a different non-technical department probably at the other end of Britain
  7. The customer may only make contact using pre-WW1 technology: phone or post. The 21st century spin is to phone a call centre full of useless under-equipped and under-skilled drones or write a letter which will be answered by someone who doesn't know how to write a letter.
Some banks, credit card, energy companies, mobile operators, phone companies and now HMRC are doing this.

This is not acceptable. I have left suppliers who do this. Can I leave HMRC?

Dear every company/organisation in the world,
I expect to be able to contact you in the same way you contact me. This is only polite. If you want to talk to me on the phone, phone me. If you want to send me email, put the message in the email and let me reply to it. If all I can do to obtain a record of contacting you is to write you a letter, I expect you to write me a letter.

A good example of SBM. Stupid British Management with all the IT understanding of a dead dog. We shouldn't accept this daft one-sided load of hairy old nonsense. I intend to keep writing letters and make them write letters to me until any email offering is properly bi-directional.

Or do you keep a recording of every phone call you make to these idiots? They claim to but I have already had 'we have no record of that conversation' from a bank which was important because they then imposed unreasonable terms to a mortgage I never agreed to and now HMRC demand immediate payment of back tax with no acknowledgement that they promised to collect it by adjusting a future PAYE code. Grrrrrrr!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Moving Home and Taking Your Energy Supplier

Moving house? 

Want to take your current energy supplier with you? 

You can't.

At least, not at first.

Before I moved home I was with Co-op Energy and wanted to stay. For both ethical and other reasons I have no wish to be with a foreign-owned supplier or one with a terrible customer service record. In other words, I have no wish to be a customer of any of the Big6 ever again. But I was forced to be.

I asked Co-op Energy to carry on supplying me when I moved but they said they couldn't until the existing suppliers were able to hand the premises over. This should be of no import to me. What do I care who the previous owners used for their energy supply? There may be an outstanding debt, or something, I was told. That's none of my business and certainly not my liability. You have no choice, I was told.

So I found out that the previous owners had used British Gas (ugh!) and E-on (ugh! ugh!) and had to sign up with them (on their most expensive tariffs) in order to leave them right away. Only when that was in place could I then switch. Signed up with the crooks at the end of October, then signed for a switch to Co-op Energy shortly afterwards. Oh, there has to be a cooling-off period of a month, I was told. WHAT? Why? So British Gas and E-on can fleece me?

It was me who read the meters when I moved in, it was me who read the meters when I switched. Exactly what the flying f**k is going on with moving home? Just another way for the Big6 to try and grab custom their customers have no wish to give them?

Interesting to note that British Gas said Co-op Energy could have taken the supply on without me signing up with them first. E-on didn't say as their drone was clueless when I asked. Energy Co-op were adamant that they couldn't.

So thanks OfGem for being Unfit For Your Purpose. This is as bad as bank account switching used to be. I suggest you have a word with everyone and tell them how this should work in the consumer's interest and not so British Gas can send me two over-estimated bills so that they can have some free working capital.

I have been robbed by the Big6 AGAIN, the bastards.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Define: Churner

Somebody is bound to ask "what's a Churner?". It's a term I have coined and use to describe massive companies with terrible customer service. It also explains why they have terrible customer service.

Churn (v.) is about customers lost and gained and is sometimes used as a measure to describe the difference between the two. By managing Churn (n.) to be positive, companies are able to ensure their customer numbers are always on the increase.

There are two aspects to managing Churn: minimising the loss of unhappy customers and gaining new ones. Traditionally, this is achieved by
(1) Keeping existing customers happy with excellent service and rely on their personal recommendation to gain new customers and
(2) Advertising worthwhile benefits to prospective customers to gain them.
These are the two simple and obvious things honest small firms and true cooperatives do.

However, when a company is massive it can afford a huge, constant, saturation advertising budget. Even if an advertising campaign is basically daft such as O2's "Be More Dog" (what does that mean?) or tells lies, such as BT (whom I caught telling porkies in TV adverts three times on the trot), plenty of gullible customers will be intrigued, amused or taken in and wander in through the 'front door' of the massive business and sales techniques will persuade them that O2 or BT or whatever is better than anyone else in the same market. All mobile and broadband providers and their equipment are basically the same and cost about the same but If they can gain enough customers through advertising and nothing goes wrong, they don't even need to provide a level of customer service which would satisfy a dog. Sorry dog. Just so long as the number of new customers out-paces the leavers, they are laughing. And they do. Behind your back, but in your face.

So you see, massive advertising campaigns and poor customer service go hand in glove. If there are increasing customer losses because they employ minimum-wage, unskilled, under-trained, call-centre staff who provide poor service, they just increase the advertising budget to attract more new customers. Just so long as losses are manageable, companies don't really care, though this doesn't stop them using JFDI* management techniques in call centres to make everyone think they care. They do not. It is all about the cost, you see. They just use the poor service they have engineered as an excuse not to reward call centre drones (as they see them) with any honey. That's why so many are unhappy places.

Companies who say "your opinion is valued" or similar are probably lying. They really want you to go away rather than interact with 'expensive' customer service operations. Only if you want to give them money is contacting them likely to be quick and efficient. But phone them with an unusual query or write a letter of complaint? They are happier if you die and are replaced by a newbie they can fleece. This is why online chat is like swimming through treacle and you are kept on hold listening to deafening music for 40 minutes if you try and phone Churners and stab every button on your keypad. Press number five if you have lost the will to live. They would rather you went away. Or you can 'do it' online yourself which costs them no wo/manpower whatsoever. If you make contact, the wheels can come off when they have staff who can't use the phone, write letters and what you want to do or ask isn't catered for on their particular window onto the limited and creaking Customer Management System.

So, Churners are usually massive companies who rely on an influx of new customers whom they may bribe with special offers, while the fewer disgruntled, angry, let-down, long-term customers who expect a little loyalty in return, can go and fornicate with themselves.

The financial sector - banking and insurance - have been behaving like this for years. LloydsTSB springs to mind: they even behaved like this towards their own pensioners (me). But their pigeons are coming home to roost and now that the new bank switching service is up and running, they are losing disgruntled customers hand over fist. Quite rightly so. Similarly, the insurance cost comparison sites have made it much easier to switch insurers, though they simply shaft you with ridiculous insurance renewal premiums so demonstrate their disdain for your loyalty slightly differently, don't you Direct Line et al?

You pays yer money and takes yer choice, or so they say, but please be aware that the old maxim "bigger is better" only applies to a penis. Sometimes. Really massive corporations who behave as Churners are worth avoiding at all costs. Watch out for Churners. If you get caught up by one because you have the temerity to ask a simple question, write a blog about it, complain to them on Twitter, call them out on their facebook page. These greedy companies who pile on customers at all costs and shave their customer service operations to the bone need to be called out and their practices forced to change. Or they should simply die. I think we will soon see some changes in the banking sector because the feet are marching already. Away from the PLCs and towards the mutuals and the Spanish.

I have already mentioned a few companies I consider Churners: O2, BT, LloydsTSB and you can probably think of others. Did you receive bad service which seemed to be institutionalised? Does the company advertise widely and hoover up new customers more quickly than it loses 'old' ones? Do they simply not give a damn about you?

This is why Sky and the Big Six energy suppliers are crap too, in case you hadn't realised.

Churners. Vote with your custom. Take it elsewhere.

Please add your own examples to the comments below. It's time we fought back.

*JFDI = Just F###ing Do it - the Churners' and the NHS' management style of choice.

[Tim Hill, the author of this piece, worked in retail banking from 1973-1998, was a training manager and now has his own independent training consultancy.]

Monday, 4 November 2013

O2. Oh dear.

The Manager
Correspondence Department
Telefónica UK Limited
PO Box 202

Dear Sir/Madam

Well, the first thing to note is that your address as quoted on your web site is wrong (pedantically, Houghton Regis is not a Post Town and the department should be above the company name) but I am writing to you really because I find it impossible to contact you in any other way. Brilliant. A stroke of genius by a telecoms firm: force us to write letters to an incorrect address. Do you prefer them in longhand? Green ink perhaps? 

You probably expect me to phone 202. Tried it. That is not going to happen again. Last time one call took 42 minutes and your lily-livered call handler hung up on me without resolving my query.  I may have lost my temper to her obfuscation but you are employing the wrong people if they are incapable of apologising for your institutionalised delays and dealing with shouty, angry customers. Talking over us, arguing back and transferring us from pillar to post is never going to work. I would have thought you had plenty of practice to get this right. Do you train staff at all?

I took to Live Chat several times - like crawling uphill with an elephant on your back - but what I asked to be done has not been done. So that was another pointless waste of my time. Where is my PAC code and acknowledgement of contract cancellation? Plus Live Chat is not available as I write this. Now is the time I have set aside to sort this account out: I do not intend to waste another half day waiting for O2 to employ enough people to handle the volume of enquiries it receives. Your excuse that query volumes are exceptional are nonsense. Delays happen ALL THE TIME and therefore your staffing levels seem always wrong. Do you think all customers are stupid?

So, I have to resort to squashed dead trees and the world's most expensive fluid. Why can I not simply write this in an email? Or on a web form? You are a telecoms company for heaven's sake. What is it? Has nobody taught you how to deal with spam and loonies? I know you wilfully abuse the Data Protection Act (by retaining credit card expiry dates and 'renewing' Continuous Payment Authorities - the clue is in the name) so I imagine some misinterpretation of yours stops you using email and so on. Sheesh.

My original query was to ask about why my phone was apparently not barred from making premium-rate calls. I had asked for this to be put in place years ago as I was once caught out by a rouge dialling virus on a land-line with a PC and didn't want the same to happen with a smartphone. However, I have since been caught out by a Missed Call Scam to an 07005 number which I thought was a mobile but turns out to be a follow-me premium number. So, my original question still stands: is my phone barred from making outgoing premium-rate calls?

I think you get the picture. I refuse to pay any bill, as it stands, because I do not expect to find premium-rate calls being billed to it as I asked them to be barred. That is why the Continuous Payment mandate has been cancelled by me. You do not answer my queries or do as you are asked: I no longer can trust you with access to my Credit Card and will pay nothing until you have resolved these issues to my satisfaction: you are in breach of contract. The only way you are going to extract more of my cash is to ask nicely and having done all as you were asked.

Please send an amended bill. Please ensure I am sent my PAC code and please acknowledge my contract cancellation as I asked at the end of my last Live Chat session but had to leave abruptly as I had callers at my door. Why was there no follow-up if for some reason you were unable to do as you were asked? Just ignoring things when customers ask you to do something specific only results in letters such as this, so why don't your colleagues know better? Unfulfilled customer requests will serve only to bite you on the bum. 

I have been a customer since I switched from a analogue mobile phone but O2 obviously does not give a rat's arse and can afford to shed loyal customers like autumn leaves. How about you try and reciprocate some of that loyalty? Hmm? How about a number we can dial to go straight through to a person who can do anything? Is that really asking too much? I'm off somewhere smaller where they know what it means to provide high quality customer service. It is patently obvious O2 no longer have the faintest idea what this means. Too big maybe? Incompetent management perhaps? Probably. I no longer care. You have lost me. Tell your boss and his colleagues to think about that as they cruise home in their shiny company cars I helped pay for. Press button three if you think they are ungrateful gits.

Meanwhile, if I drive through Slough and see that your Head Office is on fire, I will not be crossing the road to urinate on it in an attempt to extinguish the flames.


Yours faithfully

T. Hill

P.S. As a matter of courtesy I know you should respond in the same medium as this but please email me* in plain text at ###@#####.### as it is more environmentally friendly, quicker and easier. Please do not phone as I require a written record of any dealings with you from now on. Thanks.

*Please note: Emailing me at my request does not constitute a breach of the Data Protection Act as somebody ignorant of such things at O2 is bound to say.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Royal Bank of Scotland and Automated Marketing Calls

I hope my letter to the Royal Bank of Scotland is self explanatory. One day after I had phoned them, a robot phoned me up for my opinion....they have it now.

Dear [Customer Services Adviser at RBS],

Thank you for your excellent letter. I am sorry I was not able to return your call.

Please tell your legal department they do not need to throw a blanket of irrelevant "facts" over your transgressions to confound me. The Banking Code has nothing to do with this issue except it adds amusement value. The Market Research Society has nothing to do with it either. They are not lawmakers or enforcers of regulation. But yippee! You have at least adopted some policies but they are irrelevant or at least they are unless they are encouraging you to act ultra vires.

You did what you did. You passed some of my my personal data to a market research company. That company made an automated marketing call on your behalf and it was voiced by a computer. You did not obtain my prior explicit consent to either action. To me, they are both clear breaches of regulation. No amount of irrelevant legalese 'flannel' from your 'experts' will change that opinion. Market research companies unsurprisingly make marketing calls, including surveys.

You are promising never to do it again? It is too late. You have let the hare from the trap. This is not an 'apology culture' as so many people and businesses seem to think; it is not always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. You need to pre-opt people out on a per customer basis, not post-opt their phones out on a per number basis when they shout at you. What happens when their numbers change? Until RBS start treating customers as people rather than a collection of phone and account numbers you will never get this service quality thing right.

Data Protection and Communications legislation and regulation is what I think you have breached and what I believe is relevant here. Your internal policies and industry codes of behaviour are completely irrelevant and of no interest to me. Law of the Land and not club rules, okay?

To claim that the Automated Surveys you are using are not used for marketing opportunities is perhaps true on a per call basis but you cannot deny that overall, the statistics you gather are for market research = marketing purposes. In fact, everything a for-profit company does should be 'for marketing purposes'. I am not daft, so stop your legal department making silly claims about your altruism. Unless you now have charitable status? No, I didn't think so.

To say on your calls " information you will give will be used for marketing purposes" is (not good English and) a stupid lie by someone who does not know what the science of marketing is or what surveys are used for. The information is aggregated, used to improve service, and this makes you more efficient so you can flog more things. Customers are happier, so they buy more things. It is all MARKETING. To deny this is ridiculous. An unsolicited marketing call is not limited to phoning people up and flogging them insurance they don't need and didn't ask for.

"Well, that's all we mean by marketing." Then you are wrong. The activity of marketing includes the taking of surveys, their analysis and subsequent application of behavioural or cultural change in an organisation based on the results in order to maximise future sales opportunities. Just checked but my date of conception does not precede the date of this letter by nine months and one day.

The simple matter is that the Information Commissioner's Office enforces the requirement that Automated Marketing Calls require (potential) customers to positively opt-in to receiving them.
Use this: to reach:

All that is next required is to show that Automated Surveys are a type of marketing call and RBS are stuffed. OfCom thinks surveys are marketing calls (of course they are!) but the ICO, who are the chosen enforcers of this particular regulation, says they are not. They are obviously wrong and think like a venal bank who can convince themselves that surveys and MARKET research are not part of MARKETing. 15:Love to you for now on the purely legal technicality of an error by ICO. And note: not for any of the reasons you dribbled out.

So, what you are doing may just about be legal. For now. Not according to OfCom but according to the ICO. They have invited me to mount a legal challenge to establish that a definition of an automated marketing call includes automated survey calls. Would you like to sponsor me? Or shall we go for a test case?

So now you fall upon the back-up policy of most public companies: you will justify doing anything at all, so long at it is strictly not illegal. Well that's okay then. But, no it is not. Just saying crap like that means you obviously don't understand customers nor mind when people say "I hate you". When you act only to the letter of the Law, your moral compass is demagnetised. When you are sitting on a legal fence you should always get down on the right side, not stay up there carping on about everything being okay. That is what your customers expect you to do: the decent thing. Not hide behind the skirts of a technicality, if you can do that when sitting on a fence.

Your legal department obviously have no idea what constitutes an automated call and think your folk dial the number. How quaint. I imagine they push a metaphorical button on their monitor and then a computer takes over and makes the call. Your eagles are quoting lots of irrelevant guff, but on a technicality of poor definition by the ICO of what constitutes a marketing call you get off. For now. Until someone with deeper pockets than I decides to put a stop to people like RBS irritating us and stealing our time by setting their robots upon us. Thought of changing your name to Skynet? Or perhaps senior executives will have an epiphany, realising that they are all being actually quite horrible to every customer and that it is wrong.

I wouldn't mind half as much if you demonstrated customer service surveys are worthwhile by employing people like me to do them properly!

Let us examine now how you are dealing with the moral obligation you have to your customers: not to treat them as numbers, cattle or fools . . . nope. I have come up blank. I see no evidence you are aware of any moral obligation not to foist crap upon us based on shaky legalities. Forcing us to converse with machines is simply awful behaviour on your part: Orwellian in fact. That you don't see that it is so very wrong makes me wonder how old you all are. Too young perhaps. Do you have any experienced bankers left at all? That know the importance of treating customers with respect? There are plenty more banks in the sea, some of whom even obtain explicit consent when they use automated robot-voice calls for non-trivial security issues: Barclaycard's 'belt and braces', rather than RBS's 'shove it in the T&Cs with a wing and a prayer'.

Doesn't look good, does it? As usual, RBS bankers are shown to have a complete disregard of the sort of service they should be providing by using the worst kind of service possible to find out how bad their service is. I do hope you appreciate the irony of using a hated system to find out why people hate you. Making us hate you more by using a poor survey method is like some twisted version of quantum mechanics. The moment you observe your customer using a method which affects that customer's perception of you, the customers opinion cannot be considered reliable because it is adversely affected by the method of observation itself.

You are skating on very thin legal ice at the edge of a precipice, buoyed up by your corporate arrogance and directionless profit-seeking. Good luck. Remember to wave at all your customers as they leave or as you fall in. We are not going to save you next time.

Oh, and you perhaps should know that in my 25 year banking career I spent several of them teaching all levels from executives downwards about the theories behind a MARKETING culture. Thank you for almost not patronising me.

But "Banking Code" ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha.......... I haven't laughed out loud so much for ages.

Thanks again.

Yours sincerely