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

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Cancelling a Sky subscription

Dear Sky broadcasting,

You didn't cancel when asked - twice - you didn't refund correctly - you didn't answer emails - you didn't provide a facility to reply to some emails - you have a premium-rate phone number - you didn't provide requested FreeSat card - you wrote standard, irrelevant letters - you dealt with me through multiple 'handlers'. And now you bombard me with envelopes. Already there is yet another envelope on the doorstep which I will reply to after writing this. It will just say to read this:

What is Service?

It was a long, cold, night in December 2011 and I decided that if Sky TV didn't deliver something decent over Christmas I could no longer justify paying £26ish a month for a subscription service I rarely watched since the advent of Freeview in the rest of the house. Don't get me wrong, I watch loads of stuff squirted out of Astra satellites, just none of Sky's paid-for channels any more. I don't just not watch the diet of dreadful drossy American Cop/Gun/Car/Explosion/Reality shows where the hero never gets on with his boss, but I really have not been impressed by Sky's occasional own attempts at drama or comedy or the sameness of their advert-laden music channels and LSD-induced children's programming. Are colour-blindness and a total lack of photo-sensitive epilepsy pre-requisites to work in commercial-laden children's television? They should be.

I used to watch Sky's science fiction when they showed new series on their own channels: the nerd in me first subscribed to Sky in early days to watch Star Trek's various 'colon: something' series which they easily stole from under the BBC who still to this day think science fiction is for children or BBC Wales and should be shown before 7pm. When all TV Trek was eventually cancelled in favour of similarly-named Hollywood special effects extravaganza "movies" it was superceded on Sky by the Stargate franchises. They didn't last forever either and nothing as good has appeared since. At least, not in my opinion. Everything new these days has to have the drossy elements mentioned above. New series seemed to be designed by production companies who only feel safe copying each other. For once, could a hero like his boss? I never liked any of mine in the real world: drama is supposed to be fictional! Please could some TV characters and "personalities" at least appear to have more than average intelligence and better manners than a slob?

Hour-long episodes of anything on Sky's subscription channels and other commercial TV now often consist of 40 minutes programme and 20 minutes advertising. To this day, I find it hard to understand why a subscription service has advert breaks at all. I found that as their programming became more mediocre, I would mute the overly-loud adverts (another irk) and easily lost interest in second-rate programmes and would eventually switch off or migrate to the uninterrupted BBC. Friends tell me I should have a Sky plus box so I can skip the adverts but I like to watch in real time, without a live pause or having to fiddle and remember to record everything. (Is there anything more irritating than watching TV with someone who repeatedly winds/rewinds/pauses something you are trying to watch?)

I also believe Sky has been touched by the Murdoch mafia. And not in a good way. Probably.

Subscription cancelled

On 13th January 2012 I phoned Sky to cancel my subscription and asked for a FreeSat card so I may watch free-to-view as well as free-to-air channels. I was assured that my subscribed viewing would cease in a month and the last Direct Debit in February would be for less than usual and be the last. I made the mistake of  trusting that anything at all would happen. Nothing did, except I pulled the Sky card out of my box to see what I could watch. I never put it back in and I never kept a close eye on my bank account either.

On 23rd June 2013 (over a year later) I looked more closely at my bank account(!) and phoned Sky again and asked if they had a record of the conversation in January 2012? Yes they did! And guess what? The lady who dealt with me then didn't work there any more. My file was marked for cancellation but nothing had been done. Of course I was due a refund of all the Direct Debits they had erroneously kept taking but the amount was such that it would have to be rubber-stamped by a manager. She would be in touch by email, she said.

All sound good so far? It's all lies, of course, or at the very least Sky management is the type who expect loyalty from their staff but who return none. No email. No call. No letters. Until I took action. I gave up waiting and contacted my excellent  bank who were far more efficient. By 4.30 pm on the day I phoned them, all the Direct Debits from 13.1.12 to date were refunded under the terms of the Direct Debit Guarantee. About £400. A few days later, I receive a letter from Sky advising me that I will be receiving a refund of £70.02. WTF? And now the letters keep turning up. Almost daily now. Probably marketing?

I received unanswerable emails from Sky too because I cancelled the Direct Debit at the bank and they still send letters asking if I want to upgrade to sports and movies, but no apology for the woeful incompetence beyond the nice lady I spoke to in June who understood my predicament and seemed sympathetic. I am only guessing but "refer to a manager" is too often synonymous with  "pluck up courage to talk to senior coward" these days. Yet again (insert long story about mischievous employment agency) someone who ignores the  law but is too scared to face the public, fucks about with my money and doesn't think a truthful explanation or an apology is in order. When someone expects and has been told to expect a refund of something like £416 (16 x £26) and that this is only subject to management approval, the customer's expectation is that you can do simple sums and not behave like dicks. How did you arrive at £70? By being a dick. I don't know: you have not bothered to explain yourselves. In banking this behaviour was known as "trying it on". I had a boss who used to charge someone £100 when he deserved £25 and graciously refunded £50 when they complained: "just this once" and "as a gesture of goodwill" he would lie. Please note: my birth date does not precede the date of this article by one day.

When you read this, faceless cowards of management at Sky, let me make this quite clear: the only medium of communication I will accept from you now is through the comments boxes below. All letters and email from you will be assumed to be junk mail and destroyed, unopened. Oh, and DO NOT phone me under any circumstances. And you DO NOT have any authority to try and reclaim any excess refund from my bank. Be on notice my bank: do not believe Sky or their rascally bankers. If Sky think I owe them something they can try asking me nicely instead and  may get something from me once I have made a deduction of £20 for lost interest and £100 for my time incurred in having to put up with useless incompetence.

So, Sky, what have you to say for yourselves? I expect this to be good.

P.S. I am still waiting for my Freesat card.