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 "..no 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: tinyurl.com/ICOAC to reach:
http://www.ico.org.uk/for_organisations/privacy_and_electronic_communications/the_guide/automated_calls

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


1 comment:

  1. "Just checked but my date of conception does not precede the date of this letter by nine months and one day." lol

    I think you might need to explain to the guys at RBS exactly what you mean by that statement Tim, because, you see, they all were! (Born yesterday that is.)

    At the very least you might need to explain to them the meaning of a simple word like precede - I once saw an online ad from RBS which was urging people to invest in a particular scheme "because your ancestors will be very grateful that you did!" No shit!
    Do we really think that the new "challenger" bank W&G is going to be any better. Can't see it - the name will be new but the people will be the same. Actually though, individuals who run banks should be allowed to change their names "to protect the innocent." Oops, sorry, forgot, there aren't any innocents are there!

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