Saturday, January 06, 2007

Computer says no. Cough.

OK - I'm going to do something now which I vowed never to do on this blog - complain about my bank (Lloyds TSB) and its inept, incompetent and spectacularly unhelpful overseas call centre.

I'm not proud of myself. I know that after house prices this is probably the most hackneyed subject on earth. However, after my experiences over the last hour, I really need to share my anger. Specifically, my anger at the complete disconnect which there is between the actions of people who think they are doing a good job and the service which they end up providing.

I might be a misanthropic git at times, but having worked in call centres myself before reaching the dizzy heights of 'Assistant Customer Relations Manager' at Scottish Widows, it genuinely takes a lot to turn me into a complainer. Having dealt with more than my fair share of minging, whining, bad-tempered customers down the years, I'm now probably the most patient person in the world when it comes to dealing with underpaid and under empowered customer service staff.

There have been exceptions. Arriving a day late at Dulles Airport after Air France had lost my baggage, a spectacularly obnoxious American Express representative caught the brunt of my ire, when she refused point blank to tell me how much luggage insurance I had with which to buy a change of clothes. 'Since the British Office is closed and I am not authorised to tell you, I can not help you, Mr Thomson'. 'Righty-ho... so here I am, stranded in Washington DC after a 10-hour transatlantic flight, already one day late, with no luggage and no change of clothes since I left Edinburgh 36 hours earlier, and it's my fault you can't help me because I was stupid enough to lose my baggage outside UK office hours? Gold Card service my arse'.

But for sheer, bone headed obduracy, today's episode takes some beating. It started with my trying to use the LTSB internet banking service to pay my friend Elaine for my share of our New Year jolly (see previous post). Not remembering off the top of my head what my banking ID number was, I lazily clicked the 'Forgotten your ID' link, expecting that it would be emailed on to me.

Fool. That was my mistake, since it gets sent out by post. A 5-minute rummage through some paperwork yielded the original letter with my ID number. However, this user ID now failed to work, which a call to a Glasgow call centre confirmed was because the 'old style' ID numbers were being purged. The only way I could pay over the money today was by phone bank, to which I would now be transferred.

One transfer later and following an overly flowery and frankly irritating 'assurance' that the call handler would be most wonderfully delighted to help me, I failed to answer correctly what my overdraft limit was. I had to guess, since I no longer get paper statements, relying instead for that information on internet banking (!). But sadly, the call handler was now most terribly sorry no longer to be able to help me.

Not wishing to call back if my access to the phone bank service had been frozen, I asked whether this was the case. 'I cannot help you Mr Thomson'. 'Yes, I know that you, personally, can't help me now, but if I call back, will I find that my access has been frozen?'. 'I can assure you your account has not been frozen, Mr Thomson'. 'That's not what I asked. If I phone back, will someone still be able to help me?'. 'Someone will be able to speak to you as I am speaking to you now, Mr Thomson'. 'That's what I'm afraid of. Is my access to phone banking frozen or can I call back and start again?'. 'I understand what you are trying to say Mr Thomson...'. 'I'm not trying to say anything - I did say. Now, please answer my question - is my access frozen or not?' SILENCE. (Me) 'Oh for heaven's sake' CLICK.

10 minutes later, and suitably fortified with a cup of coffee, I tried again. Yes, my phonebank access had been frozen and I would need to go through the process of setting up another account. I got the overdraft question right this time (hooray!) and we got to the part where I had to confirm my address.

I moved into my own place 3 years ago, but despite informing LTSB of my move and even taking out the mortgage with them, they somehow never got round to updating my details. It's never been a problem, because I just pick up their letters from my folks' house each time I'm round. However, after some supervisorial consultation, the fact I had given them an 'incorrect' address apparently meant that they could now no longer proceed with my registration.

By now losing the will to live, I told the call handler that after my desperate experiences with the bank today, I'd decided that grown up life was far too complicated and that as such, I was now going to sell my house and move back in with my parents. Since that was the address they already had on file for me, surely we could proceed with my registration on that basis?

After what sounded suspiciously like a sotto voce curse from the call handler, off she went to consult the aforementioned supervisor. After a few minutes on hold, in best Little Britain fashion, the answer came back that 'Computer (and supervisor) says no. Cough.'

To be fair, like most things, overseas call centres work fine when everything is going to plan and established procedures make sense. My gripe is that when things do go off the rails, in my experience, staff for whom English is clearly a second language often fail to grasp the nuances of what is being asked. They then get wound up, the customer in turn gets wound up, and the whole thing gets mired in an unsatisfactory stalemate, leaving an unhappy employee and an unhappy customer. Although everything I described could (and no doubt has) happened in a domestic call centre, sadly, it seems to happen to me far more often when the call centre I deal with is based overseas.

So Elaine, if you're reading this, I'm afraid it might take a few days for you to get your money. In fact, the thought occurs that since an Indian call centre doesn't like either my new address or my old address at my parents' house, in the interests of protecting my security, they might not be able to send me any mail ever again. If that's the case, there'll be no internet or phone banking for me ever again, or at least until I can speak to someone who has both common sense and the inclination to use it.

There's a Royal Bank in Portobello as well. If LTSB redeem themselves when I kick off about this on Monday, I may just resist the urge to pick up the change of account forms next time I'm passing. Frankly, in my current state of mind, they are lucky that it's a Saturday and I don't have the option of doing it today.

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