Go on! Have a damn good moan!!!
I was most amused to see the conclusions drawn by a study this week that we're just not moaning enough about bad customer service. It came at the same time as the news that the number of complaints to banks and other financial services firms have shot up.
There's not much to be surprised about in either case. In the UK we have been brutalised into accepting shoddy customer service as a way of life. We expect trains not to run on time; we expect that we'll be served in shops and pubs and restaurants by truculent individuals who don't want to be there; and we console ourselves with some specious, self-deluding claptrap about stiff upper lips and how it's just not British to make a fuss. So we get the crap that we deserve.
As for the banks, what did anyone expect? Short of being an MP with his or her snout in the trough, can there be more loathed individuals at the moment than bankers? Once again, we tolerate shoddy service and have come to accept it as the norm. If I take £1000 out of my bank account, it comes out immediately; if I pay in £1000 it can take 4 or 5 days to turn up. I can look at my online bank balance and see that it's there, but it's not going to be accessible until the bank is good and ready to let me have access to my own money. That's to say nothing of the outrageous bank charges, the rotten counter service etc etc.
What was interesting with this latest study was the acknowledgement that banks are actively ignoring or rejecting their customers complaints. It's a good strategy. Tell the customer that their complaint is not accepted and tell them their only option is to contact the Financial Ombudsman to pursue their claim. The clever thing about this is that the banks must know that the Ombudsman service, which is supposed to keep the banks in line, is actually an invaluable tool in deflecting complaints due to the way it works.
I contacted the Ombudsman during my recent problems with Barclays which – through direct and self-confessed shortcomings by the banks – was damaging my credit rating. When I got nowhere with Barclays, I called the Ombudsman's office. I spoke to someone who advised me to fill out a form and post it to them. They would, she assured me, TRY to sort out the problem and come up with a solution within 6 months, but she couldn't guarantee it! Six months! Six months during which my credit rating is further damaged by Barclays incompetence. And in the meantime, Barclays can do nothing and probably count on a hefty majority of complainants giving up in the face of this ridiculous delay.
What is the point of an Ombudsman's Office that is so busy or under-resourced that it can't help those with problems in less time than half a year? If there are so many complaints about banks, there needs to be a tougher and better resourced operation to escalate complaints more urgently. Then we might all start to demand the level of customer service we deserve and reasonably expect to get it. As it is, the Ombudsman's office is, inadvertently perhaps, complicit in helping the likes of Barclays to carry on treating their customers with contempt.