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When travel narrows the mind - Shifting the balance of power

11th May 2006
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Last week's diatribe on the inability of nPower or MBNA to have a single view of the customer - i.e. me! - seems to have struck a chord with a lot of you. Thanks to all of you who contacted me with your own horror stories - doesn't make my own experience any better, but at least I know the suffering is shared.

The question that most of you asked, which is hugely pertinent it seems to me, is why do we put up with it? Why don't we vote with our wallets? We have a good old moan, raise our blood pressure to unhealthy levels - how long before someone dies of contact with a call centre? - then we do.. well, typically nothing! We shrug our shoulders and go along with the notion that bad service is all we can expect.

So a new study from the US is pretty interesting in that it takes as its basic premise that the balance of power has shifted from seller to buyer - but the sellers haven't woken up to this idea yet. As such a lot of companies are going to end up in a lot of trouble as buyers exert their new found power.

I found this a reassuring thought as I filled out a First Direct application form this week. I'd been in Amsterdam at a conference and when I tried to take money out of an ATM was told I'd exceeded my daily limit - which was strange as I'd taken no money out that day and there were plenty of funds in the account. But I assumed it must be a technical glitch and got money out on an Amex card instead.

On my return to Gatwick next day I went to an ATM to take out money and was told my card was suspended. I contacted Barclays customer service and asked why. Twenty minutes - and three operators - later I finally got through to Fraud Prevention - who told me my card had been suspended for my benefit because someone had tried to take out money in Amsterdam.

It seems that to the good people of Barclays, the notion that I could board a big metal bird and fly to another country has yet to catch on. The idea that you can be in Brighton in the morning and Amsterdam in the evening - 45 minute flight! - is just too wildly bizaare for them to comprehend.

So if someone tries to take money out on my card in Amsterdam, it must be fraud of course. The fact that the briefest perusal of my transactions would have shown that I'd taken money out of ATMs in Copenhagen, New York, Paris, Manchester and Bristol as well as Brighton and London in the past 4 months clearly did not mean anything to fraud detection - whose job it is apparently to track trends and notice anomalies. Now I'm no Sherlock Holmes but I'd have thought an obvious conclusion from my transaction record might be... this guy does a bit of travelling!

But no, it's gotta be fraud so let's shut down his account and not contact him. Leaving aside the fact that there was no need to be suspicious, why didn't you phone me if you were concerned, I asked? Oh we did, said the appallingly vacant individual on the other end of the phone who proceeded to read out a Central London telephone number that seemed curiously familiar. It dawned on me: it was my home phone number from 15 years ago!

Now Barclays does have my current address and contact details. They send my statements to my home. Their 'trying to sell me things I don't want and am never likely to buy' department seems perfectly able to call me up. I've checked with my branch and my correct contact details are on file. The only department that apparently doesn't have my phone number is fraud detection, the people in charge of protecting my account! To make it worse, they had my home address as being in Brighton and home telephone number as being in Central London. Did the discrepancy not occur to you who are supposed to be lateral thinkers looking for trends and anomalies, I enquired? I couldn't say, came the grimly inevitable reply.

Then came the humdinger! You should really tell us before you leave the country, said the smug woman in Barclays rather tetchily. So there you have it. Barclays, a global financial services giant with an ATM partner network that reaches all around the world, wants me to call them and let them know if I'm going to dare to set foot outside the UK. I took a deep, deep breath and told her I'd be in Barcelona, San Francisco, Geneva and Paris over the next month and a half. Oh we can't put all that in the system, she trilled, you can only have 2 countries at a time. You'll have to call back before each trip.

So I made one more call. To First Direct which is now in the process of moving my business from Barclays after 16 years. It's going to be a hassle to do and I'm pretty confident that Barclays will do everything they can to slow it down. I have a feeling that my phone number will be found and used at some point in the next week or so. But they will be wasting their time.

I'm going to feel better at the end of it for taking a stand against their appalling customer management and the process-driven, bloody-minded pomposity and inanity of their fraud call centre people. It's time to fight back against these people. Nothing is going to get better until we do. Never mind buyer beware - sellers beware!

Click the 'Add your own comment' below to share your thoughts and opinions.

Stuart Lauchlan
News & Analysis Editor
[email protected]

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    Further reading

  • Customer power rules, sellers out of date

  • Ten top tips: How UK call centres can be profitable

  • From call centre to contact centre

  • The Insider's Guide to Customer Service Knowledge Bases

  • White Paper: Achieving customer service excellence with streamlined service resolution management

  • Excellent Customer Service - Start by Recruiting the Right Staff. A BP case study

  • The A – Z of Good Practices for Customer Service

  • UK leads Europe in customer service

  • Customer Experience – The Voice of the Customer

  • Customer experience has little to do with customer service

  • How To Create A Great Customer Experience

  • Replies (2)

    Please login or register to join the discussion.

    By Brox999
    11th May 2006 14:58

    I have banked with First Direct for 6 years+ after switching from LLoyds TSB because of appallying interest rates on the current account. Just last month First direct decided to stop paying interest on first £500 in their internet savings account just like the other big banks, so I'm going to try smile for a while after getting no response to an email complaining about this.

    Thanks (0)
    By Pascale
    12th May 2006 01:29

    Well guys, just have a look at the very title of this newsletter: "Customer management community". That says it all, doesn't it? Forget about customer service, nowadays what needs to be managed is the CUSTOMER: controlling their needs, tuning down their expectations, telling them how they'll communicate with you - or not -, dictating what's OK and what's not. Huge budgets are spend on machines to help companies control customers even better. Good CRM = perfect control. The balance of power has really shifted...
    I have changed bank and telephone company because of bad service and poor value for money, but you know what? the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. Because no-one manages customer service anymore.

    Thanks (0)