Customer service or the lack thereof

Back in April, faced with mounting bills, the prospect of a pay freeze and Mrs Allotment 5 1/2 not chipping in minimum wage plus, I spent an enjoyable Sunday figuring out how to save a few pennies on, y’know like, the essentials.

I crunched the numbers on our expenditure spreadsheet. We debated ditching satellite TV but decided it’s the cheapest (and/or sanest) entertainment in this village.

Cut the food bill. Well. I’ll grow more. We’ll eat value line capers.

Transport. I’ve got the bus/car costs down to the last pfennig and I don’t see much more to be saved unless I grow bigger quads to cycle up Orleigh Hill.

Utilities. TV and endless newspaper and magazine columns tell us that we can save squllions by shopping around.

Saving. My ISA, frankly, sucked. It made Japanese growth in the 90s look like a hors catégorie climb.

Step forward my friend the web.

‘Leccy: Essential to keep a freezer full of home grown broccoli going. Teh Gruaniad’s helpful comparison website threw up a good deal from British Gas, like to save about £100-£150 a year.

I applied online and an automated response said my application had been received and I’d hear in two weeks.

Six weeks later, we got an electricity bill. It made no mention of changing the tariff. So, I rang British Gas. First, I had 20 minutes in a queue. It took about 5 minutes to get the customer service agent to understand my question and come up with an answer.

The answer, to my surprise, was that the application had been declined because I hadn’t opened an online account before completing the application. Er, process FAIL.

Next, I was told I couldn’t open the account because Mrs A5.5, in whose name the account is held, has a different surname to me. Twenty minutes of arguing and speaking to supervisors later, BG agreed I could do the business if Mrs A5.5 said it  was okay.

“Is it okay for Mr Bloke to speak on your behalf.”


Security question. FAIL.

Ok. We then sorted it all out.

Until today.

I checked the online account – which wouldn’t let me in for 15 minutes – to find that no account had been set up. We’re still on the old pay-through-the-nose tariff.

Now, I’ll give the agent I spoke to this evening her due. She was patient with me and did eventually sort things out and gave me a £25 credit (I asked for £50).

But, get this. The original application for the web saver tariff had been refused because we hadn’t set up a direct debit. (I do seem recall that this was part of the application process so I guess that’s: multi-category FAIL.)

We’re all set now. Three months, two phone calls x 45 minutes, raised blood pressure later.

Meanwhile, back in April, I found an ISA account from another bank – one whose commercials I detest, but let’s not go there. It offered one of the best high street rates.

But. You cannot apply online unless you already hold an account there. So, I filled out a webform to get an application pack.

I toddled on to the local branch a week or so later with my completed application. What the application pack failed to mentioned was that I needed to prove who I was because I didn’t hold an account….

Trip two. Passport, proof of address. Done. Application wings it’s way to a black hole of a back office.

Within two weeks – yep, speedy – I get a letter rejecting my application because I didn’t (see above)…

And where in the application pack did it say that? And, why didn’t the customer service manager point this out when I proved that I am not a number ™?

Grrr! I said to the smiling customer service person the next day. “We’re a bit busy now. Would you like to make an appointment?” Oh, thanks yes.

So, on a Friday afternoon with a full bladder and a bus to catch I spent 45 minutes filling out any number of forms with some poor functionary with a lofty title and a slightly above minimum wage pay packet. I wound up applying for all manner of things to shut the poor dear up.

But, done.

And. Now. I have a pile of paperwork and plastic as thick as my bunions. In there, somewhere, there’s PINs and passwords and probably a note saying my application has been refused.

My old pitiful ISA has been closed. Where that money went, I have not a clue. It’ll probably take two months to withdraw to pay next year’s council tax bill.

I applied for a third thing on that rainy April Sunday.

For reasons that are obscure, I started spending £10 or so a week at the local Somerfield/Co-op.

Now, I love the Co-op idea but hate the shops. I really hate the Somerfield brand and it’s history. Kwik-Save, anyone.

Anyhow, I thought I ought to apply for a divi. In case you don’t know the Co-op concept, the Co-op does not have shareholders. It has members. Any rube can join. And you get a share of the profits (a divi). These days it’s not cash. You have to re-invest it in the shop. That is, you buy products. It’s a concept filched by Tesco and the like with their loyalty cards.

It took awhile to complete the online process. But, I got confirmation that my application had been accepted.

I. Am. Still. Waiting. For. My. Co-op. Membership.

Sometimes I don’t get it. The web can be a powerful and efficient way to deliver services. But, in this limited experience, when it fails, it can fail spectacularly.

I guess my BG application should have cost about £1-£2 in processing. But, as it went wrong, that cost has, just in agent time, at least trebled. Some of the basic processes were just plain wrong. Private sector efficiency?

The bank was worse. Even its staff got the process wrong. And, I have had about six mailings since the application went through. I know. Banks. Bastards and all that. (Actually it’s a mutual.)

And the Co-op too. Pants.

I don’t know the moral of the story. But, sure enough it’s fodder for a decent rant.

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