Image via WikipediaI can’t say that my 15-year relationship with my bank has been a happy one. Strangely enough, things were better back in the days when they used to have Bedouin guards at the door of the Bur Dubai branch and when you had to visit the branch for every transaction. That’s perhaps because life was different then and it was expected that any transaction would necessitate your physical presence, in banking, business and government.
The advent of automation has brought an end to all that, saving us all hours of unproductive and needless hanging around and meetings – now we can buy things, process things and generally get things done online. This is particularly true of banking, where telephone banking and Internet banking both mean that contact with the bank’s staff is reduced to an absolute minimum.
I, for one, am delighted at that because every single encounter with the morons has my blood pressure in the stratosphere faster than an Apollo mission that’s late for tea.
Sadly, many banks in the UAE appear to make broadly the same mistake. These days, when people seek to escalate to a human being, it is usually because there is some exception to the normal routine, a need to talk to someone who can go beyond the ordinary and actually help to find an intelligent solution to a problem that goes beyond the 'system'. If we could sort it out using the system, we wouldn’t be on the ‘phone or, God forbid, dragging our sorry butts into the confusing and vaguely dehumanising environment of the branch. So offering customers a disempowered goon who merely looks at the same information that’s available to us all on our own screens at home and sits grinning like a mildly embarrassed macaque really isn’t going to cut the mustard.
This has always escaped banks in general and, I feel, my bank in particular. The bank makes getting through to an actual, identifiable person in the branch really quite difficult. And when you do, they are uniquely unqualified and unable to help in any way whatsoever. Their job titles are inversely linked to their capability to do anything if my Status Account Special Customer Service Miracle Worker and Glorious Helper are anything to go by. Worse, some clot in management has dictated that they should end every call with “Is there anything else I can do to help you?” Given that most of my calls are frustrating exercises in migraine-inducing head banging that do not actually offer me any solution to my initial problem, this sign-off is ever-increasingly in danger of having me committed for some awful crime of passion.
I’m even starting to get a Pavlovian reaction to the sound of tapping keyboards. I break out into a sweat, knowing what I’m about to hear: “That’s not possible, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”
HSBC has recently taken to gleefully refusing to honour my cheques, for instance. Given that I have written hundreds of cheques over my fifteen long years with them, you’d think that I had been injured in my right hand or had some other major life change that would explain why my signature is suddenly so different, but no – it’s the same old signature. Adding insult to injury, it’s quite a distinctive signature, a megalomaniacal scrawl that makes scrip-writing doctors pause to admire its complete lack of similarity to anything that could approximate to a reading of my name. But I like it and it has always been so. I’d post an example for you to see, but that would be silly in these criminal times. You’ll just have to take my word for it: I have the signature of a madman and it is uniquely, utterly and compellingly distinctive.
When the bank returned my cheque to the AC maintenance company, we bit the bullet and set off for the branch, our packed lunches in little chequered cloth bundles strung on the end of beanpoles. We knew it was going to be a long haul and we were right. The solution, after much frustration, keyboard tapping and idiotic grinning, was to rescan my signature. Super. Done.
Finding that they’ve done it again, only this time to Emirates Post for the renewal of our PO Box, was mildly disconcerting. Emirates Post, of course, takes six months to process the returned cheque and tells you there is a problem by blocking the PO Box rather than actually communicating with you in any way. But I was amazed that nobody had actually told me they'd refused a cheque months ago.
I called to ask why the bank has now taken to multiply dishonouring my cheques without any reference to me. I did take the opportunity to point out that honouring a customer’s cheque was perhaps the most basic of banking services and that maybe a bank that couldn’t get that first step right shouldn’t even be trying the more complicated stuff.
“We tried to contact you,” said the gurgling nincompoop on the line.
This was an interesting tactic. I have never in my life received a missed call from the bank – and my mobile is on 24x7. What’s more, you can get in touch with me via voice, SMS, voicemail, landline, faxline, email – I access my home and work email at all times, sadly even on the mobile now - or even using the awkward and badly implemented Internet banking email box system. I roam. I’m not even going to start on the number of online tools and forums you can catch me on. Let’s just say that if you want to get in touch, I am pretty much infinitely contactable. In fact some people have complained that they can’t actually avoid me.
I asked who tried to contact me, when and through which method. “We don’t know,” said the ‘poop. So how did he know they had tried to contact me?
I shall draw a merciful veil over the rest of the call. But I am now stuck with a bank that blocks my Visa card following everyday transactions with vendors I use frequently, fails to make transfers as instructed, charging me for the consequent exchange losses, and now dishonours my cheques without notice or reference to me.
None of that would be a problem if they had someone that could undo the damage, a sort of SuperBanker. But they don’t, they just have disempowered nincompoops who lie rather than actually go to the effort of tracking down a problem. Because customer service is the very least of the bank’s concerns – the least of its investments and the business process it gives least consideration and resource to managing. And you have to admit, when a highly profitable global organisation’s customer service is infuriatingly process driven, badly managed and inept at every level, the cause of universal howls of frustrated complaint from the vast majority of its customers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps we’ve all got it wrong. Perhaps the secret to being a great business is actually to set out to royally piss off your customers as a business strategy! Maybe McKinsey or someone has told them to do it and so that’s what they’re actually doing – actually investing in annoying customers.
If so, they’re damn good at it.