Julian Knight: 'Your call is not important to us'
Pity poor customer services – we're all trapped in phone hell
Sunday 06 September 2009
I actually feel sorry for some bank, building society and insurance customer service departments. They are at the bottom of the corporate food chain, usually desperately under-resourced, seen as an expense in organisations focused solely on the bottom line, having to execute policies decided upon elsewhere by soulless bean-counters.
To add to this, they have to stay tethered to a phone all day while being snooped on by supervisors and often shouted at by customers, many of whom could do with a sharp course in manners.
Modern customer services are a dehumanising experience – an exercise in ultimate frustration for all concerned. From the automated hold messages ("Your call is important to us, please continue to wait") to the lack of power held by the person answering the call. Whenever I've lost my rag, I haven't felt a catharsis, just shame. Yet banks, building societies and insurers in their massive, faceless way push us into this misery, often charging us several pence a minute for the privilege.
But these departments are busier than ever, with figures from the Financial Services Authority showing that complaints have been steadily rising over the past couple of years. There are lots of reasons for this – greater awareness of the right to complain, mis-selling of payment protection insurance and the consumer rebellion over unfair bank charges, to name but a few. What we don't know is precisely who are the worst offenders because the FSA only releases sector-wide information. So I don't know, for example, how many complaints NatWest has received, but I do know how many UK banks attract in total (and that's a colossal figure). All in all, this data in its present form is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
The FSA plans to start releasing data about individual firms next year and it's likely that banks, building societies and insurers will have to make this available on their websites. However, there are lots of ways firms can hide unpleasant information on a site. The FSA needs to go further, and ensure that every firm publishes its data against agreed industry averages on its home page – so customers can see whether the firm is good or bad against its peers. What's more, average amounts of redress need to be shown, so when customers receive compensation offers they can gauge better whether the financial firm is holding back on them.
In an ideal world, greater transparency of complaint handling would lead to firms genuinely competing over customer-service standards. And you never know, life may even become more pleasant for people working in their call-centres.
Forget the phoney war
As Chiara Cavaglieri reports on page 85, HSBC's headline-grabbing 1.99 per cent mortgage offer doesn't herald – as some have hysterically reported – a new price war in home loans. In fact, the thawing of the mortgage market is very gradual and any supposed recovery in the housing market tentative and fragile. HSBC's offer is more phoney war than price war.
But in one area of personal finance there is a glimmer of growing competition and that's current accounts. This week, Santander will offer people switching to an Abbey or Alliance & Leicester current account a £100 incentive. Santander has major ambitions of course – a place in the big-four UK high-street banks no less – and sees grabbing more current account business as crucial to this. This flies in the face of a lot of bank's, and building societies', attitudes to current accounts – namely that they'd like to stop paying interest on credit balances at the very least, and, if they can, make us pay for something which we've had for free for years.
HSBC and First Direct have been in the forefront of this, scrapping credit interest and, in the former's case, pushing so-called packaged current accounts – where you pay a monthly fee in return for add-on services. But Santander's aggressive approach shows that some institutions still value your current-account business. Perhaps the slide to fee-charging current accounts which bankers threatened us with at the height of the anti-bank-charges campaign a couple of years ago isn't such a foregone conclusion.
- 1 Serena Williams apologises after comment that rape victim 'shouldn't have put herself in that position'
- 2 Disability campaigners celebrate 'victory' after government rethink over plans to make it more difficult to claim disability benefits
- 3 Bankers could face jail after report urges the Government to introduce new criminal offence for reckless management
- 4 Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists
- 5 We never knew Nigella Lawson - and we still don’t
iJobs Money & Business
£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: FX Options Front Office Java / C# Developer - Ba...
£600 - £700 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager - Front Office - Regulatory IT C...
£600 - £750 per day: Orgtel: FATCA Project Manager - Banking - London - £600-...
£550 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Fidessa Analyst / PM - Banking - London - Up to £...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom semi-detached house in Lower Slaughter constructed out of natural stone in keeping with the Cotswolds, £650,000
A smartly presented two-bedroom cottage, extensively refurbished with sun-filled garden and terrace, £350,000
A Victorian barn conversion at Heath End Farm with four bedrooms. £1.25 million.
A spacious two-bedroom flat within an impressive Victorian terrace building, close to Fulham Road and New Kings Road, £375,000.
A two-bedroom flat at Grafton Court, a former manor house in the village of Temple Grafton, with private terrace, £450,000
A four-bedroom listed mews in Apley Castle with impressive drawing room, £425,000
A two-bedroom flat close to the Regent's Canal with a private patio and a concierge service. £500,000
A two-bedroom flat at the Candlemakers Apartments set over two floors with a balcony. £625,000.
This three-bedroom Grade II-listed thatch in the pretty village of Wigginton. £450,000.
A new two-bedroom flat with a bright open-plan reception and skyline views. £450,000.
A modern home of almost 1,000sq ft is close to Stoke Newington's high street. £499,950
A five-bedroom bungalow in Hoveton with riverside garden and mooring dock, £550,000
A refurbished one-bedroom flat with south-facing reception and high ceilings. £579,950
A four-bedroom Grade II-listed house in Nazeing with large gardens. £550,000
A modern four-bedroom house in a converted stable within walking distance to Peckham Rye. £695,000
Three-bedroom house in a quiet residential area within close distance to Battersea Park. £450,000
A three-bedroom cottage within commuting distance of London, Norwich and Cambridge. £250,000
A two-bedroom cottage with a sun room and gardens in South Chard. £350,000.
A three-bedroom semi-detached house with original features including fireplaces and wooden flooring. £399,950