Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Banking on another hour of hanging on the telephone

I called the bank. A sense of dread settled. I don’t enjoy phoning the bank. For all the mealy-mouthed guff about ‘commitment to customer service’, it’s always anything but.

I’ve yet to meet a person who’s happy with their bank...

And, I suspect, I’m not alone. I’ve yet to meet a person who’s happy with their bank, who marvels at their careful handling of their personal finances, or who is dazzled by their efficiency, pro-activity and lack of red tape.

I’d called them because their own systems had failed, though trying to explain that to someone on the end of the phone is like trying to fix a foot-deep pothole with granola.

Here’s what happened. I had to make an international payment. It happens semi-regularly and having lost the will to live over a course of years by calling a department that was as helpful to customers as a chocolate fireguard, I made a discovery. There was a button allowing me to do it myself.

So I didn’t have to phone the people who are as helpful as high heat when you’re trying to slow-cook custard.

So I did it myself. No phone call. No stress. No 27 minutes of life that I couldn’t claim back.

The screen changed – success, your payment has been made again. And then I tried to check my account and found I’d been locked out of it. Damn.

It gave me a number to call. It was the wrong number. Ha. And banks tell customers they’re the ones who make mistakes. THE TELEPHONE NUMBER ON THE BANK’S OWN WEBPAGE WAS WRONG.

So I called. And I held. And I went through security with an officious and unhelpful telephone op who perfectly matched the values of the bank that I’ve come to know and loathe over the years.

The person on the end of the phone wasn’t fussed. They were probably thinking about what they were going to have for tea that evening, or whether or not the car would pass its MOT. They feigned interest, while reading from a script.

They say we become creative at times of stress. And that’s eminently true. For I’ve developed a new trick when it comes to being forced to listen to pointless script-reading from people who work for banks and disinterestedly waste their customers’ time by reading pointless nonsense about fraud and scams when they, themselves, can’t get their own phone number right. I do this: I hold the phone away from my mouth and pretend there’s another person in the room. Then I speak to that imaginary person and say: ‘Yes, they’re reading from a script. No, I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t think they’re bothered, to be honest.’

Vocalising my inner monologue drives them wild. It’s like sticking a wasps’ nest beneath a honey-loving bear.

“Mr Richardson. Are you listening to me?” And then I’m back in the room. ‘Yes, of course, you were reading from your script. Please carry on. It’s great.’

And so they continue. And I hold the phone away from my mouth and tell my imaginary friend: “Yes, they have started reading from the script again. I think it will be finished soon.”

There have been a few times when calls have extended into two, or three hours. And then I do something else. I Google the CEO and while I’m still on the phone, I write a really polite email telling him in real time what’s happening, wishing him a pleasant day, and asking whether he’d be so sanguine if he had to put up with a customer service system that is the acme of inefficiency.

I get a reply every time, usually from a brush-it-under-the-carpet merchant, who says all the protocols were followed, but, hey, it’s a safe, victim-less way of getting the frustration out of my system as some banks provide service that’s marginally shoddier than one of Boycie’s second hand cars.

I was allowed access to the bank again, half-a-day later, having done nothing wrong, and made a legitimate, lawful payment to someone I regularly pay.

I decided not to email the CEO, but tell you instead – there’s more chance that you might listen.

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