A few days ago a perfectly legitimate transaction on my business debit card happened to get blocked as my bank’s automatic fraud prevention system apparently found something not to its liking in the transaction. At the time, I had no idea there was a problem, and it was over 24hrs later, whilst I was out, a chap from a far outpost of the bank called and, in my absence, left a voicemail message for me to call their Fraud Dept. So when I picked up the message, I called their number, and predictably, I found myself in a typical call centre queue, being entertained by a repetitive piece of piano music with interruptions every 25/30 secs to inform me that all agents were busy helping other customers. After about 5 mins of this, the usual level frustration was beginning to set in. After another 5 mins I needed to deal with a call on my mobile, and made the classic mistake of hanging up the call to the bank. So, it was back to square one, ‘thank you for calling’, ‘all our agents are busy’, and here’s some piano music that we’ll repeat every 30secs to entertain you . About 30 mins later, someone from the other side of the world answered the call and launched into the standard procedure of getting my details, all done with the prescriptive ‘customer service’ dialogue that smacks of anything but genuine customer service. Once I had cleared security, we finally got to the nub of the problem; their system didn’t seem to like something about the transaction: in case you’re wondering, it was the renewal of a liability insurance policy with an established and reputable insurance company. So after a few minutes asking some simple questions about just why their system should find this transaction suspicious, none of which drew any form of explanation, other than it was due to the ‘system’. The outcome was that my account was unblocked, and apart from wasting an hour of my Saturday evening, life was back on track.
Or so I thought. On Monday morning it seemed like a good idea to check with the insurance company whether the transaction had gone through or not, but before doing that, a quick look at the online account may save the phone call. Oh, what misguided innocence! Any attempt to log my online banking account was thwarted by a message telling me there was a problem and I should contact the fraud department. So I dialled the number and waited briefly for the call to be routed across the globe and parked in the queue whilst I reacquainted myself with the little piano ditty from Saturday night, and the constant interruptions to tell my how busy all of the agents were. Well, maybe Monday morning wasn’t quite so busy as I actually got to speak to someone after 10 minutes, although our conversation was a bit of a struggle as we tried to come to terms with our distinctly different ‘English’ accents. Anyway, having cleared security and explained that my account, which they had blocked, and then allegedly unblocked, was in fact still blocked, and this was causing me a bit of a problem, so would they mind trying a bit harder this time to unblock it properly.
Now, you might have thought that at this point the whole problem was basically quite straightforward; and that all that would be necessary would be for them to confirm that I really was the person I purport to be, to apologise for their inconsiderate system, and unblock the card. If only!; we then started a rather long and tedious Q&A session about the details of a wide range of transactions on both my business and personal accounts. The pattern of the conversation went roughly along these lines:
Him: Which airline did you book a flight with last July
Me: I can’t remember, and why do you need to know that?
Him: It’s for security; I’m sorry but I have to ask you.
Me: But I just want you to unblock my account – you know who I am; you know what your system did to my account, so that should be quite easy to fix, shouldn’t it?
Him: Yes but I need to ask you about your account, so can you tell me which countries you visited last year.
Me: I beg your pardon – what does that have to do with unblocking my account.
The pattern of the conversation got rather repetitive at this point and continued with the same dialogue, albeit with alternative questions about which countries I had visited, which standing orders I have on the account, etc. for about another 15mins. For some unknown reason I started to get rather bored and suggested that perhaps to speed things up a bit he could transfer my call to a supervisor. He didn’t seem too keen to do this, but I think he then started to get a bit bored with me asking him the same question and eventually conceded defeat. So I went on hold – same music – whilst waiting for a supervisor to answer, and when she did, it was a case of going through security again, recounting the sad tale of how their system and procedures were, in my humble opinion, falling some way short of representing an effective and responsive customer service. To make any further progress it became necessary yet again to recall details of other transactions in my business and personal accounts. We had a deep and meaningful debate for a good 25mins on the relationship between my blocked account, their systems, my rather immediate need as a customer to unblock my account, and their unusual approach to solving customer problems.
The eventual outcome was that the account was unblocked, and I was invited to formally complain, which I agreed that I would be quite happy to do. Strangely, though, I couldn’t make the complaint myself; the supervisor would fill in an online form, which would go to the complaints department. So when I asked if they could email the form to me with the text of the complaint, it appears that that is not a feature of their system. The best we could do would be for the supervisor to read to me what she had written. Hmm… I’ve got a complaint, but I’m not actually allowed to make the complaint myself, and I’m not even allowed to see the detail of my complaint . Cool! I’m promised a call back from ‘Complaints’ within 48hrs. Presumably if I don’t get any satisfaction from ‘Complaints’, they’ll pass me over to ‘Arguments’; there’s a Monty Python sketch in here somewhere.
So I’ve lost 2 hours of my life over this little system problem, and at the time of writing, 30 of the 48 hours call back time have elapsed. Watch this space – my life may be about to become even shorter.