Service? In what sense?

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I thought closing a credit card account would be simple enough, but I hadn’t reckoned on the new era of customer service. And the bank hasn’t reckoned on me…

Service? In what sense?

The first seven and three-quarter years of the 1980s were a grand, glorious time to be a banker, an orgy of excess in which we’d lend money to anyone who had a plausible story and would buy us lunch.

All good things come to an end, however, and by November 1987 there was a new maxim: cost-cutting. Branches were closed, staff numbers slashed, and staff previously answering telephone calls were replaced by push-button systems.

(Curiously enough, about this time banks also introduced the idea of cross-selling: suggesting additional products to existing customers. However, considering the almost complete absence of staff actually in contact with customers, this strategy seemed to rely on appealing to customers doggedly determined to hunt out our few remaining branches and refuse to leave them without an additional product. Impartial observers would describe that as a limited demographic.)

Back to my point. The events of October 1987 began the end of customer service in banking.

This was all brought back to me when I recently attempted to close a credit card account.

It took three phone calls to find a staff member who would concede that it was even possible to close a credit card account.

With that achieved, the next step was for me to prove my identity, which meant answering three questions correctly. Given the topic was one in which I consider myself an expert, I must admit to feeling a little chastened that even after 50 years’ first-hand study of the life and times of one BoLR, I was unable to prove that I were he.

In my defence, I’ll point out that it was branch closures rather than forgetfulness that left me without the faintest clue as to the identity of my home branch, but I must admit that a few less G&Ts over the years may have left me able to remember my mother’s maiden name.

That failure meant a trip to my local branch, and after a short wait a pleasant lass arranged the closure of my account.

(At this point the reader thinks to him or herself: what’s all the fuss about? Must have been a slow week if this is all he has to write about! To which I reply: hang on a bit.)

A few weeks later I received a statement from the aforementioned credit card company – which I tore into little pieces in great delight. What did I care? I’d closed the account!

A month later I received a phone call from a fellow called Robert (whose inquiry after the Sydney Harbour Bridge was apparently intended as proof he was calling from an onshore call centre, even though he sounded as though he was talking to me from the other end of a very long pipe).

Robert wanted me to identify myself. Still smarting over the failure I have previously described, I had swotted up myself and passed with flying colours.

Now he was confident it was me, Robert was able to confide that his colleague had miscalculated the closing balance and that I still owed $13.69, and could I please clear the account?

Regular readers will know that I am untroubled by conscience, so (we’ll call it) Grande Bank can whistle for their money for all I care. But the self-same regular readers will likewise know that I am naturally lazy and do not like to be pestered. So what was I to do to avoid further annoying calls?

Here is my plan:

When I receive the next call I’ll refuse to attempt to identify myself until the caller establishes that he really does work at Grande Bank by telling me when the bank was incorporated, the name of its previous CEO, and the date on which it had last used my services. (The last is a trick question: the answer is never, as it is in fact my employer.)

If by chance they pass that test, they will ask me to establish my identity. If I lie about my birthdate, tell them my mother’s maiden name was Windsor, and insist that I last used the account in a Parisian brothel, the call shouldn’t last much longer.


To read more Mr Banker blogs, click here.



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