Tag Archives: Customer Service

Not Smiling

I guess it had to happen at some point, nobody is perfect, and despite riding high at the top of numerous customer satisfaction surveys, there had to be some part of the organisation at Smile and the Co-operative Bank that wasn’t quite up to scratch, and unfortunately I’ve managed to find it.

The people in question are the Tax Services group, and their job is to handle all the stuff related to tax, in my case with the Mini Cash ISA that I’m trying to set up in order to take the money I had in an ISA with Icesave. This in actual fact is the crux of the problem.

When I claimed my money via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme it was returned via an electronic transfer into my regular current account. As the money has a tax free status I was then issued with a certificate stating how much money I had, and confirming that it was still tax free. In theory what is supposed to happen is you set up a new ISA with another provider, and then send the certificate to them and they reinstate as with any other transfer. Since the money is sitting in an account with the same provider I thought it would be pretty straightforward – I was wrong.

The general problem seems to be that since handling a transfer via a certificate is out of the ordinary, it is not covered by regular procedures. Some banks, Nat West for example, have now issued a memo to each of it’s branches detailing the process for taking in an Icesave ISA, Smile it seems has not – although after this I hope somebody senior sees fit to issue one, as to be frank the people at Smile seem to need some guidance.

When I initially set up the new ISA, I had already told them where the money was coming from. At that point the advisor put me on hold whilst he consulted with the Tax Services department, who told him that I needed to fill in a special form, and that they would send the form. I went ahead and opened the account, and waited for the form to arrive in the post. A week or so later a letter arrived welcoming me to the account, but with a standard transfer form. I waited a bit longer, and still no form, so I phoned again, and again the advisor said they’d talk to Tax Services to get the form sent. A few days later and still no form.

I phoned again, and once again waited whilst the advisor spoke to Tax Services. The advice this time was that there was no form and that all they needed was the certificate and a covering letter, and the advisor provided me with the address of the Tax Services department. I duly wrote a letter explaining where the money was, including the certificate, and dropped it in the post box.

A couple of days later I had a phone call from Smile querying the fact that I had opened the account, but there was nothing in it, having explained the situation, the advisor then didn’t suggest there would be any problem having sent the letter and the certificate.

That was about a week ago. This morning I logged on to see if they’d made the transfer. With all the bad weather it was quite likely the post had been held up. Looking at the accounts, the money was still sitting where it had been, and there was no acknowledgement that my letter had even been received. There was however a message from Tax Services, apologising for the delay and saying that they had dropped the relevant form – the form Tax Services had told the advisor didn’t exist – in the post and to fill it in.

At this point it is fair to say that I exploded. There is a single copy of the certificate, which they hadn’t even acknowledged receipt of, and they couldn’t seem to make up their mind what they needed. I replied to the secure message, and waited several hours – there was no response so I therefore phoned them again, and spoke to another advisor, who then talked to Tax Services to try and find out what was happening.

The first thing she did was confirm that they had indeed received the certificate, but that they were now insisting on me having returned the signed form. The big frustration here is that as the customer I am not allowed to speak to the Tax Services team, like some other corners of lousy customer service in other organisations they hide behind the not speaking to customers, and essentially leave the front line call centre staff to deal with the inevitable results of their actions. The only suggestion I was offered was to send a secure message – the problem being that I’d sent one of those already and hadn’t got a response, and they hadn’t bothered to send a message asking me to fill in the form and acknowledging receipt of the certificate either. She said that the reason they wanted the form was that they needed my signature – despite the fact that they have that on the letter I sent. Indeed with the certificate and the information in the letter they have everything they need to make the transfer, it just seems to be that they are on a major jobsworth streak wanting me to fill in the form.

The big frustration is that through all of this, the money is languishing in my current account, and I’m losing daily interest all the while Tax Services at Smile mess around giving conflicting advice, and not sending the forms they said they would.

I’m certainly going to raise up a complaint over this, as after years of exemplary service, and at times actively going out of their way to help, this current experience has been a total pain, and the behaviour of Tax Services is letting the whole of the rest of the organisation down.

As a general day-to-day bank, I’d still recommend Smile – through all of this the advisers have always been helpful, indeed the woman this morning seemed just as frustrated by the intransigence of the Tax Services team as me. But seriously, if you have anything out of the ordinary, in particular that involves the Tax Services team, I’d say to go somewhere else.

“We’ve Just Updated our Computer System Sirâ€?

I should know when a customer service agent assures you that the computer system has just been updated, and the weird letter you’ve just had from the company in question is just an isolated incident, that it’s just the agent trying to be optimistic, and pass the thorny problem on to someone else a couple of weeks down the line…

A couple of weeks back I had a letter from O2 stating that there would be a change in my direct debit details for my next bill – now it has to say that this came as a bit of a surprise as I haven’t had any bills from O2 for about a year since we switched away onto 3. The letter unfortunately didn’t have much information on it but I spent a while on the phone with the customer service agent whilst she checked various systems and found that my account had been closed, and that there were no other accounts in my name listed on the system. She finished up with the immortal phrase “We’ve just updated our computer system sir, the letter was obviously sent in error and you shouldn’t receive any others.â€?

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised though when another envelope from O2 popped through the door – this time a bill for 98p for one of the phones on the account they closed last year. So, onto the phone to customer service again, and this time I ended up talking to somebody in cancellations, who initially tried to put me through the standard cancellation process that I had completed last year, after a bit of grumbling about that – they of course hadn’t billed me on this account for the past twelve months – he disappeared off to investigate the old system, before phoning me back to explain the problem.

It seems that the cause of the letter and the new bill is indeed the switch to the new computer system – although in fact it goes back to whoever closed my account not having done it correctly in the first place. The phone that has reappeared was one that I got as a result of a special offer years ago that after an initial purchase price had no line rental charge, and only charged for calls, which Dad was using as an emergency phone up until he to switched to 3. The key limitation was that it was linked to my main account, so if for example I closed my account it would close also – which is what happened last year when I closed the account. I did check up on what would happen with it when I closed the account and was assured that it would close as part of the standard process as it was associated.

It appeared that this is what had happened – I’d received all the final bills, and no further bills for any of the phones – what appears to have happened now is that they didn’t properly close the linked account, but that it hadn’t been being billed. Perhaps it’s been producing an ignored error for the last twelve months, I don’t know, but when the account was moved across to the new system, the moving process appears to have generated a new full account with no record of the link, and this is what has started billing. The phone itself is long since recycled, the 98p is actually an itemised billing charge – to tell me that there were no calls of course… Anyway, O2 are going to refund my 98p, and have closed the account again, without all the usual requirement for notification by letter – generous considering that they already had that last year. Hopefully this should be the last I hear from O2 – at least until I give into temptation and buy an iPhone.

Still With a Major High Street Bank?

It’s been about eight years now since I ditched the bunch of muppets at Lloyds TSB in favour of Smile, the Internet bank from the Co-operative. Quite apart from their ethical banking policy, they offer decent rates on their accounts, and more than that running the account is a minimum of hassle.

Tonight, Watchdog on the BBC published the results of their recent banking survey, which showed that my decision of eight years ago was a good one now, with Smile in second place, just piped at the post by First Direct, another internet based bank.

What was interesting to note was the big names down at the bottom of the table, my former bank Lloyds TSB was right down there – ironic considering the comment of the manager at Rickmansworth when I closed my Lloyds TSB account that he hoped to tempt me back – along with the Halifax and Bank of Scotland, and award for the worst bank of all going to the Abbey.

However, the detail of the figures is what makes interesting reading, so for example the banks that did well had most voters saying that they hadn’t had need to complain, and those that did found problems easily resolved by the bank. In comparison the banks that did poorly had larger numbers of complaints, and it was more of a problem to solve.

In the past it has been reported that people didn’t change banks because they thought it was a hassle – it is perhaps pleasing to see that only ten percent of respondents to this survey believe this. Certainly even eight years ago it was relatively straightforward for me to switch, and the problems there were came down to Lloyds TSB incompetence rather than Smile. The biggest reason for non-switching now seems to be that people think they won’t get better service elsewhere – based on the results of the survey, if they are with one of the big banks in the bottom five this is untrue. When you look at the massive numbers of people who have been with the same bank for years – almost two-thirds for ten or more years, you realise that the big banks essentially rely on the apathy of the vast majority of their customers to make them money. They hit their customers with big charges, pay miserly interest rates and offer us lousy customer service because they know that the vast majority of people won’t bother to move, because they either think the other banks will be the same, or they think it’s too much hassle.

Certainly I’ll disagree. I’ll happily recommend Smile, the accounts have run without a major hitch for years. The most recent time I had to call customer service was actually to unpick my screw up, rather than something they’d done, but they were really helpful and apologetic that they couldn’t be more help, despite it being my fault. On top of that they have a current account that pays almost thirty times the interest of some of the major banks on my whole balance rather than just part of it (check out the small print on some of the competition), and doesn’t hammer me when I go overdrawn either. The changeover is not too bad either – with Smile it’s one form to fill in, and then a month or so of keeping an eye on the old bank to make sure they do their part in switching you over. So, if you’re still with a high street bank, and dissatisfied with their service, why not vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere?

Good News from Shozu

I had a great e-mail from Andy Tiller at Cognima today, as part of my ongoing discussion with him over Shozu:

Hi Richard

Thought you might like to know that we plan to make the change you suggested in our next ShoZu release (due February). The Java app will then work with an ‘ask once’ policy.

Thanks for helping us clarify our thinking on this.

Best regards


It’s really great to find an IT company that is happy to listen and open to discuss their product with their customers. Whilst most people would think that was a pretty obvious idea, you’d be surprised how many times I’ve put in bug reports or feature requests and not heard a thing!

Also it was great that the positive response means that next month I’ll finally be able to give Shozu a go. A somewhat better outcome than this example given by Hugh McLeod, where although the guys at RememberTheMilk responded, ultimately they couldn’t solve this guys problem.

Typical Part 2

So after the breakdown of our washing machine last weekend, today was the day the repair man was due to come. On the phone last week, the customer service agent had said he had booked an appointment for between 4pm and 6pm today, so Beth made sure she left school promptly, came home and cleared up the kitchen, and removed the various bits of kitchen cabinet that surround the machine, ready for what we thought should be a simple job. She then thought she’d check the messages, to find a message from the repair man from 10am saying that he had called.

Thankfully I wasn’t around for the resultant explosion, however another customer service agent got it. What made it worse was that firstly the agent last Saturday actually booked an 8am to 6pm appointment with a comment to request 4pm to 6pm, which eveidently didn’t happen, and then it seems there has been a spate of broken washing machines, and the next available appointment of any sort wasn’t until 24th October over a month away.

When I got home, I phoned up again, and by some twist of fate got the same customer service agent who had dealt with Beth earlier on. She has now passed our paperwork on up to her supervisor to get it moved up the queue, however it looks like I’ll have to work from home at some point if they can do an appointment sooner than 24th as they can’t guarentee a specific time slot.