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Mahes Visvalingam
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Customer Talk

This subweb seeks to provide case studies and observations for those undertaking research on Customer Services.  The author is not qualified to give any advice and shall not be held liable for any action or outcome arising from readers mistaking the observations and cases provided herein as advice.   Readers should consult official sources and seek the advice and assistance of specialist professionals.

Customers' Observations and Questions (being drafted)
- my opinions for consideration by consumer action groups

CONTENT

1.  Local or global shopping
2.  Non-geographic telephone numbers
3.  Estimates of usage

4. 
Retention of customers' money for an unnecessary period
5.  Opportunities for identity theft

       -  Post sent to wrong postal address
       -  Errors in mailing systems

       -  Personal information visible to all

       -  Overseas call centres

6.  Secure 24/7 access to online banks and building societies

       -  Lack of access to online accounts during crises

       -  Onus for security shifted onto user
7.  Surcharge for paper statements
8. Social networking and the law

  1. Local or global shopping
    If we want to live in a town with a soul and life, we have to support our local shops.  More and more people are buying over the internet and I can see the reasons for this.  People resent having to pay for the overheads of a shop.  Also, shops do not in general carry the range of models and makes that are on offer over the internet.  It is a pity that even camera shops in the big city of Sheffield (10 mins for us by train) are no longer willing to stock up-market goods.  For example, even the Sony Centres and Panasonic shops do not have prosumer camcorders on display, nor do they seem willing to get the required models for customers.  They say that if they do, consumers tend to examine the goods in the shop and then buy online to get the best prices.  

    My experiences with Customer Services, when things go wrong, encourages me to shop locally.  In Praise or Complain,  I give some examples of the benefits of shopping locally (see for instance the case of Audiovision Chesterfield)
    and also highlight how an online purchase may turn out to be a grey import without the manufacturer's guarantee (see case of Sony VX2100E bought from purelyGadgets).
     

  2. Non-geographic telephone numbers charged at higher rates.
    Consumers seeking redress for defects are being penalised by long waits paying for irritating piped music on such lines.  Considerate companies, such as Evesham Computers, give callers an indication of their position in the queue and an estimate of wait time.  In general, they try to take the call within 10 mins, although they are often also in a hurry to get off the phone before the problem is fully resolved when they see their queues build up again.  This means several repeat calls and large phone bills.

    But, it looks as if some companies are responding to customer concerns.  Dyson has replaced its 0870... helpline with an 0800 number.  Hargreaves Lansdown
    Asset Management Ltd. has re-introduced 01... and 02... numbers to their various divisions. 
     

  3. Estimate of usage versus meter readings
    - being drafted (examples of under and over-charging)
     

  4. Retention of customers' money for an unnecessary period
    Delay in repayment of monies -
    Case studies:  OneTel to TalkTalk.
    Delay in transfer of Direct Cash ISA - Case studies:  Alliance & Leicester
     

  5. Company practices which create opportunities for identity theft
     

    • repeatedly sending post to wrong address (we were bounced between Norwich Union and Royal Mail).  We also regularly receive mail addressed to others.  All the problem we have come across involve flats and apartments even though their postcodes are distinctly different.  The problem is that mailing databases seem to hold apartment addresses for example as 5 This Road,This Block instead of 5 This Block, This Road.  The mail mostly ends up at 5 This Road (when intended for 5 This Block) and occasionally at 5 This Block (when sent to 5 This Road).

    • another well known Financial Services company sent us the statements for a number of their customers by a mistake in their postal department.  The packet containing these did not contain our statement.

    • making the contents of mail visible to would-be thieves by having their name on display on envelopes.  Until we objected, one company put our account numbers where it was visible through the cut-out for addresses.

    • using overseas call centres which are not accountable to the British public; see BBC documentary (June 24 2005).  We have received several cold calls from people claiming to work for our bank.  We reply that the Bank should write to us if it needed to contact us.  Even if we did get such a request, we would double-check the need for such information with the bank.
       

  6. Secure 24/7 access to online banks and building societies 

    • Online accounts, advertised as "24/7 immediate access" failed customers when they were most needed.  The recent Northern Rock UK Bank episode saw savers queuing for hours to withdraw their savings.  Many on-line savers were unable to connect to Northern Rock's website (see BBC News 24 16 Sep 07)owing to overloading of the server.  In such a crises it may be days before e-savers, wishing to withdraw funds online from a financial institution, can access their accounts.  Worse still, online savers may be turned away from high street branches of a Bank, as only branch-based accounts are handled there.

    • The onus for security is being shifted to consumers, who are now expected to be a lot more knowledgeable about security than can be reasonably expected. 
       

    But, it looks as if some financial institutions are responding to customer concerns.  Hargreaves Lansdown Asset Management Ltd., who offer excellent online services, have pledged to continue and enhance their postal and telephone services.
     

  7. Surcharge for paper statements (eg TalkTalk)
     

  8. Social networking and the law
    Cases against few irresponsible bloggers is creating case law and statutes in the area of publishing on the web and litigation.  This threat of litigation is likely to undermine 'free speech', which underpins the democratic process. 

    The growth of social networking and blogging on the internet has given customers huge scope for sharing their experiences with others.  However, like many would-be do-gooders, I am not aware of all the legal consequences given the global nature of the internet and changes in the law.  Professional journalists are covered by professional indemnity insurances taken out by their employers.  Understandably, insurance companies are not keen to provide cover for independent web publishers, who do not profit from their voluntary work.  It is taking me a long time to try and establish what the legal position is and I am happy to post my notes on "Web publishing and the law".  Please be aware that my understanding of the law may be incorrect.  So, I have included links to sources of information and barristers specialising on relevant aspects of the law so that you can take responsibility for your own understanding and inform me of my misconceptions.

Mahes Visvalingam, 17/03/07
Last updated on 30/11/11