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Tom Wrigglesworth Blog - The Genius of Bank Call Centres

Tom Wrigglesworth, of BBC Radio 4's 'Tom Wrigglesworth's Open Letters', shares his opinions on The Genius of Bank Call Centres...

I’d like to talk about how banks have both saved, and wasted my time and money in recent years, and I wonder if they do it deliberately. Years ago, customers had to queue up at their branch to make even the most simple of transactions. Then in the nineties, a time saving breakthrough was made. Telephone banking. No more standing in queues!

But the banks don’t like to give us something for nothing. So, in a bid to claw back this time that technology has rewarded the consumer, they made it their mission to make actually dealing with the bank, on a person-to-person level, as difficult, frustrating, and as time wasting as possible.

A high level meeting was arranged, and the best time wasters on the planet were consulted. They took 5 days to come up with the solution, 4 days and 7 hours of procrastination preceded a quick chat and they had cracked it. The best way to win back the moments that technology gifted the consumer was call centres. Everyone has been forced to play the tedious call centre game before, but I recently had an experience that reduced my thoughts of tele-banking to an all time low.

I was in Mumbai, and, due to the savings that were on offer; I was buying a new pair of glasses. This sounds straight forward, but, when I came to pay for them, my card was mysteriously declined.

I had to call the bank, and select an option for ‘if you’re card has been declined’. If this wasn’t stressful enough, you then have to listen to James Blunt. I began to lose the will to live. £1.50 a minute to listen to James Blunt. You couldn’t pay me £1.50 to listen to James Blunt!

'Hello, can I help?' said the call centre operator finally.

'I hope so', I said. 'The reason I’m calling, is well I’ve just tried to pay for some glasses, and my card has been blocked.'

'I’ll just check for you now' – a few tapping of buttons later and another verse from James Blunt and the voice on the phone was able to confirm that my card had indeed been stopped.

'But why?' I said

'Ahh well, according to our records, you’re card was used to attempt a transaction in an opticians in Mumbai – looks like someone trying to buy some glasses maybe?'

'Yes, me, I am, I’m here in Mumbai – I mean, it seems you can see exactly what was purchased and where, the slightest bit of detective work on your part would have pinpointed me to India – yet you still erratically block my card, let’s look at my previous transactions shall we, please, read me all the transactions going back from Monday.'

'OK' he said – 'you have here a train ticket from Shadwell for £4.80'

'Yes, that’s a train ticket to Heathrow airport.'

'Well please don’t get angry Sir, we can’t see the destination.'

'All right' I said, 'I accept that, what’s the next one?'

'Erm, the next one is a £7.99 transaction from a book shop in Heathrow airport.'

'Exactly, Sherlock, so you knew I was at the airport, that’s me buying a guidebook for Mumbai…next?'

'Sir we can’t deduce your final destination from a bookshop at an airport.'

'Right, the next one, tell me the next one….'

'OK, the next one is a transaction at ‘Currency Exchange'.

'Yes…and what did I do at the Currency Exchange?'

'You changed £200 in to Indian Rupees.'

'Precisely, and you blocked my card because I turned up in Mumbai, my word, if this call centre work doesn’t pan out, I’m sure special branch would find a vacancy for such an ear to ground, doesn’t miss a trick whipper snapper like yourself. Airport, guide books and the purchasing of Rupees, wouldn’t it more suspicious if I wasn’t in Mumbai?'

It’s incredible – the people working in the bank must sit over a screen watching customers move around like ships on a radar monitor, just watching them dart all over, and if anyone crosses over the line they just go ‘block it’…oh there’s another one, block it, block that one, block it. Sat in front of a big corporate logo that says if he’s gone abroad, it must be fraud.

The whole episode cost me about £30 in phone bills to sort out – which is exactly how much I was saving by buying the glasses abroad. I’m sure they do it deliberately….

To catch Tom Wrigglesworth’s Nightmare Dream Wedding UK tour check

Monday, 21st March 2011

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