Large companies spend a fortune on customer service: implementing it, training people, monitoring it and, yes, even researching it.

And yet all too often when you deal with a company it seems apparent that they just don’t get it.

Take Barclays – one of the largest financial services companies in the UK.  Last week I was in the centre of Cambridge and, for reasons that weren’t immediately obvious, they had a team of blokes dressed as Grenadier Guards (the ones who wear the bearskin headgear) except with corporate blue tunics rather than red and giving out balloons rather than shooting at people.

No doubt this was a bold marketing campaign to draw attention to what a lovely bank Barclays is.  And it must be said that the people in uniform were great; joking with shoppers as they passed by.

Unfortunately, the person I dealt with in their customer service department was a happy little soldier; she was a grumpy proceduralist (if such a word exists).

I rang to pursue a refund that I was owed – ‘bank error in your favour’ kind of thing (except, of course, it actually just means they’ve been looking after my money for a couple of years and are returning it interest free).  They had promised it seven weeks ago.  I should add that I don’t bank with Barclays, this was a separate financial transaction.

It transpired that they had sent the cheque to an address I hadn’t lived at for a number of years, rather than the one that I, as convention dictates, had written in the top right of the letter I sent them requesting it.

Now everyone makes mistakes.  That’s not the issue.  My issue is that when, having made a mistake and acknowledged it, they neither apologise nor seek to do the most basic thing to make amends.

“I’ve just spoken to accounts, they send they’ll send another cheque; can I check your address.”

“What do you mean, another cheque?  What happened to the first one?”

“We sent it to your old address.”

“What, the one I haven’t lived at for three years.  Great.”

“Do you want it sending to the address on your letter?”

“As confusing as that obviously was, yes please.”

“That will be with you in the next 21 days.”

“Hang on; 21 days?  How about asking them to send it out today so that I get it tomorrow; after all they’ve made the mistake.  Please would you ask them to do that?”

“We have to say it will be 21 days.” (This is a bank, remember; they can make an instant payment on your behalf, sometimes for a fee, but they can’t get one to me).

And there, in that last statement from the customer service lady, is the illustration of why some companies just don’t understand customer service.  No flexibility, no real reaction to the issue, just a process. 

No sense of cause and effect, no sense of responsibility, no recognition that the problem they have caused me exists for me in the context of my experience of them as a bank; not their context of dealing with millions of transactions every day.

I am being treated in the way they have decided it is reasonable to treat someone; irrespective of circumstances.

As I said, I don’t bank with Barclays.  And guess what; it doesn’t matter how many balloons the blue soldiers give me or my children, I’m not going to.


  1. David

    Your post seems typical of large institutions. Sometimes I think I am in the wrong business when dealing with these large companies. They make sooo much money from billing oversights. Banks Specifically are the worst because they don’t really want to help you they just want your money. I am American and our founding fathers wrote about not letting banks get to big because they are evil and corrupt. I wish there was a way for individuals to make a difference. They don’t even seem to care when you threaten to take away your business. After they treat you poorly and don’t do what you asked for their “process” forces them to ask ” is there anything else I can do for you today?” Yes do what I asked for in the first place.

    1. Philip Graves

      Ha! You’re right. I had to explain to one firm I advised that “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” is a pointless verbal ‘tick’. It implicitly assumes the customer is unable to take responsibility for asking for more than one thing, adds an irritating question when your call is done and you want to get off the phone and, worst of all (as you point out) ends up being said even when the customer service person hasn’t addressed the issue you wanted resolving!

      It doesn’t help that many companies don’t appreciate that their customer service measurement doesn’t really measure anything meaningfully. If you have low expectations you give a decent score, but it doesn’t mean you value the service you’ve experienced. In taking false reassurance from such measures they do little to help themselves.

      Thanks for you post.

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