Two sides of customer service.

Four tales from customer services and attitudes during the past 10 days. It won’t come as any surprise that the two negative reports are from banks.

Let’s start with good reports.

First Fellowes.

The website of Fellowes says that they have been making “Quality Office Products since 1917”. They are a US based company whose UK offices are in Yorkshire. I bought one of their shredders in February this year to replace an old cheap one (can’t remember the make) that had given good service but finally gave up the ghost. I have used it reasonably frequently but paid attention to the instructions, never used it for more than 4 minutes at a time. only put in one sheet  and oiled the blades every time that I emptied the collection box. I was disappointed that after less than eight weeks use it ground to a halt mid-shred and refused to “power up”.

Back to Staples, where I was met with:

“I’m sorry to hear that sir, do you have proof of purchase? You do, that’s great.” (Tries it out.) “Yes you’re quite right, it’s broken, I’ll get them on the ‘phone and ask ow we go about getting you a replacement. I have them now Dr Rees, it’s probably best if you speak to them.”

“Hello Dr Rees, this is “Susie” at Fellowes, I’m sorry you’re having problems with your shredder, can you give me your full name and address please? Now how would you like us to send you the documents you’ll need, fax or email? That ‘s great. Now what will happen is I’ll email you a report form, which I’d like you to complete and return with a copy of your proof of purchase; when I get that I’ll send a new shredder to you. Is that OK sir? Now one last thing, could you possible arrange to dispose of the old machine please?”

My new shredder has been dispatched and should arrive on Monday (PS it did). Result. Thank you Fellowes (& Staples).

Next Irish Ferries

Last Monday evening my wife decided at short notice to go to our home in Ireland for a few days. I went on line to Irish Ferries to book her ferry and cabin for the next sailing at 02.45 on Tuesday, getting onto the ferry wasn’t a problem but every time I tried to book a cabin all I could get was an “error” message. Tried 3 times, failed 3 times and got on the ‘phone to ticket office based in Liverpool. I explained the difficulty and the “Susie” tried to book the cabin with exactly the same results that I had encountered. ‘No problem”, she said “I’ll book the ferry and she can buy a cabin on board”. I was concerned that she would be charged a premium for paying on board but was told that a) that shouldn’t happen (it had before) b) she would make a computer note and they would be able to see on board that they should charge the advertised price. Great – so far, so good.

Can you guess what happens next? Of, course there was ‘cabin availability’ on board but she did have to pay £50 instead of £36 and no, there wasn’t any note on the booking on the computer. Hey ho it’s 2am so get some sleep there’s a long drive the other side.

Insult to injury – when I looked at the email receipt for the ferry booking I had been charged £5 more than the advertised price.

Tuesday morning back on the phone to customer service in Liverpool (an 0871 number which I avoided thanks to where I was told that the £5 was a fee for using a Visa Debit card and that the only way I could avoid the fee was by using a Visa Electron card. The majority of UK & Irish banks don’t issue Electron cards – heads you lose, tails the company win. So we’re into Ryan Air territory here. I told the company representative that I hadn’t been told about this fee and I was also cross about the charge for the cabin. His response was “nothing I can do about that, it’s company policy”. I asked if I could speak to somebody who could deal with it and was told I’d have to call HQ in Dublin. “Surely there is someone there who I can speak to, what about your supervisor or line manager, I’m sure there must be a way that you can put me through to Dublin.”

The connection went dead, leaving me frustrated and left with no choice but to make an international call, which is where things start to improve. I spoke to the wonderful ambassador for Irish Ferries Sheila Gleeson who listened to my tale and my complaints. Now bear in mind that she is no place to change “company policy” but neither did she try to blame anything on “the company”. She acknowledged my complaints, told me that she was able to see that we were regular customers of Irish Ferries and how much she regretted that we had a reason to call. The £5 we had been charged would be refunded as would the £14 excess for the cabin and the amount would be rounded up to a credit of £30 to be used the next time we made a booking. Result. Sheila can’t change the policy of Irish Ferries of ripping their customers off by charging for using different cards or by having a differential cabin price but she did what she could – she’s the right person in the right job and above all kept us as customers.

The other side of the coin.

Nat West Credit Cards

My wife has a Nat West Mastercard. Credit limit £300. Last week she had a letter telling here that any interest charged on the card was being increased by 3%. It went to say that she had several options, the first of these was “to leave”. She has been a client of Nat West for more than 20 years and used the credit card through that time. So thanks Nat West (a part of RBS which is 82% owned by the UK taxpayer) and yes she will be leaving and taking her investment products with her without a backward glance.


I have a credit card with Santander – it was originally with Abbey but it seemed that Spanish banks are so strong and safe that they have been given permission to hoover up whatever they wish in the UK High Street. I pay what I owe them with a direct debit lest I should forget, no problem. Until the debit was cancelled by them, definitely not by me, why would I complicate my life? So the payment wasn’t made even though I had budgeted for it and was expecting it go, of course next up I get a stroppy letter and 2 x £12 fines. I rang customer services, set up a new direct debit mandate and asked how should I pay what was owed? “Could you do that by ‘BACS’ please?”, of course I could, so last thing on that Friday afternoon off went the cash from my account.

On Monday morning my mobile rang, it was “collections” from Santander. After the usual “we have called you so please prove you are who you say you are” I was asked when I was going to pay what I owed. At this point I’m afraid I started to become less than co-operative.

“Do you have a record of the conversation I had with you on Friday?”

“It wasn’t me Dr Rees.”

“No, not you personally, one of your colleagues from Santander.”

“What was it in relation to?”

“My account”.

“Which account?”

“The account that you have rung me about today.”

“I don’t know about that call, I’m from collections that will have been customer services.”

“So that means you have nothing to do with customer service then?”

“I’m from collections, when are you going to pay what you owe?”

“I made an arrangement with customer services to pay it, it has been paid.”

“I have no record of that and we haven’t had the money.”

“I’m bored with left and right hand here, please can I speak to someone who knows what’s going on?”

“Yes you can but first I will have to read this to you” starts to read something about my rights, which I interrupt.

“Please can I speak to someone who knows what;s going on?”

“Yes you can but first I have to read this script.”

“I don’t want to hear a script, let me speak to someone who knows what’s going on.”

“OK then, but I think you’re very rude.”

“It’s not my nature but we all get provoked.”

There is a Vivaldi break of 30 seconds or so when a voice says “hello escalations?”

“Escalations?” I say.

“Yes Mr Rees, you have come through to me because you wish to escalate your call to a complaint.”

“But you called me.”

“Why are you making a complaint.”

“I’m not, I just want to speak to someone who knows what’s going on.” She tells me  that she can see the notes on my account of the call on Friday and that my BACS payment is expected but won’t have reached my account just yet.

“Then why did you ring me?”

‘The person who rang you is in collections and won’t have access to the information that I have. Is there anything else I can help you with today Mr Rees?”

“My will to live.”

Laughs. “Thank you for calling Santander.”

“I didn’t – Oh what’s the point?”

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