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Abbey- did an IVR survey lock out a customer's account?

This blog sometimes flirts with the idea of news, rather than just comment, and I couldn't resist this story. I saw it today in the Scotsman  (though it's also more detail here in the Daily Mail).  In brief a Mr. George Bates, a 23 year old Abbey National customer, phoned his bank to arrange an overdraft. He claims to have found that the operator was rude, unhelpful and with a heavy Asian accent that was difficult to understand, so at the end of the call he used the automated post-call survey to register his displeasure.  A lot of banks use IVRs (Interactive Voice Response Systems) for this as it suits the "push 1 for...., push 2 for...." type of menu that an IVR provides. Anyway, Mr. Bates pushed ones and twos for low scores and finished his call.  When he called back the next day his problems began. He couldn't access the phone bank with his password, the ATM swallowed his card and when he got into his branch he found his identity had been changed from the 23 year old Bristol carpenter he is, to that of a 33 year old Ugandan divorcee. His direct debits had also been cancelled and he was incurring bank charges for missed payments. Abbey have now apologised and offered £200 compensation, but Mr. Bates is still unhappy. There are some lessons from this story worth pondering.  The first is what price does a bank place on its reputation? I've blogged on this before (see: "Are call centres so bad they hinder business?" or "Barclays, silent calling & we've been here before... "), but contact centres can damage an organisation's reputation very quickly. It seems a mystery that such an important part of a customer's experience of an organisation should be managed as a cost centre and yet other functions that drive reputation and brand (e.g. marketing or PR) should be seen as investments or necessary expense. The second is that while it's admirable that agents should be given continuous feedback on their performance, they really should not be able to take revenge on customers who score them poorly. There's a whole set of issues here, from the granularity of the feedback given to agents to the level of access to customer data that agents have. Supervision, audit trails and analytics might also be points to think of here in terms of how organisations control agent behaviour.  The third and final point is that the public do not much like offshore contact centres. This is an image that the offshore industry has acquired and has not managed to shake off. I'm sure that had a British call centre worker done this the story would have been much less newsworthy, but as it's an Indian call centre (and Abbey have five UK call centres and only two Indian ones) this fits a lot of popular myths about the offshoring industry. There may be a view that "all publicity is good publicity" (and you certainly couldn't buy the press coverage this story is getting), but I suspect that Abbey will want to change the way it runs its contact centres as they will not want their reputation damaged in a credit crunch that has hurt the reputation of UK banking so much.

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