“If you have a question please phone our customer service hotline” – or not.

Copyright: yayayoy / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: yayayoy / 123RF Stock Photo

Alex Orlov recently wrote a post for the Limping Chicken in which he bemoaned the total inability of a variety of companies to respond to his requests to text him rather than phone him.  The Tesco delivery driver, IKEA, BT, BUPA, the Halifax – they all ignored his explanations that he couldn’t hear on the phone and proceeded to ring him anyway.  You can read his post here.

I so sympathise.  I don’t personally ask companies to text me because our house is off the map for mobile phones.  You can usually get a signal if you go to the top floor and stand near the window, holding your phone at ceiling height but – strangely enough – I don’t stand there all day just in case someone sends a message.  If a company wants a mobile number for text messages I pretend I don’t have one.

What drives ME to distraction is the very similar problem of companies insisting that you telephone their call centre if you have a problem.

A couple of years ago I had a problem with my bank statements.  I’d switched from getting them by post to getting them online but they had somehow reverted to three-monthly and I wanted them monthly.  The bank (a big High Street bank, I am sparing their blushes) had no obvious place on their website to choose how often you wanted your statements to be produced or indeed even to ask them a question.  Needless to say, my particular problem didn’t feature on the FAQs page.  (Why is it a rule of the universe that no question you actually want to ask ever does?)  What I needed was an e mail address or an online chat option or somewhere to post a query and get an answer.  I searched diligently, but there was nothing.  Just “telephone our call centre”, and I couldn’t.

What they DID have was an online complaints option.  It seemed ridiculous to use it just to sort out my bank statement problem but there was no alternative, so I did.  I made it a two-fold complaint – partly about the bank statements and partly about the lack of options for people with hearing loss.  Letters started to arrive; actual snail mail letters.  The first one was an acknowledgement.  The second one said they had allocated my complaint to a handler.  The third one apologised for the delay.  The fourth was a reply.  They sorted out the bank statements problem, apologised, and sent a complimentary food hamper (up-market biscuits and chutneys).  But then they blew it.  The final paragraph of the letter said “if you are unhappy with this response please telephone our call centre on…….”  Aargh…….

To cut a very long story short, I replied.  I quoted the Disability Discrimination Act.  I was very cross.  They sent me fifty quid to placate me.  To be fair to them, a place to post queries was much more visible on their website the last time I looked.

And then there was the Tax Office.  My annual tax statement arrived and seemed to be wrong.  The scenario above repeated itself; no means of contact except by telephone.  This time I wrote a letter.  Indeed I wrote more than one letter because a query that began in December had still not been answered in May.  Eventually the problem was resolved; they had amended the records at their end after my first letter but omitted to tell me.  What an extraordinary waste of everyone’s time.

Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while will be saying “but why doesn’t she use that telephone service she talks about, what’s it called?”  And you are right.  Today I would pick up the telephone and use the Next Generation Text Service and it would probably work.  I say “probably” because the operators, unsurprisingly, struggle with systems that say “press one for complaints, press two for something else”.  By the time they have typed all that out and I have decided which option I want the call centre sometimes hangs up.  So far we have always got there eventually, because the NGTS operators are patience personified and dial again so we can start from the beginning.  The problem is, though, that not everyone with hearing loss uses the Next Generation Text Service.  It’s relatively new, you need to download an app (easy peasy for all you young people but not for the older types).  Why can’t we just send an e mail for goodness sake?  Or why can’t there be a decent online query service (not FAQs, something where you send in a question and someone replies to it) on every website offering major services to the public?  What would be so hard about that?

Explaining about NGTS brings me to my most recent hearing loss glitch.  This week, dear readers, I applied for my state pension.  It scares me just to type it.  How can I have got to this age (sixty three and a half) already?  You can apply by telephone but also by post or online (hurrah – thank you the Department for Work and Pensions).  I went for the online option.

All was straightforward until you get to the point about how you would like them to contact you if they need to clarify something.  There were a number of options, but none offering contact via e mail or Next Generation Text Service, for which all they would have to do is add a simple prefix to our telephone number.  When I tried putting that number-plus-prefix in the normal telephone number field, or the field for the Text Relay option (Text Relay is an earlier version of NGTS, for which you needed to buy a special phone) it wouldn’t accept it (too long for the first, must start with a zero for the second).  I gave up.  If they have a question and they ring they will get my husband.  Life’s too short.  It was a minor glitch in the scale of things.

Minor glitches aside, I have typed this post in a rush of emotion, getting angrier and angrier with every sentence, remembering ridiculous situations where the lives of people with hearing loss are made difficult for no real reason.  And, because I can’t remember which company it was, I haven’t told you yet about the firm who refused to speak to my husband (because he wasn’t the customer) and insisted that I held the telephone while they bellowed down the line, my husband listening in, so that he could tell me what they had said and I could reply.  I’m not making it up.

To be fair, I find it’s only the big companies and organisations that are so appalling.  If I say to local firms “please can you e mail me, I’m deaf?” they do.  The best example I can think of is my local VW garage; a big place with a flashy showroom but locally run under a franchise.  Years ago I asked them to correspond with me by e mail and they do.  They just do.  It’s not rocket science.

It would cost so little, in the scale of things, for the big organisations to sort themselves out, but it will probably take a campaign to force them to do it – and there are so many other things to campaign about.  Where to start?  Where to find the energy?

Signing off then, very cross Yorkshire woman, almost at pensionable age.  Normal cheerful posts will be resumed next week.

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6 thoughts on ““If you have a question please phone our customer service hotline” – or not.

  1. I recently emailed the sales department of a small mobility scooter company several times without reply. Needless to say they have lost a potential customer.

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    1. Yep, another customer lost. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we somehow need to harness the power of the “deaf pound”. Thanks for leaving a comment. I hope you found a more responsive company.

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  2. That sounds like an excellent idea Josie. What we then need is a website that can harness the power of the “hearing loss pound” and direct people to the best companies. For me I’ve decided to keep on complaining/calmly pointing out when the contact options organisations offer make things impossible for deaf people. If we all do SOMETHING change will probably happen.

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  3. It’s funny: I spent a good portion of last week becoming enraged because there was NO phone number to call when our internet went down and our service provider had no e-mail address either. I think that the failure to provide means of communication for people with disabilities is the most important part of a broader failure to communicate in a way which suits customers instead of the company itself…

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    1. Hi Emily. That’s so true about companies suiting themselves rather than the customer. I think also companies and organisations go for the latest fad and they get insulated from the people they are offering services to. Having put the world to rights………

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  4. I too wish all firms would use a online chat service or email. I have just changed my house insurance to a company who does [and was cheaper than previous company who wanted to automatically renew insurance but had no online facility for me to tell them no, so I wrote in plenty of time , but then got a letter asking why I had stopped my direct debit!]. i too have had conversations via a friend to a TV and internet company who would not take details of faults or cancellation via their website!
    I have decided that will only now if possible use companies who offer online chat or email contact. Makes life easier and one does not get so wound up and irritated!!

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