Bureaucracy I: poking the dragon

I am now clearing the decks. I have started to do so, work-wise. I am also beginning to clear up the various bits of household bureaucracy that urgently need attending to before 12 July. Not at all aided or abetted by the fact that for some reason half the year’s big bills seem to land in April/May (Water, TV License, MOT, car insurance, car tax, etc.).

Some of this is likely to be plain sailing: some, the inevitable dealing with an eternal round of gcse-challenged jobsworth’s, who seem to think that following a system, whilst doing nothing to progress matters to a result is the way to foster good customer relations.

nPower do it again!

Let’s start wth two old favourites. First off – oh dear! – step forward nPower. Now I don’t have it in for them. I really don’t. We’ve had our ups and downs, our spats and yes, I did take them to court last year.

But for now, we’re mostly friends. For now, of course, covers the bit where I warned, arnie-style, that “I’d be back” if they didn’t sort out their identity document policy in the next two years.

Otherwise, though, I quite like them. They do try (see: I even resisted the temptation to go for the naughty double entendre and write that they “are trying”!). And if I have any sort of view of them at all, it is as slightly dotty maiden aunt, given to wandering the streets at 4 in the morning feeding pigeons in her nightie. That is, she’s wearing the ngihtie, the pigeons aren’t… oh, you know what I mean.

Basically, they are big. Not quite NHS-size. But one of the UK’s megacorps. So it would be surprising if we didn’t bump occasionally.

Failed security procedures

But back to the story. They are changing their billing system. Which means I have just got one joint (gas and electric) bill covering approx 7 months of use. The first time I’ve ever had a utility bill that stretched significantly into four figures. Ouch!

Still, I rang to pay it. Gave my name and then started to give credit card details. By way of courtesy, I mentioned it was in my old name. I am still waiting for Equifax/BHS to pull their fingers out and issue the one in my new name! And that was a no-no.

They can’t take payment for one account from a credit card in another name. Huh? Bu-ut… I had the card here. Number, issue date. Security code. Sorry. No can do.

I exited politely and, er, phoned their automatic billing system. Which instantly took all of the above details, with one exception: the name. Sorted.

But at the same time, a slight fail for nPower security. Either they are trying to protect individuals from their nearest and dearest using their card – in which case, they would NOT offer the automated option. Or they haven’t thought it through much.

Maybe there’s some legal tweak: if one of their operators took the card details and it was fraud, they’d be liable: whereas if their computer did so automatedly, it wouldn’t be. I doubt it though. So come on, nPower. Think about it!

BT Colonial Calling

Next up, BT. I suspect, BT India since the call was handled by an eager young man with an Indian accent and poor command of English.

That’s an important qualification. Because, thinking about it, it might be racist to presume that anyone with a particular accent is based in India (or Romania or Poland for that matter). But, in general, call centres populated by accented persons and based in Birmingham or Leicester do tend to boast a much better command of the basic language.

So-o. After much battling, BT finally got my name on the bill in BOTH name fields (online and paper) and spelt it right. No. Not Fay. Not Faye. That’s “Fae”. Thank you.

And then they started chasing me for a bill they hadn’t sent. Huh? Have I suddenly been opted out of paper bills. Apparently not, as the young man eventually confirmed. Though it took a while.

Bad BT!

The first hint I hadn’t received a bill was some automated BT number calling me and asking me to phone them back and identify themselves. Er, fail. Massive fail! This is exactly how ID scams work – and, as I have written for a paper in a fairly serious journal, by adopting this approach, BT are actually lending credence to phishing and vishing scams that work this way.

Basically – and this is advice from both the Met and the Card Issuers Association: do NOT give out personal info to organisations that call you and/or ask you to call them back.

Sadly, at BT, this approach is deeply ingrained into their way of doing business.

High Comedy at the call centre

So, I phoned their general number to ask if they’d stopped billing me. “Oh”, a spike milliganesque voice replies: “you would like me to stop your bills”.

Er, no. Could you check. “Oh, yes”. (I shall have to stop this: the dialogue really was the stuff of racist comedy circa 1970, and it was clear that the operative was only getting every other sentence).

Finally he got it. He would check what had happened. Not only. He would go off and check. The line went silent, as he departed with the jolly sign-off “I am very much looking forward to this, Miss Fae”.

Really? I giggled.

Things were, I hope, sorted. He is sending me a copy of my non-arriving bill and he is doing it free of charge “as a special favour to you, Miss Fae”.

Still, I don’t like this sort of exchange. Accents are fine, so long as they don’t cross the line into unintelligible. But simply “having English” is not good enough. The grasp of the language needs to be sufficient that an operator can go off script (unlike the Equifax lady in the Philippines) without descending into chaos. This operator JUST managed that. Some don’t.



1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Molly said,

    Oh you obviously have never tried to deal with the horror that is Virgin Media…. BT sounds like a dawdle in comparision.


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