Archive for the Customer Service Category

Southern Electric billing

Posted in Customer Service with tags on January 23, 2015 by thecognitivekey

I was trained in the dockyard as an electrical apprentice, way back in the 1970s. Back then the electricity companies were public utilities and our electricity was provided by the SEB (Southern Electricity Board). We’d see the initials SEB everywhere, it was rather reassuring to have a local electricity company, and I have always had a soft spot for them.

So when I bought my house I made sure it was Southern Electric, as they had become, who provided my electricity and that was despite their use of an adjective when they surely meant to use a noun. Further I insisted my gas came via British Gas (electricity from the electricity experts and gas from the gas experts, simple), until I found their customer service particularly unhelpful and extremely rude following one house move. After that it seemed natural that I’d get SE to provide both fuels, and so things have been that way since. I have been with SE (or SSE as they now like to be called) through all subsequent house moves. Never a regret.

Until I decided to replace my gas boiler. That was a couple of years ago now and one day when I have recovered from the trauma, of the ordering and installation processes, and the subsequent need for their Shield people to get everything working properly, twice, I shall write about how not to run a boiler replacement company. I know all about it, I have seen them in action. I should have stuck with my gas from the gas experts mantra.

No, the current complaint is with their billing process. Last month I received an email asking me to provide meter readings so they could accurately bill me. The billing doesn’t really matter that much as I pay the same amount each month on some sort of budget system, it allows me to pay the same every month. I provided the meter readings and the bills arrived, or the emails telling me the bills were available online arrived.

I like to keep an eye on things so I looked at the bills and thought it odd that I was owing them so much money on the budget plan, it also showed high gas usage despite the efficiency of the new boiler. Hang on though, they have used estimated readings not mine, and the estimates are a good 30% higher.

Do I care? Well you could make the case that it will all sort itself out in the end at some point when they send a reader round to take readings for them. But that’s only true if the price stays the same. If they reduce the price, as seems to be happening with the other big utilities, then I will have paid for fuel I haven’t yet used at a higher price than I should. Is this another deliberate scheme to screw more money from their customers? I don’t know. I phoned SE and their customer service team didn’t sound at all surprised that my readings had got lost in the system, but they did update their estimated readings with mine. A fleeting apology, I didn’t want self immolation or anything like that, but it did just sound very automatic and scripted (it can’t have been scripted exactly, but I felt as though they were taught to say sorry as a Pavlovian response to a complaint, apologise without understanding and move on seemed to be the approach). Say sorry, but please sound sincere.

We are probably only talking a few pounds here, but they are my pounds, and I don’t like companies who have a cavalier disregard of that. Your customer meter reading process appears not to work SE, and your customer service seem uninterested, addressing not the problem but only the effects of the problem. Maybe the time has come for me to bury the ghost of the SEB and move on.



Posted in Customer Service on November 17, 2014 by thecognitivekey

What is it about large companies that makes them think they can just do whatever they want?

As a matter of default when I sign up with a company I always opt out of receiving marketing mail via whatever means. I do it because I then don’t have to just delete them from my mail or fill up my re-cycling bin.

I have been an O2 customer for quite a while now. I obviously opted out of all mailshots from them.

But they have just sent me a text:

‘You opted out of our emails and texts, so you’re not getting to hear about all the stuff you get, just for being with O2. Find out what we mean at …..’

Come on O2 – what part of opted out are you struggling to understand. I chose to opt out for a reason, I don’t want to hear what wonders you are offering. Others might what to keep abreast but I don’t.

Now, maybe you have decided you don’t want me as a customer, you are going about it the right way if  that’s  the case. It’d be easier just to come out with it, rather than just bombard me with rubbish so I am forced to leave.


Nationwide Building Society – Redeemed (for me anyway)

Posted in Customer Service, General with tags , , , on May 20, 2013 by thecognitivekey

It obviously does pay to be persistent and to complain.

My last call to customer services today was answered by a chap who recognised there was something wrong with my account, listened to my explanation of what appeared to have happened, checked it out and then told me I was right and that the penalty deduction they had made would be refunded.

After the fiasco of last Friday’s complaint to them, I raised a formal complaint on their website, explaining everything that had happened. This afternoon the chap from complaints phoned me. He accepted that I had been given a mass of confusing information and offered me £50. I accepted it. He’s also going to ensure I get the refund of the deduction, if I don’t get it then he’ll refund it. Interestingly he’d spoken to the account team this morning and they had told him it was an early redemption repayment. But he’s going to refund that even if they don’t.

So the Nationwide have come good in the end. But what a palaver to get everything resolved. Just as well I recognised it and wasn’t prepared to let things go when they told me I was wrong.

Nationwide Building Society – Fit For Service?

Posted in Customer Service, General with tags , , , on May 20, 2013 by thecognitivekey

Ah, we all love Building Societies don’t we? A throw-back to the past when the customer’s needs were paramount, and the happy, smiling faces behind the counter recognised you. A time when the banks didn’t really deal in mortgages so the Building Society was the only place to go when you wanted to buy a house, but they were expecting you because you’d been saving for years with them to get your deposit. Gosh, money was hard to get in those days. Jolly adverts on TV telling us just how safe and reliable Building Societies were.

Since then there has been a major shift. Banks and other institutions have dipped into the mortgage market. Most Building Societies have de-mutualised and many have subsequently been taken over by banks. Service has deteriorated in these ‘new’ Building Societies as the pressure was applied to get more out of the customer.

But, out there still, like a shining light, there was always the Nationwide Building Society. A traditional Building Society, caring for its customers in the traditional way. Hurrah, a light to lead us. Or so I have always thought.

Back in 2008 I bought a house and needed a mortgage. My broker suggested the Nationwide, a 19 year mortgage (sorry sir, we don’t lend beyond your 70th birthday), with the first 10 years fixed at 6.04%, market rate after that. An overpayment of £500 maximum per month was allowed throughout the life of the mortgage. Anything overpayment over £500 in any month would incur a 3% penalty charge. Seemed a good deal. The rate was competitive at the time and fixing for 10 years meant I knew the outgoings wouldn’t go up for a while. The overpayment of £500 would allow me to have the mortgage repaid within 10 years thus avoiding the market rates at the end. It’s also a Building Society, not a bank. I’ll take it.

A couple of months later the banking system collapsed along with mortgage rates. Bank of England rate at 0.5%, people with trackers laughing their heads off. But I was happy enough. My outgoings on the mortgage were constant, about £1500 a month including overpayment.

I took redundancy from work, ploughed that into my mortgage. Took the penalty on the chin and paid that so it wasn’t added to the mortgage. Sold all my shares and put that into the mortgage with my savings, again paid the penalty. I made several overpayments larger than £500 during this period. It was odd but the Nationwide seemed to have two distinct methods of dealing with the penalty. Sometimes they would calculate the penalty of the whole overpayment that month (including my regular £500), sometimes it was only the overpayment over £500 that they charged for. I queried this several times and sometimes got one answer and sometimes the other. No-one really knew.

The Nationwide are very good at taking the money from the direct debit every month. I cannot fault them in their ability to extract the mortgage payment without fail. I had opted to have the term reduce on my mortgage so the base repayment was the same every month and it was great to get a letter from them every month to let me know that the term had been reduced.

As I got closer to the mortgage end I started to wonder what would happen. Would I have to get them removed from the deeds? How would the monthly overpayment work, would they refund the excess? Was there a penalty for early repayment of the mortgage, within the first 10 years there appeared to be?

A quick phone call to the Nationwide Building Society Customer Service Team…I spoke to a chap there, no penalty for early redemption he said because I had been reducing the term and it was now only month’s not years. Their mortgage team would contact the Land Registry and remove the charge against the property. He was a good source of information but the line was chopped suddenly. Oh well. I had some answers.

A week or so later another question popped into my head. Another call to the team. Another chap, and he reassured me about the overpayment, anything overpaid would be repaid into my account, best not to close the direct debit just yet though. No, there wouldn’t be a penalty for early redemption. Great!

I watched the account balance tumble. Just one more payment to go, the regular monthly payment left my account, a few days later the £500 overpayment and my mortgage account was in credit. Hurrah! £69.46 in credit. Ah, but I bet they don’t pay interest on that. Another phone call confirmed that. It’d take 10 working days for them to make the refund. Blast.

I lost access to my Nationwide on-line account. I phoned up. It was because the account was now closed. But the credit was still on the account and would be refunded.

I got a letter from the Land Registry to say the charge on the property was now removed. Later a letter from the Building Society to say my mortgage was closed and excess monies refunded. No figures, just words.

I checked my bank. No payment so I phoned up again. A different person. Ah, yes, they hadn’t started looking at this until 7 days after the mortgage had been paid off. I should get the money within 10 working days. Oh yes, and how will that be paid. Oh, we’ll send a cheque to you solicitor. What solicitor is that I asked. The one who you used to buy the house. The hell you will I said. I was promised a payment into my account and if you send a cheque of mine to any solicitor there will be trouble. Rapid back-tracking I was assured the payment would be to my bank.

A payment did appear. Not for the full amount. £12.91 short. Now that is a small amount I know, but the mortgage calculation is by a mathematical formula and can have only one result, so it seemed odd that suddenly my credit balance had reduced. I phoned again. A nice chap. I explained the problem. He said there shouldn’t be an early redemption charge, so it was odd. Ah, but he could see that my £500 overpayment had been presented twice, the first time it was rejected. He said that what had happened was that the double presentation of the overpayment had caused the system to think I’d paid over the £500 limit for the month…and so the penalty of 3% was charged on the outstanding balance at that time. And the 3% works out at £12.91 and it does. He said he’d send a note to the relevant people. It’d take 10 working days.

Haha, after another 10 working days and no repayment I phone again. A woman this time. Ah yes she said they had made a decision on this 8 days earlier and the penalty payment was correct. Why hadn’t you told me then? We are sorry about that. But I was told that it was a mistake on your part, no mistake, he was wrong and he will be informed of that. How come I get a different answer from the Nationwide each time I call? Don’t you have education so every one knows the products. Seems pretty rubbish to me. But no shifting her, she was adamant the system was right. Is there anything I can do you you? she said. Go jump in the lake I thought, but didn’t say it. Politely I said Yes, loads, but we’ll talk about that another day. Not sure who rang off first.

So, the Nationwide are great at running your mortgage so long as you don’t do anything like make more that the allowed overpayment or pay it off before the term. Once they start having to think for themselves instead of relying on the system you can get any result. I was lucky just briefly when I spoke to one chap, but he has been overruled by some fool elsewhere relying on the system. In fact the silly girl I spoke to last said it was due to early repayment of the mortgage, but a charge of £12.91 on a mortgage in excess of £130,000 being repaid inside 5 years. That can’t be right.

I shall try to call them again now…

Persistence has paid off…Through to someone who understands the problem and has spoken to the redemptions team. We are all seeing the same numbers now…and I hope to have a payment of £12.91 coming back to me.

I do wonder though just what happens to people who aren’t financially savvy or persistent…

Argos and the 30 Day Money Back option

Posted in Customer Service, General on April 8, 2013 by thecognitivekey

Argos do have a 30 Day Money Back option on purchases. They make a big deal of it. And it is a good deal too.

However what I didn’t realise was that the goods have to be returned unused so they can put them back on the shelf for resale. Ah, my Pure Internet Radio has been used. Damn!

Argos were very good. They explained that the Sale of Goods Act means they can’t just sell goods that have been opened and used. Oh no – looks like I shall be left with an £85 radio I don’t want. The manager is an angel though, this once they will give me the refund but if I need to return anything in the future that has been used, they won’t exchange it unless there is a fault. Well that sounds good to me, in future I shall view larger items in a shop before deciding to buy.

Thank you Argos, you didn’t have to refund me, but you did. I am impressed with the commitment to customer satisfaction. I shall buy from Argos again, but will be more careful to be sure it’s what I want first. No more impulse buys.

Pure One Flow Internet Radio

Posted in Customer Service, General on April 8, 2013 by thecognitivekey

My studio headphones finally gave up the ghost. The ear pads disintegrated and the headband broke. They had given good service and I have had no complaints with them. Time for some new headphones. I knew which ones I wanted – Sennheiser HD201 – lightweight closed headphones. I already have the Sennheiser HD449 and I have been very impressed with them.

So just where from. Argos – they have them in stock and they are about the same price as Amazon.

But, I have also been thinking about a new radio for the bedside. I currently have a Sony XDR-S1 which has DAB/FM/MW/LW – a good solid radio – it’s about 10 years old now but still performing well. I now have a few music tracks on my PC now though and it would be nice to be able to listen to them through the radio. Currently I use the radio with cordless headphones so I can wander around the house and not lose the thread of a programme. If I had an internet radio which allowed my music on the PC to be played through the radio I could listen to the music too.

Pure make internet radios and they can play the music on the PC via WiFi. I looked at the two likely candidates, one oval shaped thing with a touch screen to control it (about £170) or the simpler box shaped One Flow (about £100 but on offer at Argos for £85). I checked out the reviews. The One Flow gets some great write-ups, the other has a lot of problems reported with the touch screen. So it looks like no competition.

I bought the Sennheiser HD201 headphones (they are great) and the Pure One Flow Internet Radio from Argos on my way home from work. It was a Bank Holiday in the UK, Easter Monday.

The radio is a black box. Very light, extremely light in fact. I think it must need the optional battery pack to add weight. Not a promising start. The buttons are on the front of the radio. Pressing one would push the whole radio backwards, so to operate a button the radio needs to be held with the other hand. Not ideal for a bedside radio. The Sony has buttons on the top so the radio doesn’t need to be held steady.

I persevered. I tune the FM and get a reasonable sound. I connect to the WiFi and it finds some stations. Moving through the stations is not that easy as tracking is via a dial which moves very slowly. Suddenly the radio says there’s a Network Update, the option is OK. No other options. I press OK. The documentation says it will take around 5 minutes. Forty minutes later it’s still running. I decide to check out the website and register while it’s going on.

The website in the documentation is OK and I try to register my radio. Ah, problem here because it’s not listed. There is a note, phew, if I have an Internet Radio then I need to register on a different site. So off to that site. Nothing there indicates how to register, but there is a FAQ. One of the questions is how do I register my radio. Haha – no help though. The FAQ says

Sorry – we’re closed.

The specified article does not exist or you do not have permission to view it.

If you believe this is in error, please contact

Well I thought this was an error so I sent them a note explaining that I was struggling to register my radio, I was also still having a Network Upgrade after an hour.

They reply very quickly. Or at least the mail robot does.

Unfortunately this email address has now been disabled and is no longer monitored. This email will not be read. To contact the support team with your question please click here

Great. They are closed and appear to have moved too. On the end of the click is a problem ticket raising tool. I cut and paste my complaint and add a little bit more about the quality of their service.

Network Upgrade still ongoing. The documentation says there is a free telephone and email support. Can I find the telephone number? No sign of it. I raise another ticket complaining about the support and lack of telephone number.

The Network Upgrade is still running when I go to bed. Do not interrupt it says. I warn my daughter that it might complete during the night and the radio could come on. It does, at 2 in the morning.

Next day it’s all there. All I have to do it sort out the music on my PC. I finally find the software (XP/Vista were the options – no mention of Windows 7/8). Software downloaded it now needs to register the tracks. It takes hours. Once done I can listen to the music on the PC via the radio. But the navigation is rubbish. The dial is far too slow and the screen doesn’t show enough to allow faster navigation. Sound is OK.

I have a  reply from the support desk.

Dear Richard,

Please be aware that your ticket was sent in over the bank holiday weekend and the office didn’t open until the 2nd April 2012 and we are still working through a backlog of tickets.

As of April 2012, our e-mail address has been replaced by a far better ticketing system which allows us to keep better track of communications between our customers and ourselves.

To Register your One Flow, you will first need to go to and create an account on here.

Once this has been created, you can log-in click your e-mail address, select ‘Devices’ and under ‘Manage Devices’ and ‘Device Registration’ you will see a 6-character registration token.

This token needs to be entered in to your One Flow by going to ‘Options’ followed by ‘Pure Connect Settings’ followed by ‘Register with Pure connect’.


Dxxxx Xxxxxx
Technical Support Engineer, Pure

I had worked out the registration process by myself. A backlog of tickets after a couple of days away….hmmm. Plus they are obviously living in the past, it’s 2013 here in Hampshire.

Decision time. The radio does work. It’s very light. The support desk are crap. If I have a problem down the line, say 6 weeks time, what sort of support could I expect? Easy decision – take it back to Argos – they have a 30 day money back offer.

So Sennheiser HD201 headphones are a great buy, the Pure One Flow Internet Radio just isn’t going to do what I want.

Dorothy Perkins – a new verb

Posted in Customer Service on December 16, 2012 by thecognitivekey

Christmas is always a difficult time. The difficulty is the balancing of the work commitments with the need to get presents and cards. The internet is a boon, but causes problems of its own. The problem is always the delivery or collection of the ordered goods. In a shop there is no problem, you can walk out with your purchase, but you have to wander the shop to find the present. The internet is great for browsing and buying, but it is the receipt of the goods that falls down. Many shops are now moving towards Click and Collect. It’s a great option. I can buy and collect from the shop at my leisure. No aimless wandering round the shops, straight in and straight out. Excellent.

One of my daughters requested some clothes from Dorothy Perkins. Easy to order on-line  and pay, and even better they have a Collect from Store option which is far quicker than the post. So I opt for this. The emails tell me the goods will be in the Fareham store the next day. That’s what I call a service.

My daughter told me where Dorothy Perkins is. My knowledge on the location of women’s clothes shops is very limited if not negligible. I had a late start at work so I could pick up the order on my way to work.

Dorothy Perkins is not a large store. It has a small service desk with till etc. Two members of staff are at the desk. One, a young girl, is serving a customer and the other, an older woman, is on the phone. A chap is polishing the floor with one of those machines that appears to float. All very good, so I join the queue, actually I suppose I made the queue as there was only the other customer before. Can you be a one person queue if you are being served? Or was I solely the queue because I was waiting? Discuss.

The customer was getting a refund or something which took a little while to sort out. I waited patiently. Probably 5 minutes. The customer dealt with, the girl asked if she could help. I presented my internet printout and explained I’d come to collect the order. It’s in the backroom she said and went off to collect it. I waited. The woman on the phone was still on the phone, the floor was getting cleaner. Not much to do. I looked around. The voice of the woman on the phone drifted over. She was explaining that on Monday evening she was at the company party…hang on, I thought, you mean you are not talking to a customer. I did think it must be a particularly difficult customer you were talking to given the length of call, but you are talking to a friend!

I don’t know what DP expect this staff to do when there are customers waiting to be served but my guess is that they are not supposed to ignore them and chat to their friends on the phone. The girl came back with my order. Everything was in order, she was the perfect assistant. I left. The woman with the short red hair was still on the phone. My guess is that she is the manager. I shan’t be using Dorothy Perkins’ Click and Collect again, life is too short.

A new verb for you to describe receiving poor service in a shop. To DP. Short and snappy, just what the Customer Service wasn’t. An example, ‘I was DPed today in <add shop name>, totally ignored by the girls behind the till. It probably won’t catch on, but we should fight back. I have replied to Dorothy Perkins’ Customer Satisfaction questionnaire they foolishly sent me.