The Death of Service

dance of death

photo c/o Zaqarbal

Following Dad’s death, I’m starting to tidy up some loose ends. I’m not used to dealing with the vagaries of quite so many companies at once, and I’m having some interesting customer experiences. Here are just a few:

I contacted EDF Energy because I wanted to take over the electricity supply payments at Dad’s place. After long waits on the phone I told EDF their existing bank mandate from Dad’s account would stop and I’d like to start to pick up the tab. And I gave them a meter reading. Two days later – they sent me a final bill into which they’d inserted a piece of marketing titled ‘How Will You Celebrate?’ Now I’m all for celebrating the life of dead friends and family, but come on EDF, that’s a marketing #fail. And they also sent me a sniffy letter saying I was now moved onto a crap (my word), higher priced (their words) tariff because I cancelled the bank mandate. #fail

I wrote a note to Credit Suisse advising them Dad has died and that in due course, I’ll be closing his deposit account. I sent them a certified copy of the death certificate and asked for it back as I need to show it to plenty of other companies too. Today I got a letter from Credit Suisse acknowledging receipt of the certificate and enclosing a bunch of claim forms. No certificate though. I called them up and was told ‘we don’t normally return those’. OK smarty pants, so how the hell else am I supposed to prove the fact of death to all the other companies then? I’m placed on hold for a while before being told ‘we’ll return it to you’. I should coco! #fail

BT has cancelled the phone line and broadband at Dad’s place promptly, I appreciate that. Then they send me a refund cheque made payable to a mystery character, neither me nor my father. So I called them up and after a ten minute wait I get told ‘sorry we made the cheque payable to the wrong person, please return it’. ‘How about I just shred it and you send me another one?’ I ask. But no. BT doesn’t trust me to destroy a cheque for £24 and furthermore because I want it to be made payable to me they now want to see a copy of Dad’s death certificate. BT are now wasting my time, and my money thanks to their mistake. #fail

It’s not all bad. British Gas have been fabulous. They have a dedicated bereavement team and every thing was switched over to me with no fuss and they have kindly offered to hold all the bills and keep the supply going while I sort probate of Dad’s estate. How thoughtful of you, Thanks! And Sutton and East Surrey Water have been simply fab. Easy to deal with, correct about everything. Spot on.

I don’t believe that any of these companies set out to deliver such a poor experience, and at the same time, in order to have front line service people doing such a poor job, something is wrong. It’s not just me taking hassle on board to manage this crap service, all these companies are incurring costs and wasted time too.

I’m not interested in blaming anyone, I have no interest in a departmental finger wagging contest. What I’d really like to see is closer links between HR and customer service and the customer so that we can have better conversations about how to make these things easier. For all of us, in all circumstances. Is that too much to ask do you think?


Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

11 thoughts on “The Death of Service”

  1. It’s so strange, isn’t it? That something that surely should mandate compassion and helpfulness in large scale organisations just seems to drag out the opposite?
    Great post, thanks for sharing.

  2. Doug,

    My condolences on your dad.

    In my blog I often remark about siloism within companies. I think what ends up occurring in situations like yours is the game of telephone, where someone in the circle whispers a comment to the next, and by the time it has worked it’s way back around it is nothing like the original statement.

    Overcoming this tendency is difficult, if not impossible – well organized and operated companies are rare, so I am sure your experience is common, unfortunately.

  3. Thanks to Karen and David for your comments.

    I’m finding the whole mechanical nature of this experience quite anger inducing and I do wonder how upsetting it must be for some folks.

    Conversations are the key to unlocking these problems I’m sure. As kids, we play chinese whispers, exactly like the scenario David describes. As adults we should know that whilst the game is fun, it’s a crap way to ensure a message gets from a to b with clarity.

    Cheers – Doug

  4. My condolences too Doug – we encountered the same when both my mum and my brother in law died. Only a couple of companies had bereavement teams, most acted as if a totally unexpected event had occurred, and it seemed like this was the first time it had happened to a customer.
    I think what’s happened is that companies have streamlined their processes so far and cut back employee training and discretion, so that they are unable to do any exception handling, hence ‘computer says no’. Only a matter of time before customers say the same. All the best.

  5. Hi Rob

    I’ve not been very connected recently, hope to be back onstream soon, but just to say so sorry both about your dad and the experience you have had. When my dad died, my mum got a letter through from the hospital about him having ‘missed’ an appointment with the consultant a few weeks later. When she phoned up to point out their error they were cross with her for not cancelling it – as though that was on her mind! Inter departmental communcation in a hospital was probably the issue, but the attitude of the phone answerer was not helpful…

    All the best as you go through this process – both of sorting out physical things, and the grieving path.


  6. Sorry to hear about your difficulties, Doug. And to deal with all this bureaucracy at such time of emotional turmoil.

    In the US, it’s common practice to get a dozen certified copies of the death certificate, just because of this problem. Unless there’s reasons why it’s not allowed, perhaps your UK readers should do the same. It’s just one more thing you’d rather not have to worry about.


  7. I’m sad to say that this is typical – I have just written to No 10 and the BBC over HM customs and excise. I tried to register for online VAT the other week, failed 6 times, rang them at my expense – they told me I had done everything correctly – I told them that I would continue to pay by cheque until they had fixed the computer system, whereupon they told me they would FINE me if I did that!!!?

    WTF – this would be called fraud in other places. FAIL!

    Makes me wanna write a song ….

    I’ve written a blog about it – it will be out soon


  8. My experience of HMRC niggled me. Out of the blue I get a letter threatening restraint of goods if I didn’t pay £30 in seven days Hours of listening to recorded messages directing me to their web site (no help) but nobody answers the phone. A sneaky use of a different number elicited the response that a readjustment on their part had triggered their computer to send me the letter in error. I was told I could write but it takes HMRC up to 14 days look at a letter. In the meantime their error would of seen bailiffs at my door for £30!
    But I suppose if HMRC won’t answer MP’s questions why should I expect a civil service?

  9. Doug, really sorry to hear about your Dad, even if your prepared for it it must still be tough. Think your experiences are typical of the general problem with service. Squeezed budgets, tough headcount targets, emphasis on productivity numbers and sales. Think most people start out wanting to give good service then lose it through being incorrectly focused. If you met any of those guy’s who #failed outside of work they would probably bend over backwards to help. The environments that we create drives behaviours – at last unconference Julia questioned if we had moved forward in customer service in the last 10 years? to which we shuffled our feet and agreed we had improved efficiency but not service. We can all make a difference, we just need to make our voices heard

  10. Hey folks – thanks for keeping the conversation going. I appreciate the way it has flick flacked into slightly different places. I don’t doubt that the people, the individuals try and do their best. It’s sad that workplaces think they know better and devise and implement useless practice which delivers poor experiences, for everyone concerned.

    I’m learning from you all – and that’s a big reason behind why I write this stuff, so thanks 🙂

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