Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Santander screws up yet again!

Just why is Santander, the former Abbey National, so completely incompetent?

Over the past few days, I have transferred various sums from my Santander accounts to pay my builder. All within the bank's limits and all confirmed by their much publicised OTP fraud protection scheme. This entails sending a special code to your mobile to make sure that the person carrying out the transaction is authorised to do so. I did that, all was well and the transfers were sorted out to happen.

Today, my builder queried why one of the transactions had gone into his account but had been recalled by my bank. I go online to find that my entire Santander account has been suspended.

I ring Santander and, after entering all my card number and my date of birth, was connected with a call centre in Bangalore. The woman there was useless, ploughed on through her script, unable to deviate in any sense or form from what she had been programmed to do. However, she did reveal that the bank had tried to contact me - on old numbers.

I gave up on the call and rang again. What a difference. An Irish voice this time, helpful, sympathetic and responsive. I get back online quickly. As I do, he explained that the bank's fraud protection department had tried to call me to query the large amounts going out of my account.

It transpires that, although my contact numbers are all up to date, the fraud department, supposedly at the forefront of protecting my interests, only has my old details. But, I asked, why did they cancel a transaction which had been authorised by their OTP system?

My man at the bank could only hold up his hands and apologise.

Why does the fraud department not have the current details?

Again, he could only express sympathy and understanding.

But, I can now do the transfers, he guarantees that they will go through.

All very well, but Santander's uselessly antiquated systems means that I have to enter each transfer individually and spread out the payments over three days.

Very bad show.

Thus, I am to be contacted tomorrow by 'someone senior'.

Let's hope that Santander's systems allow him access to my current contact numbers.

Because as soon as I have spent the last penny in all of my Santander accounts, they are being closed.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

has a Navy friend visiting for the weekend. Only been here for four hours and I have already drunk too much and she has gone to bed!

Friday, 30 April 2010

has just been told the gas supply at my new house has been re-connected. It has only taken British Gas four months. Impressive or what?

Monday, 26 April 2010

has just sent Easyjet a bill for €1018.61 for my expenses following the eruption. It's clear no airline can sustain the claims. EU bail out?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Trains, Boats and no planes

Here's the link to my photo blog of my journey by train from Berlin to Malaga after being marooned in Berlin for four days by the volcano. I'll add to it when I next get internet access.

Monday, 22 March 2010

On bags and bungling

When you travel as much as I do, it’s not surprising that, occasionally, a piece of luggage fails to arrive when it is supposed to.

In thirty years of travel writing, my checked in bag has failed to appear on the carousel on no more than three or four occasions. With one exception, they reappeared within a day or two and were promptly delivered to me at a convenient location and time. Apart from filling in the form, no further action was required on my part.

But when United Airlines managed to lose my suitcase between Chicago and Lansing, a distance of just over two hundred miles, you would have expected the matter to be resolved quickly and efficiently.

After all, after the carousel emptied after the 29 minute flight to Lansing, they KNEW that the bag was still in Chicago. The lady on the United ticket desk said it had just been sent to the wrong pier and would be arriving on the next flight, three hours later. Not a problem, especially as they had a courier service scheduled to depart at 10pm. I filled up the appropriate form, and departed with the promise that ‘someone would call’ with the delivery details. Reassuringly, my copy of the delayed baggage report told me that United was ‘doing everything possible to quickly reunite me with my property’.

Just after 11pm, I thought it wise to check the status of my baggage online. But not only was the wrong type of bag listed, they were apologising for the fact that the bag had still not been located.

The number to call for assistance required much button pressing and voice recognition before I got through to a human being. The guy had a lot of trouble understanding me and I him. I put it down to the lateness of the hour and the fact my brain was locked into a time zone five hours ahead. But eventually, I was reassured that my bag was in fact in Lansing and would be delivered ‘first thing in the morning’. The wrong entries on the online web tracking service would, he assured me, be corrected.

When, by 8am the following morning, the bag had still not arrived and there was no message on either the house phone or my mobile, I checked online again. My silver hard shell suitcase was still being listed as a grey zippered bag. Worryingly, it still reported that they had not located it. I was not reassured by their statement that ‘most bags turned up within 24 hours.

So I initiated another phone call. The voice recognition they use is pretty clever. It finds out your name, your bag tag details and, having ascertained all of that, tells you it will pass that information on to their baggage agent. Well it doesn’t. You have to go through the whole rigmarole again.

The bag is at Lansing airport waiting for me to collect I was cheeringly told. I took a deep breath, asked why such a simple job as delivering my suitcase was being so incompetently handled and was reassured, after much apologising (but not a great deal of sincerity) for the inconvenience, that it would be delivered to my address as a priority.

Two hours later, I emailed another department at United, guest response, who’d been very helpful and efficient prior to my trip. The lady called me within a few minutes, apologised profusely and promised to sort it out. Apparently the driver who was supposed to be delivering to me had been sent north and would not be back for some time. But she had the agent at Lansing airport on the other line and the bag would ‘certainly be delivered by lunchtime’. As I was heading out to lunch, we agreed that I’d leave a little note on the door telling the delivery service where to put it and my cell phone number so they could confirm that they’d found the house and the case was there.

Returning home at 3pm, there’d still been no call and no sign of the bag, so I emailed guest response again who responded by return, saying they’d been told the bag was on its way and that the delivery company had been told to ring me by return.

At five, having heard nothing, I went online, nothing updated there, so I rang the baggage number again. This time I discovered that all the button pressing and voice recognition was a complete waste of time. Apparently the systems don’t pass on all the information you have so painstakingly entered.

After a lot of waiting, repeating information, spelling out details in the International Phonetic Alphabet which is clearly not taught to the baggage agents, I asked where my call was being handled. ‘New Delhi’, I was told.

After about twenty minutes, the man handling my call decided that the incident was above his pay grade, so I was passed to Vipul, his supervisor.

As I had been waiting for so long, I asked if he would call me back.

It’s now 24 hours since I arrived in Lansing, Michigan. There’s been no call from the courier company. No call from Vipul. No call from United Airlines at Lansing airport.

And there’s still no sign of my bag.

Very occasionally things go wrong.

But what credence do you give United’s claim that ‘they are doing everything possible to reunite me with my baggage’?

I rest my case.

Well I would, if I had it.


At 7.15pm, 24 hours after I had arrived minus bag, I rang Vipul in New Delhi. After an interminable wait, he came on the line. ‘Why did you not ring me back?’, I demanded. ‘I couldn’t get hold of the courier company he said. His fortune well and truly read, he range me back 15 minutes later. ‘Your bag will be picked up at eight and delivered by midnight.’
At ten past eight, a jolly man in a woolly hat arrived at the front door. ‘Sign here’, he said.

I enquired when he first new about my bag. ‘Ten mminutes ago’, he replied. ‘They didn’t answer their door at midday. It happens a lot’

I asked him how much he was paid for delivering this ‘priority’ service’. ‘Four dollars’, he replied.

You might think that’s not very generous for an eight mile ride and certainly not the rate for a ‘priority’ service.

I’ve been looking at United Airlines’ impressively worded 12 point ‘customer commitment’. Here are extracts from points 3 and 12.

‘Once your belongings are located, they will be returned as quickly as possible’.

‘Our Customer Relations representatives have one goal: to acknowledge customer questions and complaints and provide prompt resolution’.

Now I DO rest my case.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Losing the Abbey Habit

I’m relocating my UK base. So I’ve written something like 50 letters telling the taxman, the banks, and my pension funds. It’s amazing just how many people need to know.

By return, letters flood back. Sometimes two; one to my old address and one to the new. The process is remarkably easy and pain free.

With one exception.

Grupo Santander, the Spanish operation that is now the owner of the Abbey National, requires me to present myself in person at my branch. With ID. ‘Just to keep your account safe, we have kept the passbook.’

Now it happens that I spend the winter in Spain. Santander knows that because they write to me every month in English and in Spanish telling me how little interest they are paying me on my Sterling and Euro investments.

But the letter telling me that they cannot do the change by post has been sent to my new address in England. The very one that they supposedly cannot use until I present myself in person. Together with a form of identification.

My builder rescues the letter from an area between his concrete mixer and my new study and informs me of its contents. Not only does Santander want me to present myself in person with some ID, they also want a form filled up. I have to submit details of my marital status, whether I am earning and a lot more besides.

I ring a chum from another life, who is now editor of one of Britain’s leading financial publications and seek his advice. ‘It’s nonsense’, he says. ‘They have no right and no regulatory requirement to demand any of that information.’

Unusually, my presence in England is required in the dark depths of winter, so I call my Santander Branch to enquire if they really do need all that they are requesting. Upon their affirmation, I request to meet with the branch manager the following morning.

The day arrives and I present myself with several forms of ID at the former hotel that now houses the local branch of the organisation that gave me my first piggy bank at the age of four or five.

A short while after announcing the purpose of my visit, a woman arrives clutching my passbook. No handshake, no smile of welcome. This is a woman on a mission. Clearly out to achieve a victory.

‘I don’t have a meeting with you,’ she declares abruptly.

‘But you have my passbook,’ I splutter, ‘you must have been expecting me.’

This extraordinarily brusque tirade continues for ten minutes.

No question of ‘I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience and would be grateful if you would fill up the official form. Or ‘no, we don’t actually need to know if you are married or if you are working or not.’

This is a case of being told, rather like a five year old at primary school, that if I don’t eat up my scoops of mashed potato, I can’t have my tapioca pudding. Or my passbook. The woman’s attitude is appalling. I wonder several times who is supposedly providing the service.

I query why my signed letter is not sufficient. ‘We don’t have a copy of your signature at the branch.’ ‘What about the one in my passbook?’ I enquire.

I produce a folder containing copies of letters from a host of banks and other financial institutions who have changed my address, including the Alliance and Leicester, also now owned by Grupo Santander.

‘I don’t care how anyone else deals with this. I need you to fill up the form and I am not giving the passbook back to you until you have done it. Apart from anything, my staff could have dealt with this, you didn’t need to ask for me’.

With hands shaking with rage, I fill up the form, querying on several occasions whether my marital and employment status are actually needed. I point out that my financial journalist chum tells me there is no FSA requirement for such information.

She is as impressed with this as my helpful suggestion when she has last been on a customer care course and whether she is hoping for a long career with Santander.

On completion of my form filling and presentation of my driving licence, I ascertain whether this amazingly customer-focussed individual is now happy that I have provided sufficient information to change my address. The one to which they have already written to me telling me that they can’t.

‘Yes,’ she replies, ‘this meeting is at an end.’

‘No, it’s not, said I. ‘You have just discussed my financial affairs with a complete stranger for fifteen minutes without, until now, checking my identity. NOW the meeting is at an end.’

When I tell my editor friend of the altercation, he laughs. ‘My wife had exactly the same treatment. They really do not care about the customer any more.’

There’s no point in complaining. I shall just move my investments from Santander in the UK and Spain. I shall sell my shares and in due course accept the proceeds from the endowments they mis-sold me nearly 25 years ago. I shall remove all traces of a fifty-year long relationship with an organisation that certainly used to be quite habit-forming.

But I shall tell everyone I know about what happened, including some senior folk at Grupo Santander. Maybe, just maybe, madam will have her fortune told, be sent on a customer care course or, better still, be given early retirement.

I have my passbook in front of me as I write.

It contains £4.28


Monday, 15 February 2010

Air Canada's Lack of Communication

I have been writing about travel for almost all of my adult life; for half of those forty years I ran a media consultancy specialising in leisure and tourism. Twice we featured in the listings of Britain’s leading PR agencies. For many years, as a consultant, I acted as head of group communications for one of the UK’s top 5 business travel firms. My other clients included Air UK, KLM, British Airways and several leading retail travel agents.

I think, therefore, I can justifiably claim to have a pretty good understanding of what good communications practice in the travel industry should be.

Last week, I was on a great press trip to Ontario with five other journalists. The group included representatives from Britain’s biggest circulation Sunday paper, the two leading regional titles in Scotland and England and the UK deputy editor of an international magazine with a worldwide circulation of nine million. Together, we brought potential coverage, just for the UK market, of around 4.2 million.

Trying to get a decision from Air Canada as to whether or not they would become involved with the event was a nightmare. I offered to use my contacts to help out, but it was like trying to make your way through treacle. Calls and emails to Air Canada’s media team went unanswered. I have never experienced anything like it.

Eventually, apparently reluctantly, the airline did confirm the seats, but in the intervening four weeks of dithering, the price of my connecting flight had gone up from £75 to almost £300. The transatlantic seats were not on a complimentary basis; they were at a ‘media special rate’. In other words, they had to be paid for; we owed the airline nothing.

Now you would have thought that a write up in some of the leading newspapers in the land would have meant something to Air Canada. It is almost unheard of on these trips for the airline not to make an effort to curry favour with the media. This can range from an extra baggage allowance, entry into the business lounge, a little overnight kit or an upgrade on at least one of the legs.

But Air Canada’s team did nothing. No phone call, no press release, and no email. Zilch. Nada. That despite countless emails and telephone calls to their sales and PR teams.

They couldn’t even be bothered to make a comment on the booking to tell the check in people or the cabin crew that journalists were on board.

Now, of course, you might say that we should be given no other privileges than anybody else. And I understand that. But from the perspective of someone who has always prided himself in attention to detail, I find Air Canada’s attitude to the media both astounding and remarkably complacent.

It’s tough out there. There is enormous competition on routes between the UK and Canada. It was an opportunity to get positive PR completely missed.

For the record, the fairly antiquated 767-300 on the Heathrow to Toronto flight had a load of about 25%. We all had space to sprawl. Executive First, AC’s business class product, had empty seats aplenty.

Catering consisted of a mediocre breakfast shortly after takeoff and a hot wrap just before touchdown. On arrival in Toronto, everybody was starving.

There were no games and a lot of functions inoperable on the outdated in-flight entertainment system.

On our return leg, an almost full aircraft with a pretty ropy dinner and, wait for it, a muffin for breakfast. Yes, a muffin!

Finally, two of us on the trip have Star Alliance frequent flyer cards. One of us, Elite. The other, Super Elite. The Alliance’s top two tiers.

But, because we were travelling on a ‘media rate’, Air Canada said that they would not be honouring them.

Now how bonkers is that?