Businesses and computers drive me mental!

After many months we’ve finally removed almost all our banking from the appalling Santander, formerly known as Abbey.

However, there have been the inevitable glitches as numerous direct debits and standing orders are moved from Santander to our new bank.

Most of the glitches have been sorted with ease but a few have run onto the rocks that are business computer and data handling systems.

Take, for example, our life insurance policies.

The OH and I each have a policy with Aviva. The premiums are paid by direct debit at the end of the month.

Our new primary bank account was set up more than a month ago, sufficient money was paid in to cover an assortment of outgoings, and the direct debits were transferred from Santander to that account—well before the end of the month.

Most of the direct debits went ahead, including the farm insurance policy that is also with Aviva.

The direct debits for the two life insurance policies failed to go through. They weren’t taken from the old Santander account, nor were they taken from the new account.

I contacted Aviva and explained the situation: we’re moving bank accounts, the life insurance premiums weren’t taken from either account, can we pay the premiums now, and get we get the direct debits sorted.

Aviva, like many large corporations, no longer employs frontline staff who know the system, have a brain, and know how to use both.

Instead, they employ people who have been to charm—or smarm—school and do basic data entry when their computer prompts them.

So what happened when I explained my problem to the Aviva rep?

The call centre representative had to follow the computer prompts, so instead of listening to my problem he had to tell me our address was incorrect.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, increasing numbers of businesses are changing their computer systems so they only accept “standard” addresses that have the format: House name/number, Street Name, Post Town, Post Code.

We live off a rural road that has no name. If no one queries the computer system, there’s no problem and letters continue to come to us.

But as soon as anyone opens our file on a computer system that has been updated to use a “standard” address, the computers throw up a prompt to tell the call centre operator that our address is incorrect and they need to get the correct address from us.

If the operator doesn’t have the answer the computer demands, they can’t progress the script further. (The “solution” is to put a fake street name into the system, something like “NoName Road”.)

And that’s what eventually happened with Aviva.

Of course, the Aviva representative still couldn’t deal with our problem. Now, our phone number was no longer valid because our address details had changed on the system.

The rep had to ask for our phone numbers, then had to update whether they were day, night, work, or a combination thereof.

Finally, we returned to our problem, by which time the rep had forgotten what it was and I had to explain it again.

The rep then informed me that the problem was outside his remit and he had to talk to someone else. I was put on hold.

Eventually, the rep came back to ask me to explain the problem again.

I did. It seemed the person he spoke to couldn’t deal with the problem and he’d need to talk to the Premiums team. I was put on hold.

The rep came back and said the Premiums team had put him on hold. I was put on hold.

The rep came back and said the direct debits had been refused by both banks.

Fair enough, I said, can I pay the premiums now and set up new direct debits?

Unfortunately, no. The computer wouldn’t let the rep do that. He’d have to talk to the Premiums team. I was put on hold. He was put on hold. I was put on hold.

Eventually, the rep told me the computer system should have sent the OH and I letters to say our direct debits had not been paid.

The letters would have given us instructions on what to do and given us 14 days to follow those instructions.

By phoning Aviva to say we’d noticed the premiums had not been collected, we’d circumvented the system by contacting them before the letters went out and we shouldn’t have done that as the system couldn’t work with that approach.

Instead, we are to wait until letters arrive saying we are in arrears and then contact Aviva in the appropriate time frame and following the instructions given.

The problem will then be resolved. Hopefully.

What is it about businesses and their computer systems that imposes this sort of daft, pedantic and rigid approach to solving fairly minor problems that a half-intelligent human used to be able to solve in a few minutes?

8 Responses to “Businesses and computers drive me mental!”

  1. I hear you about the address–now that I live in the middle of a nature preserve, my address is a post office box.

    Which…almost no one will deliver to.
    Sigh.

    I can deal with never having pizza delivered, but mail does seem to be something that one needs.

  2. Whatever you do don’t die before you sort out the premiums, I am sure that the computer will refuse to make a payout if your premiums are not up to date!

  3. In my experience of big business and computer systems (an insider’s point of view, for what it’s worth) the main issue is always that the systems are designed by people who’ve never used the old one and won’t use the new one. “Experts” who tell the staff what they want, what the customers want, and why neither can have what they want. Who never have to answer a phone, who never have to explain to a justifiably-irate customer why the system is so crap, and who go nuts when they eventually discover that the long-suffering, customer-facing staff have circumvented the system in a myriad of ways, in order to actually get the job done.

    *breathes out, heavily*

    Rant over. But let’s just say, you’re not alone.

    • Some years ago, when Aviva was Norwich Union and had high street branches, we had a similar problem. I walked into the branch, was greeted by name and had a friendly chat with the staff member while she pulled up my details on her computer (from memory). She asked me for my policy number to verify she had the right one, before asking what I needed.

      I explained that the direct debits hadn’t been paid, so I’d like to pay the month’s premiums and have the problem resolved. I think I was asked if I wanted to pay by cash, cheque or card, handed over the amount needed, the system was updated and I was given a receipt.

      New direct debit mandates, with our details on them, were printed out and handed to me. I signed them and handed them back. I think I was told the system would have the new direct debits set up within two to three days, after which I’d be sent a letter confirming the details.

      Job done—and done in a genuinely friendly way.

      I realise having branches is now regarded as inefficient, not cost effective and “adversely impacting the bottom line”, but it should not be asking too much to expect the telephone equivalent. In other words, provide my details, explain the problem, pay the outstanding premiums using a card, and have new mandates posted out for signatures and return. Okay, it would take a few more days to get the mandates set up due to going through the post, but I’d know the premiums were paid and I’d not be grumpy, irritated and concerned about the policies being maintained.

      As with so many “reforms” and “improvements”, though, the solutions are far worse than the perceived problems.

      • If you use NFU, it’s still like that. Everything is personal and efficient, we know the people in our local branch office (it’s run by a market gardener, so he knows where you’re coming from as a smallholder) and they just sort everything out, no hassle. They actually go and get your file out of the cabinet, there’s no ‘the computer says “no”‘ there.

  4. It’s intresting that some of these changes are put in place to tighten up security.
    I tryed to pay my daughters phone bill a few weeks ago but they point blank refused to even talk to me, as the data protection act forbade them to even acknowledge she had an account with them.
    I handed the phone to my wife who then phoned back up and gave my daughters details, as well as instructions for them to deal with me.
    I then paid the bill.

    It strikes me that if you want to look after the intrests of your own family the DPA prevents you from doing so.
    However if you work for a company that sells stuff, then your staff can do credit checks, address searches etc on customers who are not allowed to do the same on their own family. (Not that they would need to, but I think you get where my argument is going). Consequently the computerised systems have to be locked down so tightly that even the staff have problems getting information that is genuinly useful for any meaningfull customer service.
    And maybe this is the reason for the increasingly crappy experience we are have ing to put up with.

    Maybe the large corporates should realise this and go back to local branches, With improving customer care and a reduction in fraudsters like me trying to pay my family bills as a side affect.

  5. Another vote for NFU here.
    Dealing with real Human Beans!!

  6. I agree with the NFU vote… personal service from real people.

    The address v computer game goes on in less rural places too, though…. Swansea is both city and county, West Glamorgan having disappeared into the mists of time… but try telling computers that! We have to get around it by filling the ‘city’ box with Swansea, and the ‘County’ box with Abertawe (Welsh name for Swansea)…

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