The effect of legacy systems on customer service

Written by on May 1, 2015 in BillingViews, Opinion with 0 Comments

Breaking KeyboardThose of you familiar with BillingViews will know that we have challenges with some of our suppliers. From airlines who offer flights for £29.99, when what they actually mean is £259.99 (if you want seats, bags and the ability to check in) to a range of broadband blunders and the utility that put the ‘f’ in futility. Or is it the other way round? Now, we decided that our next challenge was to be able to pay people in currencies other than pounds sterling. Online.

One of our colleagues banks with our company bank, on a personal basis, and loves it. She can transfer money via an app on her phone, pay credit card bills while she watches and glance at balances while happily sipping soup at lunchtime. Our expectations were high.

We set up a euro bank account. We couldn’t do this online. We did this by phoning someone and them telling us that we needed to fill in, sign and return the forms that they would send us through the Royal Mail. Obviously this was not the slickest of processes.

The form came, we filled it in, we signed it, we sent it back.

Nothing happened for a week. And then nothing continued to happen for another week. Then, instead of an acknowledgement (perhaps they have heard of email?) we get a statement for our euro account, which, not surprisingly showed a balance of zero euro.

We have, you will be comforted to know, online banking. We clicked and clicked and entered PINs and passwords. We saw our UK account details as before. But no euro account. We clicked and looked and clicked again. Nothing. We emailed our ‘account team’ asking how we link our euro account to our online banking account. At this point we did not even have a cheque book through which to pay people in euros. We got an email saying our email was very important to the bank and the bank aims to respond within four working days.

We got an email two days later that said we not could link our euro account to our existing online account. We had to have a different online service, that would cost us £11 per month, on top of the £5 per month that we are already being charged.

We sent an email back asking how, then, we sign up for this separate service and were pointed at the page with the information. We clicked and looked and found no button that said ‘sign up here.’

We emailed the bank and asked how we could sign up to this online service. Our email was still very important to them. The very next day they emailed back to say we could not sign up to this online service online. We screamed. We had, they said, to call someone.

If you had taken a picture of the office at this point, you would have seen steam rising. We called the number. We got through quickly. Sign us up, we said. Ah, they said. We need to send you forms for you to fill in, sign and return to us. Once we receive the forms back, it will be up and working in under 15 working days. And, they said, when you get the letters of acknowledgement with your PINs and passwords, we recommend you ring our team who will be able to talk you through how to set up your account. Alarm bells rang.

We got the forms. We filled in the forms. We signed the forms. We sent back the forms. We waited. Ten working days later we got an email containing our customer ID and our user ID. The email said do not do anything until you receive your PIN in the post and your secure reader, which will come separately, and your security card which will come separately and your PIN for the card, which will, yup, come separately.

We received, over the next few days, all the various PINs and readers that we needed and we went online and entered the PIN, and changed the PIN, and entered the number on the page of the letter which appeared when you peeled off the sticky bit, and we were there. Welcome, it said, to your one-stop online service. We tried to find our euro account. And failed. We tried to find our sterling account. And failed. We tried to find a button that said ‘make a payment.’ And failed.

We called the team that do nothing except set up this service for customers. We spent 40 minutes on the phone pressing incomprehensible buttons, going back to menus, dialling in colleagues who needed to fill in different codes in different places, clicking continue. And doing most of it again. The PIN for the card authentication was not on the paper itself, like the PIN for the web portal. It was on the tab itself, which we had thrown away.

It was like a horror movie from the 1970s. We asked, during our call with a nice man called Nick, whether any company had ever managed to set up their account without calling the helpline.

Er, no.

At one point, we asked whether it might be that this system is actually a bunch of really old legacy systems which had been tied together at the front end by a web portal thing that was about as user friendly as a tax inspector.

Er, yes. Er, I didn’t say that.

We tried, and failed, to link the credit card to the system. We will have to ring someone to do that.

In retrospect, like many nightmare journeys through technology that does not work, it is vaguely amusing.

But there is a serious point to this. If your legacy systems make a mockery of any attempt at improving the customer experience, then invest. Particularly if the segment that is being affected is the SME segment, possibly the most profitable segment you have and certainly potentially so. The consumers of the same bank have an obviously shiny new system that is a joy to work with. Not so, the companies.

We are moving bank as soon as we recover and have built up our strength enough for another assault on technology and customer service.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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