I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

American Express shows how it's done

I just got a call from American Express. It came from a withheld number, so I didn't answer it. But I know it was American Express, because this is what happened afterwards:

  1. they left a voicemail
  2. the voicemail told me what it was about, gave me a number to call back, and referred explicitly to the fact they came from a withheld number: they were going to send a corresponding SMS to go some way to proving it was really them
  3. they sent me a corresponding SMS
  4. I called back the 01273 number (verifiable on the Amex website) they gave me
And then to the call itself. I was on hold for less than 15 seconds, didn't have to tell them what it was about ("Are you returning our call or is it about something else?"), and got a clear explanation for what happened with PayPal the other day. PayPal had decided -- without telling me while I was trying to make the payments -- to send through two transactions flagged as tests, because it was the first time my card was being used by them. This is apparently a trick scammers use, guessing card numbers and trying to open up access to them with test transactions. So, Amex just wondered if I'd tried to use PayPal and whether they could OK it.

American Express, you are awesome. Can you do current accounts? Savings accounts? Or contract your staff out to Tesco, NatWest, Nationwide, ... ?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Financial institutions and me (again)

Still fucking hate dealing with most of them. Britannia are a particularly honourable exception and if they did current accounts I'd be with them like a shot, but they don't.

When I "switched" from NatWest to Nationwide all my direct debits moved across. I saw them in online banking on both accounts, cancelled on the former and set up on the latter. So far so good, until Kingston Council sent me a letter complaining I hadn't paid the last month's council tax. And then Orange called me up complaining I hadn't paid the last month's bill. And then PayPal sent me 4 emails in 5 minutes telling me a subscription payment had failed to fetch the cash out of the old account.

Went to PayPal. I have a "Backup Funding" credit card set up, and it's a credit card I use all the time. I've used it a few times in the last couple of days, in fact. PayPal claim that my card issuer is refusing payment, however, and that I need to call them. Thankfully a different card worked, but still. Fucks sake.

I'm at home today, because someone was coming round to value my flat. I thought I'd make lunchtime useful, and go to HSBC to close down 2 bank accounts. I had previously been told I could do this by going into any branch, see. Queued up, got to the front, was told I had to submit something in writing. Queried this and they said ah, OK, go upstairs and speak to one of their advisors. Went upstairs. There are 4 little booths with desks in. Only one had an advisor in it, and as far as I could tell she was sat there with her mum. They saw me, but did nothing. Maybe it was another customer, but the snippets I could make out earwigging didn't convince me. Either way, there was no little reception desk to that floor, just a waiting area with a coffee machine. I sat in one of the chairs for ~10 minutes and didn't spot a single other member of staff -- just another customer who popped their head up, saw there was no-one around, and fucked off. After those minutes I fucked off too. So I still have 2 HSBC accounts to my name, neither of which I want.

After spending so long on the phone with Tesco last week I ended up requesting the signature verification form again, in the post, so I can send it back to them. Today's post has come and gone and I still don't have it.

I fucking hate this shit. It winds me up so much that I shake and almost feel tearful, for fucks sake. I utterly dread dealing with any of them, and my experience nearly always vindicates that feeling. They make me feel depressed and angry and helpless all at once.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tesco personal finance are fucking shit

I opened a Tesco "internet saver" account in April. I ranted about it here in October. I phoned them up today.

Actually I phoned them up about 4 times. Beforehand I'd gone through my daily routine of trying unsuccessfully to login to their banking website, but because I was in a bit of a sort-out-finances mood I took the plunge and called them up. The first time went like this:

Welcome to Tesco Personal Finance. For savings or Clubcard Plus, press 1.
For automated service, press 1. For ...
one - thought I'd give automation a go, see if I couldn't transfer money out without speaking to someone
Please enter your customer number.
customer number
Please enter the 3rd and 1st digits of your security number
3rd and 1st digits
This service is temporarily unavailable. Please call back later. Thank you for calling Tesco Personal Finance.

And it hung up on me.

Er. Oh. OK. So I called back. This time, instead of automated service, I pressed 3 to talk to a customer services representative. I had to enter the numbers etc again, but I assumed this was so the person I would imminently be talking to would already know who I was. First line of security and all that.

I was wrong. The same thing happened. Computer said no, click, BYE.

I called back again and listened to every option of every menu. Apparently the only way I could talk to a human about savings was the route from the previous call, but I knew that didn't work; so this time, instead of actually entering my customer number, I did nothing:

You did not enter a customer number. Please enter your customer number.
more nothing
You did not enter a customer number. For help, press the star key.
To enter your customer number, use your phone's keypad to type in the digits. To speak to a customer services representative at any time, press the star key.

Hold music! Delightful hold music! I was in a queue, they were terribly busy you see, but I was in a queue to talk to a human! Salvation was surely near!

I waited on hold for 5 minutes or so. Finally a woman answered, frightfully sorry to have kept me waiting, she wondered how she could help me today. I explained, with not inconsiderate exasperation, how I'd had an account for 7 months yet not been able to login, and she took some details. Specifically she took my customer number and 2 digits from my security number -- the same details as I enter every day in the website, the same as I'd typed into the phone earlier -- and said she couldn't help me. My account is locked, see, pending receipt of proof of my signature. I swear she'd gone to the fucking website same as I do and gone through the whole thing and was just reading it out. She couldn't do anything for me. No withdrawals, no closing the account, no fucking anything. Great customer service!

I did get put back on hold briefly while, supposedly, she got someone to check all the way back to July (account was opened in late March/early April; not sure why they only went back to July). Of course they found no evidence of me sending them anything my signature on it. Never mind that they've got my fucking money and that I can type in account numbers and sort codes and customer numbers and security numbers and any other details they want: because they've only received about 4 things with my signature on instead of 5 I can't have my money and she can't help me.

Click. Human says no. BYE.

I went back to my desk, back to my laptop, back to the website. Tried to login, failed, clicked on "send me the signature verification letter". The fucking bastards. Perhaps in 2 weeks or so I'll be able to login.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Amazon saga continues

Can't say as I'm actually annoyed by the pricing shenanigans any more, but the email idiocy is reaching amazing heights/depths. The date they said they'd respond on came and went, and 2 days later they phoned me (withheld number, so I didn't respond; I've also explicitly asked them to not phone me...) and left a long rambling voicemail. Upshot: they can't figure out how to unsubscribe from their email lists. Good effort, Amazon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Looking forward to an email from Amazon

Bit of a spleen-vent this one. Move on if you've no time for thinking online retailers should feel obliged, if not legally then morally, to honour the slight pricing mistakes they make from time to time. Lots of them do, but Amazon don't. Indeed, they have a policy which basically says you can't trust their pricing at all.

A few weeks ago, 3 or so I think, I did my daily routine of visiting Amazon.co.uk to refresh my basket and see if the price of what I had in it had changed. It had -- the Sony BDP-S350 blu-ray player was at £129! I'd been waiting for it to drop to £150 or so before pulling the trigger; £129 was an unexpected bonus. Not a huge discount, less than 1/3rd off the £179 price they'd had for a few days previous, just a great deal and better than most other sites. I ordered one, told a few friends, and posted it on the whathifi.com forums.

The next morning someone on avforums.com was saying they'd had their order cancelled. Mine was intact until the afternoon, when it too disappeared from the site. I asked them to reinstate it, they replied saying no, they wouldn't, and if I'd been paying attention they actually have a published and explicit policy allowing them to (a) change the price of any item after you order it, and (b) cancel your order later than you can cancel it yourself. A very biased "contract" (which, to their benefit, is not actually a contract until they've dispatched the goods). Thank fuck I'd not bought a load of blu-ray discs in the afternoon!

Amazon did honour the £129 price for some punters, just not everyone, and despite a sickenly patronising email imploring me that the author personally didn't want Amazon to lose my custom -- for having spent so much with them over the years (it's probably not more than £300 in 8 years, pfft!) -- they weren't going to do the same for me. No fucking dice.

Amazon win out of this: they look good to anyone who saw the price but didn't buy. In the absence of a public admission that the price wasn't honoured, they have given the impression of being a retailer that occasionally has really decent offers. They're likely to attract and retain customers because of that. People will use the site more on the look out for similar offers. And similar discounts are available all the time, 20-odd percent discounts on RRP or the price of items elsewhere are not uncommon. So it seems they can just use their policy to price up any popular item with a slightly bigger than normal discount, honour a few purchases, up it again later, nice zero-cost marketing campaign right there.

I think it's out of order -- they can't have taken that many orders that it would make a dent in their profits; it wasn't an obvious mistake price, the discount was less than 33% for crying out loud; and at least one other retailer offered the same price and honoured it themselves. And surely it's just good customer service? No, it appears not: Amazon just say fuck off. So I was really in a huge huff with them, and opted out of all their emails except the ones they send when you actually make a purchase.

That was all about 3 weeks ago. About 4 days after I unsubscribed I got a promo email, so I complained. How do you unsubscribe if the unsubscribe options don't work? In response they phoned me from a withheld number, so I didn't answer, and then they emailed me to say sorry, sorry, sorry, really sorry, my email is now on not a single one of their promotional lists. Sorry again. Sorry.

A few days later, I got a promotional email from them again. Went to my account to confirm I was still unsubscribed, and complained again. They phoned, left a voicemail, but didn't follow it up with the email they promised.

This morning I got another promotional email from Amazon.co.uk. Complained again. I've explicitly asked them not to phone me, and shockingly they've done that -- they've emailed me to say it's being looked at and I'll get a full response on November 13th. I monitor my spam folder with interest.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Football vs the word "deserve"

If you use Google to search for "define:" followed by a word, you get back a dictionary definition or two for it. This is what you get for the word "deserve":

Definitions of deserve on the Web:

  • be worthy or deserving; "You deserve a promotion after all the hard work you have done"
  • To earn or merit a reward or punishment

  • Dictionary.com has quite a few more, so I'll not reproduce all of its definitions; just the following:
    –verb (used with object)
    1.to merit, be qualified for, or have a claim to (reward, assistance, punishment, etc.) because of actions, qualities, or situation: to deserve exile; to deserve charity; a theory that deserves consideration.
    –verb (used without object)
    2.to be worthy of, qualified for, or have a claim to reward, punishment, recompense, etc.: to reward him as he deserves; an idea deserving of study.

    I wish someone would explain all this to every football player, manager, commentator and pundit. I am sick and tired of hearing them all trot out this fucking daft bollocks about "deserving at least a point", "deserving a win", and so on. No: you get a point if you score the same number of goals as your opponents, none if you score fewer and 3 if you score more. It's really that simple. If you scored 1, and your opponents scored 1, then you did not deserve 3 points. OK? OK. And while I'm at it, if someone heads the ball wide of the goal then they manifestly did not deserve to score. A good pass does not deserve a goal to be scored by the receiving player: it's just a good pass. And so on.