Generally speaking, I do not judge a company by the fact that something has gone wrong. That is unfair as no matter how much you spend/invest/whatever, things will still go wrong at times. It is inevitable.
What I will do though, is judge a company very seriously on how they deal with the problem. Some companies have procedures in place to deal with problems, to communicate with customers and provide feedback. These are good.
Then there is Serco – the people managing the customer care for the Boris Bikes/Barclays Cycle Hire scheme.
I grabbed a bike a few days ago, cycled a bit and maybe 15 minutes later dropped it off at a bike stand. However, it was evident that the locking mechanism was broken as I had to push the bike in at an odd angle to get it to lock. So I pressed the red button to indicate a fault and thought no more of it.
A day later, try to take a bike, and the key was rejected in several bike stands. At each one, the tower display screen said no bikes available, so I wrote it off as a system fault.
Try again a day later, and again, still a problem, so I investigate. According to the display, my account had £155 outstanding payments due.
After phoning customer care it turns out that the faulty bike from several days earlier hadn’t registered into the bike stand properly, and they had applied a £150 late fee and suspended my account.
So – something went wrong. I accept that – but how will Serco deal with this issue?
Did they send me an email after six hours and ask me if I am still using the bike and if not, could I contact them urgently as the bike is still showing as in use? Nope.
Did they send me an email after 24 hours and tell me that the account had been suspended? Nope. Or that they were taking £150 out of my bank account? Nope.
In fact, they didn’t do anything and just sat there waiting for me to notice there was a problem and contact them.
This is unacceptable.
I only found out that there was a issue to resolve because I am a regular user of the service and found I was unable to hire bikes again.
When I asked the customer care chap how people are informed that the account is suspended, I was told they find out when they check their bank ballances and see the money missing, or find that they can’t use the service when trying to hire a bike.
What idiot sitting at Serco HQ thought that would be an acceptable way of “notifying” customers that their account had been suspended?
Anyway – I filed an appeal against the fine. Note, it was an appeal against a fine applied without prior notice. So in my mind, it was less an appeal than filing a dispute. Subtle difference, but quite important.
They would arrange to have my account suspension lifted, but it could take a day or two.
Would I like to apply for a refund for my £150 fine? You mean, appealing the fine doesn’t automatically mean it is refunded? So, yes, I would like a refund as well.
I was told that the appeal will take a few days – and if rejected I would get an email. Huzzah! The company can actually send emails! Hang on, what about if the appeal is approved? Oh, I wont be told about that. I have to log in to their website to see what has happened.
Unexpectedly, I did receive an email letting me know my account suspension was lifted, but checking the account showed the fine was still in place. Today I checked again and the fine has been lifted.
So I am back to normal again.
To have a policy that suspends an account and just waits for the customer to discover this by being frustrated at a bike stand is beyond comprehension.
I know the IT system can send automatic emails – as I have to reset my password each time I log in due to its rather archaic password rules. In programming terms, there is a function that sends emails. There are other functions that call that to send an email based on some built-in rules.
There will also be a series of functions that trigger time based actions, such as checking if any bikes are overdue, and if so to suspend accounts and apply fines. It would take a first-grade programmer no more than a few minutes to add an extra line of code to trigger an automatic email.
Lets be really generous and allow an hour of work.
So – at some point when the software was being designed, and they decided what sort of situations would trigger an automatic email – they decided that account suspension wasn’t important.
Setting aside the stupidity of such a decision – it would take a negligible amount of effort to fix it.
I had a fault with a bike. Things went wrong. I accept that.
I do not accept the utter incompetence in how the company then reacted once a problem had occurred.
A couple of us took a bike to Paris last year and had less hassle than cycling a few hundred yards on the Isle of Dogs. That can’t be right!