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Correspondent&#39s week – Stephen McDowell

I am tired of being a corporate statistic, a digit on a spreadsheet in someone&#39s meeting where they try to “target industry verticals” by “ticking the right boxes” and “pressing hot buttons”. I am a person with a voice and an opinion. I want to be a customer. What&#39s wrong with that? Why can&#39t my money be good enough? I earned it and I am spending it with you. Why can&#39t I be always right?

It does not work again and I need to speak to someone. Dial. Where is the number? No number. Go to the internet. Internet not working – that&#39s why you&#39re calling NTL, stupid. Yellow Pages. No Yellow Pages. Call friend. Get number. It&#39s a warehouse in Hayes. Get new promising looking 0800-ish number.

“Thank you for calling NTL, please listen to the following options…” Why is it companies invest so much money in building a corporate personality, then replace all the people with machines, I muse.

“If your enquiry is about spending more money with us, press one…” Where is the &#39I want to speak to speak to someone&#39 button? “If you need to be electronically patronised some more, press four…”

Someone once told me the voices on automated switchboards are always female because people get less angry. “Press seven if your blood pressure is at a dangerous level.” I press 29 because, finally, yes, “I want to speak to a customer services representative.”

Pause. “All our operators are currently busy,” says the voice, “please hold while we aggravate you some more with muzak.”

Then, just as I approach psychotic meltdown comes the line that I find particularly soothing: “ntl values your call”. Eighteen minutes later, I have broken two incisors chewing into the corner of my desk but tenacity keeps me on the line. “Hello, my name&#39s Candy, how can I help you?”

“I wish to cancel my subscription,” I gibber.

“Oh dear,” says Candy. I bet NTL sends people on courses called Remaining Vacuous and Cheerful, Module One. “Why is that?” Big mistake, Candy.

Fast-forward 10 minutes and my upper lip is perspiring. “I&#39ll put you through to cancellations,” she says.

“Noooooo! Don&#39t!” I yell.

Too late. “Thank you for calling cancellations. We value your call. All our operators are currently busy.”

It never used to be like this. I used to ring IT and someone would appear and fix my problem so quickly that I was left in no doubt that I was an idiot.

Folks, learn to love it. Because the alternative is that greatest of terms that means the opposite of what it says – helpdesk.

This week is supposed to be spent commissioning, writing and editing a new personal finance supplement for the London Evening Standard as well as the day-to-day business work of servicing one&#39s clients (one of my favourite new double entendres).

Instead, it has been largely spent tilting for a massive stroke by pointlessly doing battle with information technology companies which, for one reason or another, are totally useless. Sorry, there I go again.

What has all this got to do with financial services, I hear you ask? Revenge, that&#39s what. After more than half an hour, I cannot wait for the cancellation person to come out of his Blissfully Unaware: Advanced Level Course. I slam it down. Well, I stabbed the “end call” button with unnecessary force at least.

Another call. “Hello, Nat-West.” “I&#39d like to cancel my direct debit to NTL, please.”

“Certainly, Mr McDowell. That&#39s done. Is there anything else?”

Good old financial services. Hurrah for NatWest.

When NTL calls me next month, I&#39ll answer the phone: “Thank you for calling me. I value your call. Press one…”

Steve McDowell, a former editor of Money Marketing, is managing director of McDowell Media


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