This blog posting represents the views of the author, David Fosberry. Those opinions may change over time. They do not constitute an expert legal or financial opinion.

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British Airways - The World's Favourite Airline?

Posted on 15th August 2022

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"The World's Favourite Airline" used to be BA's advertising slogan (it wasn't justified or true even back then), but now it seems to be "To fly, to serve."

This story on This Is Money shows that customer service is most definitely not part of BA's culture or business model.

A couple were flying first class back from a vacation in Mauritius to London, via Johannesburg. The flight was with BA, and their partner airline, Comair. Their bags did not make the flight, and when the bags arrived 3 days later, items to the value of £3,000 (a MacBook Pro laptop, various items of jewellery, two pairs of sunglasses and a first aid box containing some medication) were missing. BA declined to compensate them.

The letter in the story lists a number of complaints:

  • Extensive and targeted security checks of the man's partner in Mauritius by airline staff;
  • On the plane, the man's partner was directed to use the economy toilet even though she was seated in first class;
  • BA's refusal to compensate the travellers for their loss.

The author of the letter states that he had "been an extremely loyal BA customer for many years, spending tens of thousands of pounds with the company, and [had] been a shareholder for 25 years." He says that he won't use the airline again. The most obvious question is why? I personally have been refusing to fly BA since the dreadful incident in 2007 (see here).

BA states that valuable items such as laptops and jewellery should not be put in hold-luggage, and as a frequent flier I agree; if things do not get stolen, they may be damaged. This is most especially true when flying via Johannesburg, where theft from luggage is an epidemic. Even so, I find it bizarre that BA would take zero responsibility, considering that these were first class passengers (where the cost of the tickets is enough to defray the costs of some compensation).

The other complaints are also incomprehensible, and put the lie to BA's claims to be service oriented.

I hope people reading about this incident have the good sense to also boycott British Airways.

Customers Get Revenge On UK Banks.

Posted on 15th August 2022

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According to this report on Triple Pundit, customers are punishing the 'big-five' banks in the UK for their poor service.

500,000 customers have left the 'big-five' banks, Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Santander, and moved their business to smaller more ethical ethical banks, as a result of the 'Move Your Money UK' campaign.

Big UK banks are notorious for their poor service (an example here), and now they are paying the price. Excellent!

British Ex-Pats Betrayed By Their Banks.

Posted on 14th August 2022

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This story on City A.M. highlights the plight of Britons living in the EU who, as a result of Brexit, are about to have their British bank accounts summarily closed.

The banks currently closing the bank accounts include Barclays, Halifax and Lloyd's. The reason for the closures is that, after Brexit, UK banks need special legal permissions to service EU residents, for each EU country individually; the grace period for gaining these permissions is about to close.

These banks must have decided that the bureaucratic overhead of gaining the necessary permissions exceeds the benefits of keeping those customers.

Not only is this another unexpected "benefit" of Brexit, but also a major inconvenience for the effected customers:

  • Any UK based direct debits will be cancelled, meaning that service for which a direct debit is required, such as a UK mobile phone, will be cancelled. Direct debits are only possible within country; there is no equivalent international variable regular payment service.
  • If they are drawing a UK pension (like me) and have been having it paid into their UK bank account (which I am not), they will need to contact the pension service to redirect the payments to an EU account; changing the account once payments have begun is difficult (normally not possible).
  • If they are operating a UK company, which some do, they will now have to have any invoices paid into an EU account; an inconvenience at both ends of the transactions, which may result in them losing customers.

    If they are paying UK income tax, which many must, as well as paying tax in their country of residence, there are also new complications.

I find it bizarre that these banks are not prepared to do the paperwork to be able to service customers with addresses in the EU. My Swiss bank has no issues with me living in Germany (Switzerland is not in the EU, and needs the same permissions that the UK banks need), and my fiancée's US bank also has no problem with her living in Germany (although one of her American credit card providers does have a problem with it).

I used to think that the UK was more service oriented than much of continental Europe; it seems that I was wrong.

The Rise In Abuse Of Service Workers.

Posted on 4th August 2022

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This article on the BBC discusses a rising problem in the modern world: the increase in the abuse of service workers.

We have all read about such incidents, and in many cases witnessed some ourselves; some of you may even be guilty of doing it yourselves, despite, perhaps, feeling guilty about it afterwards So, why is it happening ever more frequently?

The article cites a couple of possible explanations:

  • 'Scapegoat theory' and power dynamics,
  • Powerlessness and the pandemic.

I have a couple of points to add to the discussion:

  1. Service workers are representatives of their employers, a fact that the article seems to overlook. If a customer is unhappy with the service that they receive, their grudge is with the company, but the service worker they are dealing with is the company's representative, and must expect that the dissatisfied customer will take their frustration out on them, irrespective of whether they have the power and authority to do what the customer expects.
  2. Increased powerlessness of service workers. Service workers have much less power to help the customer than was once the case; they have less discretionary authority. This is result of their scope and authority being constrained by their employer, in the form of processes which define what they may do, and how, often enforced by the computer tools that the service worker uses for their job. This is a failure of management, whereby the service worker has been given responsibility (to satisfy the customer) which is not matched by the appropriate authority; it is a basic management principle that authority and responsibility should be aligned. In a sense, by having misalignment between authority and responsibility, companies are setting up their service workers to be abused.
  3. Reducing levels of service. This is a common trend in many industries, from coffee shops to banks, telecoms service providers and airlines. Sometimes the reduced service is due to fewer staff (banks are a prime example of this), which increase waiting times, and make the service workers stressed and rushed. Sometimes it is due to deliberately less flexible contract terms (mobile phone and Internet providers are some of the worst offenders in this respect). If a customer gets worse service than before, of course they are likely to get upset and abusive more often. Sometimes, things that used to be free (like choosing your airline seat) now usually incur additional charges.
  4. More demanding customers and their feeling of entitlement. Customers of many industries (the prime example is probably the catering industry - coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) have definitely become more demanding: ever more complex cups of coffee being ordered, people ordering variations (like egg-white omelettes) of menu items, etc., which is diametrically opposed to companies' attempts to streamline their businesses by standardising what they offer. The growth in customers' feelings of entitlement means that they do not even realise that they are being demanding and unreasonable.
  5. More easily offended customers. People nowadays are much more easily offended by so many things - using the wrong pronoun, using language that the customer finds offensive (for whatever reason), assuming the wrong gender identity (e.g. when selecting clothes for a customer to try on), the service worker wearing fur or even drinking bottled water - the list is endless, and growing every day. If the customer is offended by the service worker, the conversation can much more easily cross the line into abuse.

Given the number of different issues at play here, there can be no single solution. Also, clearly, some of the causes lie with companies, and some with customers. Nevertheless, a bit of patience and tolerance will go a long way to easing the problem.

Can Automatic Tills Make Mistakes?

Posted on 9th February 2017

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I have just returned from a quick shopping trip to Edeka, a supermarket in Germany. I am a little upset.

Edeka has a new and efficient system of checkouts. There are moving belts, each staffed by an operator who rings up the items. When that is done, the customer moves to the next stage to pay at a payment terminal. I usually pay with an EC card or a credit card, which is quick, and not prone to errors.

Today, I had only a small amount of cash with me, and wanted to use up the coins. The bill was only €2.47, since I had only bought two items plus I had some money back from recycling some bottles. I put €2.50 (a €2 piece, two 20 cent pieces and a 10 cent piece) into the payment terminal. The machine registered the €2 piece as a €1. That meant that I did not have enough change to make up the claimed shortfall, and had to pay (again) with a note, leaving me with a pocket full of change: exactly what I was trying to avoid.

I complained, and the manager of the checkouts came over. Basically, she told me that there was nothing to be done, that the automatic payment machines do not make mistakes and if they did the mistakes would show up in the end of day balance checks, which they don't. That last argument seems reasonable, but this has happened to me fairly often in the past, so I am fairly certain that the machines do make mistakes, and/or there is something amiss with their end of day balance checks.

It is not as if I mind about a €1 error, and I do accept that sometimes I might make the error, but not today (my change had been counted three times: once before leaving home, once while paying in another shop, and once before paying in Edeka). What bothers me is the attitude of the manager and her apparent absolute trust in her machines and processes: it doesn't matter if I complain because I am just wrong.

What I will do from now on is photograph my change using my mobile phone before dumping it into the machine, until I can prove that the machines do make mistakes, and get an apology from the shop.