Thousands of people read this short and mild rant on my experience trying to activate a new card using HSBC Premier’s Manila number 85-808 a few days ago. In fact, if you google “how to activate an HSBC Premier card Manila” that rant is the first post to pop up. So obviously, it wasn’t something unique to Marketman’s experience, and it is probably precisely the situation that has irritated, annoyed, dogged, perturbed several thousand HSBC clients over the past couple of months since the new menu of phone banking options was put into place. I am not sure if this applies to all credit card holders of HSBC, but it certainly does to one group of them, of which my card happens to be just one of thousands.
After I wrote that post, I received texts and emails from dozens of folks with similar encounters, as well as texts from previous HSBC employees who were amused by the rant. They seemed certain that someone at the bank would email a response, even if I didn’t seek one directly, and it turns out they were correct:
On Friday, 20 September 2013, at 10:30 am, I received this email, reproduced here verbatim except for removing names…
“Dear Mr. xxxxxxxxxx,
We refer to an article you posted on your blog about the unsatisfactory (sic) you experience you had with our Phone Banking service on 18 September 2013. We sincerely regret that you found it difficult to reach a Premier Customer Service Associate when you called (sic) out hotline to have your card activated. We appreciate your comments and assure you that we will use them as a learning opportunity to improve our services.
Please let us know if you would like to discuss this issue further by phone.
Executive xxxx RBWM Customer Relations | The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited
9 Flr HSBC Center 5th Avenue Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Phone. 63 0 2 xxxxxxx
Fax. +63 2 xxxxxx
Mobile. +63917 xxxxxxx
To which, I replied by email at 10:42am on the same day, and I quote myself:
The issue is NOT “reaching a person”. It is a phone menu that DOES NOT include card activation as a choice. THAT is the crux of the problem. And obviously others have encountered it. And your own phone personnel readily admit the problem when you do reach them. It is absurd, pathetically inexplicable and anyone in charge of the design and implementation of the phone menu is incompetent in my opinion.
Your email completely ignores the issue. A person is not needed if your system was properly set-up.
Deciding to take her up on her emailed offer to discuss the matter further, I then tried to call her landline twice at around 1144am, and waited the 26 rings each time before it hung up on its own, without a voice messaging system of any sort to leave a message.
I then tried to call the cell phone number she provided in her email and waited 14 rings before it cut the call off. I tried once more, and again 14 unanswered rings, and the line was cut off. Also no voice message option.
At 11:58am, I sent the HSBC Officer the following email, then waited to see how long it would take before they called me at home:
“Dear Ms. xxxxxxxxx,
I just tried at 1144am to call your land line, listed below and both calls, running to 26 rings each went unanswered and there is no option for leaving a message either.
I then tried to call your cell phone at around 11:50, number listed below in your email as well, and let it ring 14 times until it cut off. Then again for a further 14 rings until cut off.
I had also emailed you earlier.
It’s kind of hard to discuss the issue further by phone if you are NOT REACHABLE by phone nor can a customer even leave a voice message. For a (title) of (Department) Customer Relations, you aren’t striking a particularly service oriented stance at this point.
Please call me at my telephone number listed on my account if you are prepared to discuss this matter further.
Later that day, at around 2:20pm or so, the HSBC Executive called me at home, and we had a relatively brief discussion, the gist of which (applicable to my post) follows.
THE KEY QUESTIONS I ASKED AND THE JIST OF HER RESPONSES:
“Is there an option for clients to press on the phone banking menu to activate a new card?” No, there is no option provided on the menu.
“Is there an option for clients to press on the phone banking menu when they are calling in in response to text that their credit card security may have been compromised?” No, there is no option provided on the menu.
“Do you at any point in the phone banking menu mention that a client can press ZERO repeatedly in order to get a breathing phone banker on the line?” No, none.
“Do you at any point lead the client calling phone banking to a person if they cannot find what they want amongst the choices offered?” No, the system doesn’t do that.
I am glad they were brutally honest, but isn’t this just seem to be APPALLINGLY STUPID? And here comes more good stuff…
“When did you last change your script and how long has this asinine situation been in place?” The script was changed some 2 months ago, and because of “regional” issues, the said options were “left out” of the system.
“Two months!?! You mean to tell me clients have been unable to activate their cards and discuss problem or compromised credit cards (and whatever else is missing from the system) for 60+ days?!” Yes, at least 2 months.
“Why haven’t you done anything about this? Why haven’t you informed clients so they won’t be inconvenienced?” We have received several complaints, and our team is looking into it. With your feedback we are echoing your sentiments to (the higher ups) and hopefully this issue will be fixed as a result. I will call you when we have fixed the system…
HOLLY GUACAMOLE. Seriously? This is HSBC. The HSBC? Come on folks, you can do better than that. In fact, I can think of several actions that would have alleviated stress on everyone’s part, and I am sitting at home at my desk writing out recipes for fried fish with herbs, not a well-paid banking executive whose performance appraisal and year-end bonus is presumably impacted (negatively, I hope) by ridiculous elementary glitches such as these…
But first, am I making a mountain out of a molehill? An often bandied about suggestion when I let loose on a corporate service rant on the blog? I don’t think so, consider this:
- If only 200 people called in daily to try and activate their cards, another 200 were calling in for likely fraudulent use or activity and another 400 just wanted to skip the crap and move onto a breathing call center agent, that would mean 800 people per day x 60 days and so at least 48,000 instances where the system without options for card activation, etc. would have “failed” the customer. If the customers spent just 15 minutes each time trying to figure out this poorly crafted menu of choices, that would mean 720,000 minutes “wasted” or roughly 12,000 man hours or 1,500 man days of time gone up in smoke. And that’s not counting the increased servicing time and stress levels of phone officers when folks like me finally get through and scream them a piece of my mind. At say just PHP2,000 in man day value (I would say it’s much higher for the average premier client), that’s a whopping PHP3.0 million in wasted effort.
- If you look at it from a customer perspective, if only 100 customers move their deposits of say PHP5 million each to other banks (and trust me, some folks irritated by these shenanigans have much higher savings and chequeing balances in Premier accounts), then the bank would lose the interest margin of say 4% on PHP500 million in deposits per year, or roughly PHP20 million. This is not farfetched. I am aware of a client (not ourselves) whom I have encouraged to move their massive deposits elsewhere (the proceeds of a legitimate sale of prime property) as a result of this kind of ridiculous HSBC service, and let’s just say the figures I quote for lost business here are very mild to say the least. Furthermore, with inexplicably irrational service like this, clients will likely move their credit card business to other banks as well, as I did two years ago when another inane service situation presented itself. So let’s say 1,000 customers who charge corporate and private charges of say PHP100,000 per month move elsewhere, then HSBC stands to lose theoretically (but really, almost certainly) PHP100 million in charges MONTHLY, or PHP1.2 billion annually. With a merchant fee of say 2% on average, HSBC would lose another PHP24 million in potential income! We retain premier cards at HSBC only for two staff members that use them for gas, groceries, airline tickets, hence my retaining one credit card with HSBC, with a very minor credit limit.
- I know, I know, the system is designed to serve hundreds of thousands of customers, not just those with a lot of deposits, but in the path to do the former, they risk seriously underservicing the latter, to serious impact on profitability — yes, we discussed this briefly.
So in my opinion, things like this are SERIOUS. And if people don’t complain, and if banks don’t take heed, there is a significant amount of money at stake. So it does piss me off when folks faced with clear questions have such outrageous answers that essentially show a near blatant disregard for customer service, welfare and ultimately, the banks own profitability.
The officer from HSBC promised that they are now doing something about the issue and that they would call me when the phone banking menu had been fixed. Bravo to that. But boo to the fact that a bunch of banking executives couldn’t be more creative, assertive and intelligent about coming up with faster solutions to simple problems.
This is what I would have done if I were in their shoes… unsolicited advice from a banking consultant and former commercial banker, who has done a significant amount of work on customer acquisition, customer retention, attrition and just plain avoidance of stupid banking practices…:
1. BEFORE any changes to the phone banking menu were ever put in place or introduced, senior executives and their staff should HAVE CAREFULLY CHECKED the new options and system, and checked if the KEY TASKS were covered. This is simply basic procedure. And the problems or “bugs” should have been caught there. Simple as that. If they weren’t, someone’s head should roll for incompetence…
2. BEFORE going live, test the system with a checklist of all actual transactions that customers are likely to call in for, and make sure there is a way to do all of this on the menu provided. This should have been standard procedure, and if it wasn’t done, someone’s head should roll for incompetence…
3. AFTER going live with the new system and as soon as the problem was noticed and clients and call center agents indicated issues, try and fix the options and get the right options put in ASAP. That should have taken a few days at most. I have never heard of a new system (particularly this customer facing and sensitive) being introduced without a team of experts on standby to fix any major bugs that arise. The technology people who released this ridiculous menu should have their xxxx chopped off. Barring that, and due to “regional” and “technologically impossible” parameters, then I would do one of the next suggestions which are all pretty low effort, low cost and would have avoided a phenomenal amount of wasted time.
4. Change the jackets or letters that go out with new credit cards to say when calling in to activate a card, simply press ZERO twice for a call center agent who can assist you.
5. Since the bank has customer cell phone numbers, send out a blanket text to clients that if they are using phone banking, they should do x to avoid problems with x,y,z types of transactions.
6. Send a letter out to Premier clients and explain what is being done to fix the problem, or alternatively an email.
None of suggestions 4,5 and 6 would have cost much money at all when balanced against customer complaints and likely potential loss of business. And they would have saved all of the wasted time and effort and time value of money of clients who had to deal with an ADMITTEDLY FLAWED PHONE BANKING MENU that has endured for 60+ days and several more to come. RIDICULOUS.
For the sake of thousands of HSBC customers in the Philippines that would be potentially inconvenienced by the current phone banking menu of choices that omits many key tasks they would want to transact, I hope HSBC staff work overtime to fix this ADMITTED problem. With 60+ days already passed and the clock ticking, it seems they need to seriously turn up the heat.