HSBC Manila Responds to Marketman’s Post on Their Phonebanking Menu…

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.

Thank you.


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.

Marketman (xxxxxxxx)”

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.

Thank you.

Marketman (xxxxxxxx)”

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.


“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.

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27 Responses

  1. HSBC just dug them selves a bigger hole! It appears to me that they just made a generic phone banking set-up and said to hell with all the customer complaints..tsk,tsk,tsk. I hope other banks learn a lesson from this post.

  2. I love it!! May I suggest a “real” email to clients and NOT a secured message that is ‘non’ user friendly to access.

  3. I have been wondering why our quality of customer-service standards seems to be going down the drain. I am sure many others have similar experiences. Case in point – pldt asks subscribers to enrol in an email billing and specifies the website where one can do so but website does not work.

    I salute you for putting a spotlight on this and your crusading spirit in doing your bit in making all of us better. i hope this catches on. mabuhay!

  4. MM, I personally know of two people who are thinking of cutting up their HSBC cards because of poor service.

    Friend: “Can I speak to your supervisor?”
    CSR: “I’m sorry but we’re not allowed to do that.”
    Friend: “Are you f@$!ing kidding me?!”

    True story.

  5. The saga continues MM. They can’t get out of the deep shit after they were fined US$1.921 billion for a money-laundering case (they transferred money for sanctioned nation (Iran); enabled Mexican drug cartels to move money through the US).

    Just last month, they started charging $1 for each retail account (without notice). They increased all transactions fees. Desperate measures to recover all their losses.

  6. I’ll try to remember how I got the card activated. Something about I used the “Lost or Stolen” card option so that I get to speak to a human being as fast as possible.

    Of course it defeats the whole purpose of the other options :P

  7. I’ve been quite lucky because my HSBC Relationship manager’s always attended to my requests promptly and service has always been great. However, it was a bit of a surprise that they started charging $2 for every $1k withdrawn. It does not seem much but it bothered me that they did not even inform us! We even “accidentally” discovered that our US$ Time deposits were no longer earning interest. Shouldn’t they at least inform clients about this? @KK in Bermuda must be right, they are trying to recover the penalties they were asked to pay in connection with that money laundering case.. I think it is time to move our hard-earned money to other banks…

  8. Hi MM – it’s been a while since i commented but you know i remain to be your avid reader and follower :). I continue to do well after my kidney transplant and have been able to go to Cebu on mission for the past 2 years and have always passed on my regards and congratulations to you and your staff, everytime i am able to drop by your Zubuchon outlets, esp the one in the airport :).

    On this particular rant, i cannot help but comment … I am an HSBC client since our payroll goes through the said bank. I have managed to bank with them for the past 7 or 8 years since I do my transactions onlne. I have very very minimal personal contact with them except to pick up my new checque books and in case i need to encash my dollar checques. Over the years, there have been very few instances when think i needed to talk to a live customer rep to report and discuss an issue. I distinctly recall the first time i did that and i got really angry and frustrated since there simply was no option to talk to a real live person. I thought it was my fault that i am not able to follow simple phone instructions so I tried several times over a two week period, but still, i was unable to do so. Hence, i resorted to calling my HSBC branch and demanded to talk to the branch manager to complain that how come there is simply no option in their phone menu to talk to a real live person to reportand discuss my issue. The hSbc manager confimed that there is an option but the said option is deeply buried in the menu of options and would really take an inordinate amount of time for you to be able to reach one or to figure it out. In short, hsbc does not really want to talk to their customers and they would rather you just deal with the phone options in solving your issues. Mind you, this was more than 5 years ago! I have asked them to fix this issue and they told me they are working on it. Hence i dont believe their lame excuse to you that this only happened in the past 6 months. It is for this reason that i refuse to get a credit card with them (despite their numerous offers for me to do so) since i dread trying to contact a live customer rep if I need to raise an issue, when this is definitely not part of the service they want to provide their customers. Hence, i have stayed with citibank since at least citibank talks to their customers.

    Indeed, it is such a shame that for a global bank like HSBC , they cannot get their act together on providing a live customer asst on the fone to respond to their client’s concerns, esp for their credit card clients whom they informed in the first place to call them to activate their cards!

    Hopefully, this time, HSBC will take heed and improve their customer service to their clients ….

  9. MM, I was laughing at that part where you were questioning a witness in the stand like a lawyer. But, seriously, this isn’t a laughing matter. My sister from Vancouver was here recently to fix some concerns about an account she left unattended when she left Manila for good some years back. She gave up on the menu of this local bank.

  10. ooopss… I meant questioning the hsbc personnel like a witness in the witness stand… ayan, that’s the result of my lol-ing. lol

  11. HSBC boasts of this really secure online banking system (using a mini-key to login to your account every time) which has not failed me so far; but they fail on the simplest things. Case in point, I requested a new card (the no fee kind) and the birthday they input was wrong resulting to me not being able to purchase airline tickets during a sale. Guess what date they put… The day I requested for the new card!!! So their system essentially issues credit cards to one day olds.

  12. i had the same phone problem as well. a week or two ago, i was calling up hsbc savings and no one was picking up. my account is in manila and i am in kl so this was really troublesome for me. i tried 4 branches and no one was picking up. my problem was for the past 3 months i’ve been waiting for a telegraphic transfer to my account, the sender keeps telling me that the transfer keeps getting rejected/cancelled. unfortunately i do not have the reference number and wanted hsbc to check, they should be able to see “attempted” transactions. fortunately, a friend knows a branch manager and the only info given to me was that there was nothing wrong with my account, which i couldn’t fathom on why the transfers are failing.

    a banker friend told me, hsbc “outsourced” some of their services already including telegraphic transfers. her transaction took 1 month before it went through. seriously? why is hsbc having such bad customer service. and to top this all, i’ve learned that hsbc is no longer affiliated with plus (visa) and only works with unionpay atms which provide lesser coverage or accessibility rather on a global scale. so if there’s no local hsbc in your foreign destination and you’re not in china or hongkong then it could be difficult to withdraw using your hsbc atm. this kinda sucks especially if you have a forex account and would rather withdraw in that currency.

  13. I used to be a CSR for HSBC’s Call Center (about 6-7 years ago), and even in the US Market, their Phone Banking Options are screwed up.

    Although our queues were astronomical, I would still receive complaints that there was almost no option to speak to a human being. We would tell our Clients that we would take note of the complaint, but no action would actually be made. The complaint would end with us (the CSRs).

    Sometimes, even the CSRs are not informed of the new options on the Voice Prompts, that we would, unknowingly, be giving our Clients the wrong options to press. So, I guess Communication, in general, is the big problem.

  14. Thanks for your rant. Sometimes it takes someone who has followers to do this before any company takes action on any complaints. Maybe if there is a blog where we ordinary citizens can rant about services, products, and companies, then our collective voices can be heard more often.

  15. Normally when systems like these plan changes, they’re supposed to have someone who’s intimately familiar with the customer experience (or at least knows how it should work in theory) available in terms of drawing up what is needed, and how best to implement it.

    That such simple options are not present, and that such options are not an immediate concern even after the fact, speaks to their team’s unfamiliarity with the core consumer.

    That, or maybe they’ve never gotten the complaints because their consumer hotline doesn’t have an option for that.

  16. Oh my! I have to show my husband this post. You wouldn’t believe the number of times he has ranted about HSBC and their shit*y on-line and phone banking options. I won’t say services because they really don’t serve anyone at all. We keep our HSBC credit card as an emergency backup if our Citibank card fails to work. At Citibank you can actually speak to a human being when necessary.

    Oh and just wait until you attempt to try to redeem any points or miles on that card.

  17. Best for you not to activate it at all…unless you want to be badgered by their collections dept. representatives for a bill that is not even due until one week from the call. It is surprising that they will call you twice in a day, everyday until you do pay them and be asked to call them up once payment has been made. My point being, shouldn’t their system track a payment once it is made? We know that we have agreed, at some point when we signed the contract, that they can make follow-up calls but they did not say that it will be done in such an intrusive manner, with agents who can be quite arrogant at times. Just a thought.

    I closed two of my accounts with HSBC in the last two months. Life is more peaceful at this point. I prefer my bank to be one that treats its clients with respect.

  18. I experienced that with HSBC and with METROBANK cards. What I hate most is the generic emails they send thanking me for my letter of complaint and they will look into it. NOT. So tiring to deal with them. Good job about the rant.

  19. As a relative newcomer to the Philippines I find your experience to be quite the norm. I will not go into a rant with regards to the IQ of some of these people charged with “Customer Service”, but whoever put them in charge is a bigger idiot than they are. It just seems to be a PH thing!

  20. This is such a timely post for me. I have called HSBC several times for different reasons for the past 2 weeks and the most recent one was just this morning where I found out that the the previous rep FORGOT to unblock my card even though I’ve already confirmed the transaction.

    What I learned from using and experimenting with their inefficient hotline:

    If you want to get to talk to their reps right away, just select Report stolen/lost card. :)

    But they should get their act together soon..

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