Many years ago, I took out a Northern Rock mortgage, probably at the time when the company was at the height of it’s success and a good few years prior to it’s bail out by the Bank of England in 2007.There’s a brief history of events here if you want a reminder and I’m sure you remember the televisions images of the many people queuing outside branches to withdraw their money, worried by the thought of losing some or all of their savings.
NRAM (Northern Rock Asset Management) was created after the company was restructured in 2010 and remains in public ownership and managed by the Government. Northern Rock plc was sold to Virgin Money in 2012.
The mortgage itself is now long gone so I was quite surprised when I got a letter from NRAM yesterday. What surprised me more as I read down the letter was the fact that there was with a cheque attached to the bottom with the princely sum of £76.62 exactly! Don’t get me wrong, I wish these sort of surprises would happen more often! Interestingly the opening line on the letter read ‘NRAM is committed to providing our current and previous customers with a great level of service ‘ – sounds like a line you’re fed before being told something’s gone wrong – or am I just a cynic? but then we got to the point. The apparent reason for the refund was a result of an administrative error when the account was originally set up. However the letter omitted to explain what the exact error was so naturally I was curious to understand more and to know whether this was the extent of the issue or not. In addition to this, the cheque was made out in joint names, understandably given I was married at the time but I was unsure whether I could now cash the cheque in it’s current form. So I called the ‘UK based call centre’ to ask them a couple of questions – what was the error and how do I cash the cheque. The girl I spoke to was very polite however her first response was ‘we’ve had no communication about any of this and so I can’t tell you anything.’ She then went on to add that I should get a letter shortly explaining everything. ‘but shouldn’t that be the other way round?’ I responded. ‘I quite understand’ she said ‘but I can’t do anything about it!’ ‘But if you’ve sent loads of cheques out without any explanation, then surely loads of people are going to call you with questions which you can’t answer because you’ve not had any communication? And so isn’t that a waste of everyone’s time and money?’ Again, she replied, ‘ I quite understand but there’s nothing I can do but I’m more than happy to pass on your feedback’. ‘No don’t worry I said’ and then to add to the debarcle, it transpires that in order to get the money, I’ve got to return the cheque and ask for a re issue!
This is business basics surely isn’t it? We’re not even into the realms of delivering great customer experience yet not to mention wowing the customer. It’s what Tom Peter’s would call ‘sticking to the knitting – being great at the core business and getting process steps in the right order, whether they be short term ones like this around a refund project, or the day to day core operational processes that service delivery is built on. Get a step in the wrong place or out of order and everybody looses. Customer effort increases as do levels of frustration for both customers and employees and overall levels of dissatisfaction. In the cold light of day, this is borderline madness whether a genuine mistake or an ill thought out and mismanaged project – the impact is the same.
A quick look at the NRAM website uncovered this gem of a statement ‘We are making a positive impact on the lives of our customers, whilst maximising value for the UK taxpaying public’ Really?? and this one … ‘Government owned. Mortgages in expert hands’. So where’s the value in having to field a number of excessive telephone calls, hundreds, or even maybe thousands because letters went out in the wrong order?? The girl I spoke to sounded frustrated and it was only 9.30am. I reckon she was in for a long day….