Monday, August 17, 2009

Colonel Moseley in High Anxiety...retired and anxious

What ho! Having returned to the fray, I feel better for having expressed my dismay over our MP's expenses.

If the phrase that keeps springing to mind in relation to our ruling class nowadays is "They just don't get it, do they?", the word that crops up increasingly in daily life is "anxiety."

I can imagine someone reading this saying "What is he talking about?" and comparing the comforts of 2009 with the last war and the fear of living through the height of the Blitz or the worry of having close ones on military service or otherwise in constant danger. I'm not minimising those instances, it's just that today the imposition of constant, unkind and unnecessary fear and worry on ordinary hardworking people seems to be increasingly the norm.

It's an insidious trend and particularly affects many of those least able to cope with it - the elderly, the lonely, the disadvantaged and those retired on fixed incomes.
What's more, this pressurising, which is a kind of bullying -comes from those who should know better - large companies, utilities, banks, local authorities and bodies which seem to have forgotten they are there to serve the people of this country.
Here are a few examples of the sheer anxiety unnecessarily imposed every day:

Credit and debit cards: many of us were quite happy to use cash or cheques for most transactions. As a gesture towards modernity we then went so far as to use debit cards for payments. Money went straight out of one's bank account. One still didn't have to have an overdraft and could use a cash balance and no borrowing was involved.
The Masters of the Universe at our banks then decreed that we had to have chip and pin and that this would make things much more secure. In reality with cloning and copying devices in use at cashpoints and swipe machines or whatever they are called things are much worse.
Any trip to an unknown pub, restaurant,shop or garage seems now to involve a very real risk that one's card details will be appropriated and used to deduct cash in India, Australia, Russia or Canada.
The first one knows is often a 'phone call from the bank asking "Are you in downtown Mumbai?" or the appearance of large unauthorised cash withdrawals on one's bank statement.
As yet, the banks are reasonably quick in refunding the stolen money, but one wonders how long this will last. There are already signs that more of an onus is being put upon the victim to prove the theft rather than a presumption of innocence.
In consequence I use my debit card less and less. I never ever use it to buy petrol at the garage or in pubs, restaurants or shops I do not know well.
I only ever use it on secure websites and then only those of repute such as Amazon. Every use of a debit and credit card now brings an unnecessary worry.
    Utilities: in the last few years the price of gas electricity and petrol had risen exponentially, A good part of this increase has been unfair and caused by the multi-national oil companies or market manipulation by speculators that our rulers are too lazy, stupid or unduly influenced by those with vested interests to prevent.
    We are forced to pay for various services by direct debit and billing seems to have become a lottery for the consumer - a perverse lottery with no prizes, only penalties.
    We now have the unpleasant task of opening the paper bill (if one is still lucky enough to have one) or to look at one's bank statement to see what surprisingly large sum has been removed from one's account. The opening of every utility bill is now a heart-stopping moment and an unnecessary worry
      Bank statements : in consequence of the criminal misuse of the insecure chip and pin system and profiteering by utilities the arrival of each bank statement is now an anxious process. It is almost a surprise when one's account has not been pilfered or a charge for gas, electricity is not double what one budgeted. Unfairly increased bank charges are also making the experience much worse. Instead of being straightforward routine the opening of every statement is now a worry.
        Moving supplier: dealings with large companies in telecoms, utilities or retail are increasingly stressful and upsetting. Many seek to tie up their customers in increasingly complex and penal deals with lengthy or expensive termination terms so that it is awkward and costly to extract oneself and move to another provider.
        It is also frustrating and time-consuming to speak on the telephone to most suppliers with queuing, automated systems and unhelpful staff making the whole process irritating and often confusing. It is as if they really don't care how appalling the experience is for the customer and how much anxiety they create.
        Call centres: it is very difficult to speak to a local branch of a bank or building society about one's account. It is impossible to have anything but a depersonalised call to call centre when dealing with a telecoms or utility provider. Naturally all government departments are depersonalised and formulaic in their dealings on the telephone. Most take a good deal of time. They inform you every time that the line is busy and then lead you through a sequence of menus, options and warnings about recording for training purposes until the final queue is reached which may involve you in sitting there for ten minutes to an hour.
        When you ultimately speak to a person you are often transferred and if you have the temerity to ask a question that they are not fully briefed to answer there is no chance of a meaningful reply.
        This experience is irritating and demeaning. It indicates plainly the extent to which the companies in question do not have the slightest concern for the shear dreadfulness of the experience of their customers in dealing with them. The experience of the customer is negative and anxious and it is wholly unnecessary .
        Hospitals: I still strongly believe in many aspects of our welfare system including the National Health service. However, given direct observation of the experience of those closest to me -not just hearsay or gossip - I am very anxious at the thought of hospitalisation today. I am worried about the ongoing risk of picking up infection such as MRSA or C Difficile. I am worried about the embarrassment of mixed wards. I am anxious about lack of security and personal safety. No-one going into hospital should have any of this anxiety.
        Refuse collection: I know I have a bee in my bonnet on this issue, but why do they have to make it so difficult? If the elderly or inefficient make an honest error in for example wrapping potato peelings in a sheet of newspaper and putting it in the organic waste bin, why is the whole bin rejected and left un-emptied and a fine threatened to be levied? Why is it necessary to make the life of the ordinary householder so hard and to impose such unnecessary worry?
        So there you have six or so examples. It's basically about ordinary people without power being bullied and made anxious by those who can - large companies, utilities, banks, local authorities, hospitals and "our" government.
        The whole experience is made much much worse for me by the hypocritical reassurances one receives from each of these monoliths that customer care matters to them. This is plainly nonsense and adds insult to injury. Instead of pretending to care about customers feelings why not actually do something constructive, such as:
        • provide paper bills on request and without penalty
        • allow bill payment by cash or cheque without penalty - or even give a discount for it
        • allow customers to speak to local branches of banks and building societies
        • regulate profiteering oil and utility companies
        • make bank cards safer to use
        • close call centres, especially those outside the UK,
        • or at least drastically overhaul the approach adopted towards customers
        The point is that many of the the bodies with whom the ordinary person had to deal nowadays are too large and too impersonal. They have lost sight of the need to give a damn how the customer feels. The customer, patient, ratepayer or whoever suffers more pain and anxiety in consequence and is increasingly bullied. Isn't it time to understand this and do something to stop it?



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