Customer service? No thanks, we’re a monopoly.

The following is an email I wrote recently after a particularly inspirational customer service experience. De Facto Monopoly Company is called something else in real life, and if there is a company called DFMC out there, let me emphasise that my experience had nothing to do with them. Other details have been also altered to protect the less than innocent.

On 09/04/10 15:29, Such And Such wrote:
Dear Mr Rinta-Koski,

I refer to your recent enquiries made regarding the status of your replacement cheque for the (…) sale of your (something I used to own).

Upon your advice that you did not receive your replacement cheque, we organised for a replacement cheque (cheque number XYZ) to be sent out to you on 6 April 2010. Can you please confirm you are in receipt of this cheque?

I would like to express our regret that you have had to make multiple enquiries regarding the status of said payment, to our web queries email. I am emailing you to provide a more personalised response and to allow for any required follow-ups to be made directly to myself.

Dear Such,

I have indeed received the cheque after 3 months of what can only be described as Kafkaesque “communication” with Mr/Ms Customer Centre.

In case you, unlike the various people corresponding as “Customer Centre”, are interested in the quality of De Facto Monopoly Company‘s customer service and possibly even in a position to do something to improve it, please allow me to point out a few details of my customer experience. I trust you’ll agree that there is a delightfully vast land of opportunity awaiting the gallant person who takes it upon him/herself to tackle these issues.

I logged on to the DFMC Customer Centre website on 22/1/2010 after a long break and found out that my things had been sold in August 2009. I also found out that a cheque had been sent. Unfortunately, at this point the online system still had my previous address. As the cheque had been sent to that address, I never received it. I then proceeded to change my address in the online system. After this I called the Customer Centre and talked to a representative, who assured me that a replacement cheque would be sent as soon as possible. I do not have a recording of the phone call, but I’m sure you do – feel free to check it.

Having talked to the DFMC representative on the phone on 22/1/2010, I assumed that the cheque would indeed be sent immediately and would arrive within a few days. I then sent a message through the website, with the following content:

My things were sold on 6/8/09 and a cheque was sent to my previous address. I never received the cheque. I called the Customer Centre support number on 22/1 and was told that instead of a cheque my Major Australian Bank account would be credited and that it would take a few days. This hasn’t happened as of yet.

I did not record the date of this message, but I assume it was two days before I received a reply on 5/2/2010, as all communications back from Customer Centre took at least two days.

How is it that your phone lines can be answered immediately or at most after a few minutes in the queue, but emails take several days? Especially emails that only contain words to the effect “please send more info”, as was the case here:

Dear Mr Rinta-Koski,

Thank you for your email enquiry.

In order that we may assist further, please reply with the following information:

– The name of the things < Thingamajig

– The full registered name/s of the owner of things

– The full registered address of the owner of things < please provide old and new address

– The Thing Owner Reference Number/holder number (TORN) or Thing Identification Number (TIN) for the things. (TORNs begin with the letter ‘I’ or ‘N’ and TINs begin with the letter ‘X’ or ‘L’ for example, I0012345678, N0012345678 or X0012345678, L0012345678. This can be found on thing statements or payment advices previously issued)

If you have any further queries, please contact us.

Yours sincerely, Customer Centre

You’ll note that I already provided the name of the things (Thingamajig), the name of the owner (myself), and the rest of the information (with maybe the exception of my old address) would have been available on your very own online system, had the person replying to the email bothered to look it up. I replied to the email with the information requested and added the following note:

I am left wondering a) why the payment was sent as a cheque when I have provided my bank account details and b) why this matter was not resolved even though your representative told me on the phone on 22/1/2010 that it would be.

I then received this reply on 9/2/2010:

Please refer to our written correspondence dated 25/01/2010. As stated in the letter, you asked that we make your payment directly into your bank account. Unfortunately the seller only offers the direct credit facility at the time of the original payment, and not for replacement payments. Consequently, you received a replacement cheque.

This short paragraph contains three issues I’d like to point out.

First, the opening “Please refer to our written correspondence dated 25/01/2010.” This assumes that there had been such correspondence. There had not been anything of the sort – I had not received any written correspondence, and indeed would not receive any written correspondence until April. I can only assume that a letter had indeed been sent, but that it had been sent to my old address. You may recall that I changed my address on the website on 22/1/2010.

Second, “the seller only offers the direct credit facility at the time of the original payment, and not for replacement payments.” If the direct credit facility had indeed been used at the time of the original payment, this sorry saga would have never had to unfold, as the proceeds would have been credited to my account and all would have been well.

With regard to the replacement payment, I am willing to give you the benefit of doubt and assume that there is a reason for being able to directly credit the account when making the original payment but not at a later date, and that this reason makes sense to someone somewhere. I doubt very much that this reason would make any sense to the person on the receiving end of these payments. This issue may or may not be something that DFMC can do anything about, if not, I’m sure this minor detail can be escalated to the proper address.

Third, “Consequently, you received a replacement cheque.” I find the tone of this statement quite arrogant, as it is factually completely incorrect.

Here’s my reply to this email:

I have not received a replacement cheque, nor a letter dated 25/01/2010. Did you perhaps send it to my old address?

to which I received perhaps the most infuriatingly we-really-don’t-give-a-shit reply of all:

We advise that we require all information relating to the same enquiry be viewable in the one email chain so that we are able to track the progress of the enquiry/request. Please reply directly from our previous email with the information below, so that we may assist you accordingly.

The subject of every single email communication to and from me had the following information, with ever increasing suffices:

Re: Re: 3501193-2225: Contact Us Query – Customer Centre-sf – J-po

Now, it may be silly of me to assume that “3501193-2225″ is some sort of a reference number intended to keep track of email threads. If so, may I suggest that you get rid of this number that has no information value and in its place start using a reference number that can be used for just that purpose. Failing that, perhaps your email system could be augmented so that Mr/Ms Customer Centre can see previous emails from the same sender. Even Microsoft Outlook is capable of this.

I then dutifully replied again, this time making sure that the email contained everything from previous emails:

I have not received any written correspondence from you at my current address. Your claim that “I received a replacement cheque” is simply not true. How come the direct credit facility was not used at the time of the original payment? Please send me a replacement cheque and this time, please send it to the correct address: (my current address).

To which I received this reply:

The payment was for the sale of things. The company, Thingamajig decided to make the payment by cheque. We advise that you’re able to change the address details for your things by one of the following ways: (description of procedure elided)

You may recall that I changed my address on 22/1/2010. I foolishly assumed that that would be it and your system would now know that I now live somewhere else, and that no mail should be sent to an address that is no longer valid. Hence my reply:

I do not wish to change my details as they are correct. What is needed now is for you to post the cheque to the address indicated in your system.

As it turns out, the instructions I was sent for changing my address for the things online were not applicable in this situation, as we shall see a bit later. Feel free to take a break and get a cup of coffee, we’re nowhere near through yet.

The next email I received was this:

We confirm your replacement cheque (cheque number ABC) has been despatched from our offices on 19/02/2010 to the registered address of your things.

This left me a bit puzzled, as I had not received a replacement cheque or anything else for that matter, as indicated by my reply on 22/2/2010:

I’m still waiting for a resolution on this. Today marks the 1 month anniversary of my initial phone call, during which your representative assured me the matter would be taken care of. To recap: I have not received a replacement cheque. I wish to receive a replacement cheque. Please send a replacement cheque. Thank you.

I then received this:

Please be advised, the registered address we have on the things differs to the address you have requested we forward the cheque to. In order to change your registered address details without providing your TRN, please send a written request with certified copies of any two of the following documents for the individual named on the things or in the case of joint things all registered thing owners: etc. etc.

I was still a bit confused, as I had requested the cheque to be forwarded to the address I had myself entered in the online system on 22/1/2010. I then did a bit of research on the website and discovered to my surprise that the old address was indeed indicated for the things, even though my address as a DFMC customer was correct. My reply was this:

> Please be advised, the registered address we have on the holding differs to the address you have requested we forward the cheque to.

I think we’ve established this pretty conclusively by now. I have requested the cheque to be forwarded to the address your system has for me as a user of the Customer Centre. Your system will not let me change the registered address of the things online. I suspect this is because it is down to 0 things.
> In order to change your registered address details without providing your TRN
What do you mean by “without providing your TRN”? I provided it in my email of 5/2/2010, but in case you’ve lost it, here it is again: XXXYYYZZZ

I might also point out that since all correspondence had been carried forward in all emails, the TRN was contained in the very email that talks about doing something without providing it. Look it up, it’s there near the bottom.

Maybe there are customers for whom it makes sense to have different addresses for each thing, but I would assume that this is not generally the case. Maybe the online system could be improved so that in cases such as mine all the addresses change at the same time.

My next email read as follows:

OK, I figured it out.

Your system says that my address for that holding is my previous address.

I have changed my address on your system to my current address on 22/1/2010. This is my current address as shown in your system, except for the things. Your system has not changed the address for the things for reasons unknown to me.

What needs to happen is for you to understand that you need to send the cheque to an address where I am able to receive mail. This would be my current address, my current address. I will not be able to receive mail at my old address.

Please do not send another cheque to my old address.

I then received a Change of Address Notification form via email on 3/3/2010. I filled the form and sent it via Australia Post the same day, 3/3/2010. Now, I realise this may make me sound like a gullible optimist, but I foolishly assumed that this would suffice and the cheque would arrive in due course.

On 11/3/2010 I concluded that this was sadly not the case and sent this enquiry:

I mailed the form back to you on 3/3/2010. Is there something else that needs to happen?

I then had a nauseatingly strong sense of deja vu with the next reply:

In order that we may assist further, please reply with the following information: (same request for information as above)

Of course, it goes without saying that my name and the TRN were once again contained within the email requesting them. I then sent the following reply:

Had you bothered to read the email all the way through, you would have seen that the TRN was already there: XXXYYYZZZ – this is the third time I’ve attached the number – two times of which the number has already been in the email requesting it.

I am requesting, once again, a replacement cheque for the proceeds of the sale of the things under TRN XXXYYYZZZ.

I would also like to have contact information for your manager, as I wish to give them feedback on my customer experience.

I then received this wonderfully vague reply on 19/3/2010 that cheerfully ignores my other request:

We can confirm that a replacement cheque will be sent to your new address as soon as possible.

I then replied:

Thank you. Can you also please give me the information I requested? See below. (repeated request for manager’s contact info elided)

The next reply made me double check that the year is indeed 2010 and not 1984:

Please forward your email to this email address and it will be forwarded to the complaints department or appropriate manager.

We are unable to provide personal contact information of staff members.

Suffice it to say that at this point my trust in the competence of Mr/Ms Customer Centre to forward anything anywhere was teetering between slim to none and rapidly declining.

On 24/3/2010 I sent the following message:

I have still not received the cheque. Could you please tell me what “as soon as possible” means in practice.

A week later, when I still hadn’t received any reply, I sent another message:

I am still waiting. Is this radio silence intended to communicate that De Facto Monopoly Company is not willing to resolve this matter?

In case you need a recap, here it is:

My things, TRN XXXYYYZZZ, were sold last year and a cheque for the proceedings was sent to my old address. I never received the cheque.

On 22/1/2010 – more than two months ago – I changed my address in the DFMC Customer Centre online system to my current address. After changing my address in the online system, I called the Customer Centre and was assured by a DFMC representative that the matter would be taken care of and a replacement cheque would be sent to my new address.

On 25/2/2010 I concluded that the address for the things was not changed as it is not possible to change the address of things with zero balance in the online system. I communicated this in an email.

On 3/3/2010 I mailed a Change of Address Notification Form to DFMC.

After further enquiry, I was told the following in an email from the DFMC Customer Centre, dated 19/3/2010:

> We can confirm that a replacement cheque will be sent to your new address as soon as possible.

It is now 31/3/2010, almost two weeks after this last communication concerning the matter, and I still have not received the cheque. I did receive an email on 23/3/2010, in which I was told that I can not discuss this matter with a manager.

This is the 14th email I am sending on this subject.

Executive summary: when will I get my cheque?

to which I received this reply:

The payment was re-issued on 31/3/10.

I eventually received the cheque on 8/4/2010. It is now pinned to my fridge door with a magnet, as on one hand I am afraid it may otherwise sprout wings and fly away, and on the other I am still not sure whether to believe my eyes that this bizarre episode that took nearly 3 months is indeed over, so I cherish the opportunity to gaze upon it each time I make breakfast.

As an aside, may I suggest that you look into using registered mail when sending cheques worth hundreds of dollars. It may cost a bit more, but it would make an awful lot of sense in cases such as this one.

Yours truly,

Ola Rinta-Koski

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