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Thu 30 Jul 2009 10:31 AM

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When customer isn’t king

Anil Bhoyrul argues that some banks are clueless when it comes to customer service.

Do you ever get that sinking feeling at the end of the day? You know, when nothing you do seems to work. No matter what you say, write, explain or plead makes the slightest difference on earth. When you think the whole world is against you, and you just want to scream as loud as possible. When you just keep banging your head against a brick wall.

Sounds familiar? Well I guess then you too must be have a UAE bank credit card. Over the past few months, I have been compiling anecdotal evidence from readers on which bank offers the very worst customer service in town.

There have been many contenders: Standard Chartered features prominently. HSBC can always be relied upon to infuriate, while lately even Lloyds TSB has joined the club. A string of local banks have also done their best (worst) not to be  left out of the league of non-performance.

Here is a quick potted history of my own experience with one major  bank, which it’s best I don’t name for legal reasons (it’s the weekend, I have plans…etc).

May 1:Decide to cancel my bank credit card. Ring customer services, they tell me to pay AED6,300.

May 4:Make AED6,300 cash payment, cut the card and chuck it in the bin.

May 29:Sent new bill from the bank, demanding AED119.48 in late payment charges. After I call, they say it’s a “mistake” and will be reversed.

July 2:Sent new bill from the bank, demanding another AED149 in late payment charges for not paying the AED119.8. After I call, they say it’s a mistake and will be reversed.

July 8:Sent further bill from the bank, demanding AED400 for “annual membership fee” (for a card I have already cancelled). After I call, they say they will investigate.

July 28:Sent new bill from the bank for AED836.45. When I call, they say my file has been blocked for non-payment, they can no longer deal with me – authorities are investigating. They may cash the security cheque, and if it bounces, I can expect a spell behind bars. “It’s not worth going to jail for 836 dirhams my friend,” says the woman from the bank.  (I declined to ask her when we became friends).

So how can this happen? How can reputable banks perform so disastrously when it comes to customer service. I have no choice but to pay AED836.45 for a card I don’t even have. How many other customers have been ripped off like me? Who is has been screwed over, and by how much?

The problem regional banks are facing is that in the past, they only knew good times. Like estate agents, they just picked up the phone and took orders. No checks were really made on suitability – only three words mattered: lend, lend, lend.

With customers lapping up every card they could grab, few people paid attention to interest rates, other fees and the regular mistakes in bills. When you have thousands of willing and hungry customers, why bother with customer service?

Of course the world has changed dramatically this year. Companies now need to fight for new customers, and work even harder for customer loyalty. So far, few if any have realized this.

PS Any guesses which bank I am talking about?

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habeeba 11 years ago

mashreq bank

alicia 11 years ago


R 11 years ago

HSBC account customer services reps do not know about the three accounts types we can open with them. I had to educate one of them and read out from their website what is required to open a status account. Forget the rep even spoke to supervisor who was clueless. Don't know what type of training is given to this customer reps. Majority of the banks in UAE offer poor service. I have seen this trend for the past ten years and am shocked that nothing is being done about it.

mush 11 years ago

None other than CITIBANK, having experienced the same thing first hand for a friend of mine who was put into distress, foolishly.

charlie 11 years ago

I used to be a relaxed individual, patient with banks over the phone. This was until I came to the UAE when I have had to check my statements once every few days to check if they have forgot to do their job properly. I agree, its time we all threaten to leave the bank until changes are made. A global company, but not global expertise.

Tillerman 11 years ago

i have said this before on a previous post: "Our entire regional economic environment, especially dubai is suffering from poor quality. Poor workmanship all around, bad retail customer service, poor driving skills (commercial vehicles and others), low quality control when issuance of new commercial legislation, and this comes down to low quality tech advice..." and let me add low quality advice and planning on how to rip off customers. From the sounds of it, there could be just two possibilities: 1. they are really dumb, with bad IT systems, poor training, poor quality control all around, and absolutely no idea of what customer service should be. 2. it is just policy to rip you off. (just like many other organizations around you, public and private) seriously, in this case, someone behind a closed door, realizes that most of you will not fight and just give up, pay the dh836 and move on. you know what, most of the people i know would probably do the same. i mean after all, c'mon, how much time are you going to spend on this? 3 months? hours on the phone? all that grief?

Bob 11 years ago

There is no such thing as customer service at my bank (HSBC). They appear to be leaderless, unresponsive, untrained and apathetic

tony 11 years ago

The reality is that there are NO customer protection laws here, that coupled with incompetence, incentives to ensure profits grow- albeit by defrauding or cheating the customers- and finally the customer can always be put in jail! so there is no reason why banks will be customer friendly. There is a real need here for all banks including foreign banks to be punished for the types of misconduct against their customers- perhaps some senior executives should be put behind bars for such mishaps against customers!

MD 11 years ago

Having had an atrocious banking experience with them just trying to cancel my credit card, led me to close my banking accounts with them as well. It took numerous phone calls over a 6 month period to finally get them to close my accounts and receive an acknowledgement from them that my credit card was finally cancelled and that their records too were updated. For an international bank, one would assume that their systems would be able to handle such a simple matter very easily.

HD 11 years ago

First Gulf Bank tried to cash my credit card security cheque for a very large amount. I didnt find out until 3 months later because thats when Standard chartered decided to inform me. During that whole time, I was using my FGB credit card with large amounts, and paying it off without any problems. it wasnt until I found out about the cheque, I called them and asked why??!! They said because they couldnt get a hold of me and no one at the office was answering the phone??? I mentioned that I had been using the card without any problems and there was even records of me calling in many times to check my balance and paying it off. Yet no one told me that they were looking for me?? Then the guy said well now I have blocked your card so you cant use it!!!!! Either way I think my outstanding was about 1500 AED when they tried to cash the security cheque for 75,000!!!! 1 month later I am still waiting for someone to tell me what is going on, so far about 7 different people have called and obviously I have had to explain everything from the beginning each time, sometimes even more than once to the same person. I cannot fathom how any corporation, or government can permit these people to operate like this!! I am by no means a violent person, but the way these people and banks treat you..... uuuuuuugggghhhhh!!!!!!!!