Curiously, I always thought it was Alan Clark, the Tory historian and political diarist, who coined the phrase, ‘never apologise, never explain,’ and that this had somehow been twisted over the years since into ‘never complain, never explain.’ He is, after all, the guy who, when his wife complained that he had met his mistress while they were on holiday in Paris, asked why she couldn’t be more French about it.
However, both quotes appear to be attributed to all sorts, including Disraeli, Evelyn Waugh, and the Duke of Wellington, and I don’t really suppose it matters who said what. Like most Brits, I guess, I wish I was the kind of character who never apologised, but instead spend my life using the word ‘sorry’ in contexts of genuine apology and beyond on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Try to get past someone in a shop. ‘Sorry.’ Mishear something. ‘Sorry?’ Take umbrage. ‘Well, I’m sorry, but…’
Again, like most Brits, I rarely complain. It hardly ever feels like it’s worth the effort. However, I was recently moved sufficiently by the Royal Bank of Scotland and all its works to write a letter of complaint, and here’s the gist of it. I’ve taken out some content – don’t want the likes of you lot knowing all my business, don’t you know. If I get an amusing reply, I’ll let you know.
However, in the event that I’m not carted off, mouth lightly foaming, to the Twilight Times Home for the Permanently Discombobulated, I hope to have something more interesting for you soon – including a review of The Quarry, the last novel by Iain Banks.
To: Ross McEwan, CEO, Royal Bank of Scotland plc
Dear Mr McEwan,
I’m writing to complain about a number of issues, some of which concern your Glenrothes branch, but some of which are clearly outwith the control of an individual branch. Accordingly, I thought I would write to you in the first instance: I appreciate I’ll be passed down the line, but if you actually have a moment to read past this first paragraph, you might get a feel for how an ordinary customer – one of thirty years’ standing, who doesn’t generally waste his time complaining – feels about your bank.
Firstly, can I say how sad I am to see the Royal in its current parlous state, half-dead in the water, being kept afloat by the public sector. Some of the issues I’ve encountered in the branch may be simply down to low staff morale, but I also get the sense that the bank, having got bigger in boom times, has now become so compartmentalised that it has what’s often described in local authority circles as a ‘silo culture:’ that would certainly explain the complications I encountered last year when trying to conclude the final repayment of my offset mortgage, when it seemed unaccountably difficult for one part of the Bank to speak to another.
That sense was reinforced recently when I went in to discuss how I might deal with matters following my father’s death. He was also a long time Royal Bank customer, and I had what I thought was a fairly simple question or two about how I should deal with his account in the immediate aftermath of his passing. However, the member of staff I dealt with was more interested in passing me straight to an Estates team, although I would, of course, have to make an appointment. She also seemed rather keener on stressing how busy they were at lunchtimes than offering any kind of condolences for my loss.
This theme of how busy your staff are returned when I asked to speak to someone about my own accounts – I was hoping to see what the Royal could do in terms of improving my current arrangements with them, whereby my wife and my main joint account and two savings accounts receive a vanishingly small amount of interest (of which more later).
The first – mildly comic – effect of my interaction with the member of staff on the Inquiries desk was a result of her being unable to check appointments on the computer at the counter. This meant that every potential date and time had to be checked by trotting back and forth from the counter to a desk where a computer showed an online diary.
However, I may say that my appreciation of the humour of the situation evaporated, slowly. I asked for a lunchtime appointment, and was twice offered 2.00 p.m. appointments. When I suggested this wasn’t really lunchtime, I was told that only one of the relevant staff was on at lunchtime. How inconvenient of me to have a full time job myself! My last attempt was any time on a particular day, but again your staff were just too busy to see me. I gave up at that point, and began to look at what other banks had on offer.
If you have read this far, Mr McEwan, that would be the point I would want you to take on board. Like many other of your customers, I am thinking of taking my business elsewhere – and a cursory glance at what the other banks have on offer, makes such a prospect a far more attractive one than waiting around to see someone at the Royal. The competition appears to be beating you hands down at the moment for interest rates, and customer service.
To give you just two examples of this: a) some of our savings are currently at [Bank A][, in a bond which, two years ago, had 4% interest. If your bank had something to compete with that, I didn’t get to know about it; and b) [Bank B], with whom I also opened an account a few years ago because they offer a fairer exchange rate system when we’re withdrawing money abroad, managed to arrange an appointment within days and were able to outline, in full, the current and other savings account options which, I think without exception, offered a better deal than we get from your bank at present.
In fact, the only reason we haven’t changed banks before now apart from being too busy is probably that I have, up until the last few years, always had pleasant and – relatively – efficient service at the Royal. That last point in your favour now seems to be disappearing.
Please be assured, Mr McEwan, I really don’t get around to letters of complaint – life is too short; and I know from my own job that they end up being dealt with by employees lower down the organisation who don’t really have the power to change much that could solve the problems enumerated. The fact that I have taken the time to write really should be an indication that you guys are struggling.
I look forward to hearing from you with your thoughts.