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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Barclaycard: 3 issues, 2 months to get (some) answers. Lies about FSA guidelines. Goodbye

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I raised three issues with Barclaycard in the last few months of 2011:
  1. My contactless (PayPass) card stopped working for payments where it had been ok before
  2. I wanted to understand a £1 transaction that was on my account (October 13)
  3. A circular URL on the web site (an error message telling me I was using the wrong login URL directed me to a log in page that showed the same message again) (December 6)
The first (most problematic) of these is still unresolved, the second was something that should have been fairly easily answered (both were things I initially raised on the phone to their foreign call center and failed to get an acceptable response with). The third issue received no response

To clarify point 1, my contactless card had been working fine, then stopped. I suspected some sort of security check, and since I only use that card for contactless payments, I didn't have a PIN to try using the card in a non-contactless way. When I called them an hour later, they just told me to try again as they did not even have a record of a transaction failure  on my account in their system.

For the second point, the answer was (as I had started to suspect, but expected customer service to know for sure) that the £1 showing on my account online as a pending transaction was from an automated petrol pump doing a test transaction before refueling to verify the card. This is normal, and the transaction gets subsequently cancelled. Again customer service failed to provide an explanation, and merely suggested I check again later once the transaction was finalised. I always thought it was a good thing to alert the company to something that might count as potential fraud ... but apparently that's futile.

Because of the failings I'd had obtaining useful answers from their customer service advisors, I chose to contact them via their "secure message" system on the web site, which may well be secure when you send the message, but any online reply you get comes via email, and doesn't include your original text. So you have to remember what you said to them, and remember that everything else isn't as secure as was initially suggested. Now Barclaycard have what I consider to be the extremely annoying habit of trying to call you back even when you contact them online - and worse it's from a number that doesn't have caller ID so you have no idea who is calling you asking you to confirm your security information. It's hard to say if that's due to the aforementioned low security of their secure message system, or some other reason.

Either way I had hoped to get it resolved online, giving them time to fully consider a response, given the problems I'd had with their call centers. They initiallly tried to call me via phone (I have no reception on my personal mobile phone at work) and so left me several voicemail messages, all from an Indian-sounding call centre. I replied to them via email indicating that I wanted a resolution that didn't involve their call centers, both because of the apparent lack of expertise, the accents often being problematic especially via a mobile phone network, and the amount of time I seem to spend on hold with them. I'm looking for efficiency in resolution.

On emailing them regarding the £1 transaction I receieved a couple of responses from their email team such as confirming that it was from an automated pump and that:
    "I understand your concern regarding this extra amount will be added to the real price of the fuel once the correct transaction amount reflects. I can confirm that this is the only one transaction appearing in Outstanding Authorisation related to the merchant and appears to be real amount" 
  • "an account can only legally be debited once the credit card company is in receipt of the sales voucher receipt. We are expecting to receive the sale voucher by 14/10/2011, may I request you to check your statement after Monday"
Now ignoring the fact that the first bullet point is grammatically poor and therefore not as clear as it should be, the assertion that it is the "real amount" appears to only confuse the matter. It is not "real" in any useful sense regarding how much I will be charged, which backs up my comment about there being problems with non-native English speaking customer service staff, whose job is communicating with their customers.
I would also have expected the full transaction to be in the system by that point - why does the initial authorisation show up as pending immediately, but the full amount took days? I'm sure this isn't specific to Barclaycard but it is worth mentioning. It would have been good if the credit card company could explain whether the same transaction could be modified while pending if that's what's really happening here. After all, I couldn't have filled up with just £1 of fuel since most pumps have a 5 litre limit or so common sense dictated that the "real amount" is unlikely to be true ... Despite the fact that I had enough of an idea about where the £1 transaction had originated from at this point that I was no longer concerned about it, but the issue fell into the complaints process. I do wonder how true this is - they'll get a link to this blog:

On these issues raised via email I subsequently received the following letters through the post from Barclaycard:
  • 9 November I received a letter apologising for the delay after their October 17 complaint acknowledgement letter and that "we will contact you again by 07 December 2011".
  • A second letter also arrived daed 9 November 2011 saying that I had been put into their complaints process, one saying they would "aim to resolve matters by the 02 December 2011" (I presume this was for a different issue from the first one, but neither letter mentioned which issue it was in relation to)
  • 2 December 2011: Referencing the letter on the 09 November, they said they would contact me again by 04 January 2012
  • 7 December 2011: I received a letter headed as a "Final Reponse" addressing the issues (For the record, my complaint reference numbers are 1000DC4Y AND 1000HX2T if anyone important is reading this) and telling me it had been closed.
It's somewhat amusing that they they seem to perpetually say "We'll be in touch in a months time" rather than getting down and dealing with the issues, especially when it includes a customer unable to use their card.
Part of the response included this sentence:
  • "unfortunately if we are unable to respond to your within 48 hours or you do not respond to one of our emails within the same time frames, we have to raise the complaint to a higher level under the guidelines set out by the FSA"
This, to me is shocking. Apparently their complaints process allows them to take months to reply ... once they've broken the apparent FSA 48 hour limit. But wait a minute, their automated email response included this:
  • "Barclaycard staff are always available and ready to respond during regular business hours, excluding holidays, and will normally answer you within 3 working days."
So their own automated responses give expectations that break those claimed FSA guidelines that they are telling me they are adhering to in order to justify not responding for months.
So there we go, confirmation that the information supplied by Barclaycard was false. I will continue with analysing the original response I received from Barclaycard
  • "Although we aim to resolve all queries within 24 hours, we are experiencing a high volume of messages at the moment so please allow 3 working days for a response. There is no need to resend your message as we will deal with all messages in the order in which they are received."
So their targets are three working days, but you get sent into a complaints process at the request of the FSA if they don't reply in 48 hours. Something's not right there.

I emailed the FSA on 3rd February about the 48 hour limit and got this automated reply: "please be aware that we work to a service level of 12 working days, and it is likely that it will take this long to respond to you." Oh the irony, although I still waited for them since if they do have a 48 hour limit it probably won't apply to themselves as they aren't a bank... As it happens they missed the 12 day limit anyway so I sent a follow up on 26th February. I got a reply on Wednesday 29th February apologising for missing their targets "due to a high level of correspondence" and including a lengthy reply (mostly talking about the process which my bank had already given me) including these two pieces of information:

  • "If the firm cannot send you a final response within eight weeks, then they must inform you that you can ask the Ombudsman to consider your case."
  • "With regard to the 48 hour limit on responses that your bank has set, I can advise that this is not a rule set by the FSA and therefore could be an internal rule for your bank. The FSA do have rules that state that a firm should respond to consumer complaints within a reasonable time but we do not set what that time should be. Its is for the banks themselves to set."
Which says, fairly clearly, that the information that Barclaycard have supplied to me was incorrect.
Going back to Barclaycard's letter it also states that "All of our front line Customer Staff are trained to the same high standards". I appear to have a different expectations of "high standards", given that they were unable to resolve my problems when I called. In terms of the other problems their letter responded on my specific points as follows:

I was told they have been unable to determine the paypass problem, and that they have no notes from their technical team, or fraud department to show a security check being requested from me. At the very least I'd have hoped they'd logged my call about it. Apparently not.

The £1 charge was explained in the letter as a 'test' transaction which was normal for automated petrol pumps and that it would "drop off" the account, which sounds to me like it gets removed, and the real transaction added, as opposed to being "added to the real price of the fuel" as suggested via email. Frankly, since these messages have had an air of inconsistency about them, and so it's hard for me to trust the company with any of my finances.

The letter also stated that
  • "For the purposes of the Financial Ombudsman Service please consider this to be our final response. If you are unhappy with the outcome, you may ask the financial Ombudsman Service to review your complaint and you have six months from the date of this letter to do so".
Which I will happily do ... It's also worth pointing out that this was the FIRST response they'd provided to my electronic contact on the paypass issue which is the most problematic one as it stops me using my card. In fact since this "Final Response" doesn't fix my ability to use my Barclaycard for contactless payments I've moved my contactless banking to a Virgin Money charity card (1% including Gift Aid of all my transactions is given to a charity of my choice) which I can heartily recommend, and my second Barclaycard (which was used exclusively for online transactions - I feel safer having a separate card for those) has had most of it's use transferred to a card issued by Creation.

I've happily used Barclaycard for many years (in fact since I was at university), but their customer service incompetence recently has lost me as a previously loyal customer. Such a shame, and all down to issues that a genuinely "trained to high standards customer service team should have been easily able to avoid. Clearly they have staff who know some answers, but they're not the ones you get through to when you call them. And multi-month escalation delays to get answers to such questions is unacceptable.

In summary, here are the problems I encountered:
  1. Nobody has been able to explain why my contactless card no longer works or apparently made any effort to resolve it
  2. The "high standard" customer service staff who I initially called on the phone didn't to have a clue how petrol pump authorisation works (although after all this, I feel like an expert)
  3. When you contact them online you often receive a callback from an unidentifiable source asking for your security information
  4. The "secure message" system results in online replies and subsequent follow ups are all via not so secure email and their replies don't include the original request. Plus replies all come through with changed subject lines which makes threading conversations very hard. They need a proper, secure, ticketing system.
  5. The 48 hour limit that Barclaycard claim is required by the FSA is false.
  6. Barclaycard on the 2nd December said they'd contact me again by 4th January 2012. I assume at this point they panicked and realised they'd break the 8 week FSA deadline if it took that long, which is why I got a reply just one week days later well before the 4th January date they said to me.
(As an aside I might as well mention another problem I've had - if you catch their online system at the wrong time you can get anomalies suggesting that you're statement balance gets duplicated in the "new transactions" section making it look like you've spent more than you have - see this screen capture You'd think banks would have mastered transaction atomicity by now)

The letter came with the feedback leaflet which I've shown a photo of in the middle of this article. I shall fill it in and send the address of this blog entry to them. If anyone from Barclaycard wishes to convince me to stay (frankly, it's almost certain to be too late, but maybe if they let me try their PayTag system - after all they should have a record of me asking about their plans in this area) or someone high up wants me to test their customer services some more, then feel free to get in touch. With a dislike of banks at an all time low, they need to do better to retain our custom, and not let long time customers down like this.

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