31 December 2009

Follow-up on 'Administrative Cruelty'

After my original post on 12th November, I've had an exchange of e-mails with the manager for Customer Services at Wiltshire County Council.

In his initial e-mail, he made a good and acceptable apology and then continued, "we have put measures in place to improve the service for those people, like you, who need to register a death. Salisbury now have a dedicated line for death enquiries which is given priority. This will ensure that Customer Services can help customers to reach the right person much more efficiently. We have also reminded Customer Service staff that, whilst there is a general agreement that calls will be returned in 24 hours (if there is nobody available at the time), in the case of death enquiries, these calls are given priority and will be returned as soon as possible. In the context of your call, it was insensitive to give you the impression that you may have to wait 24 hours as it would have almost certainly been picked up and dealt with immediately. I apologise for this."

I replied that "I think there is still some distance to go to make the process as simple as it once was.

"As a general principle, it’s good to answer the phone immediately but it’s much more important that the right service should be answering the phone. This is particularly important in the case of a death, where emotions can be raised, timescales to organise funerals can be tricky, and the process should be as seamless as possible. If the call centre had actually been able to make the appointment rather than just quiz me to establish what I knew already – that I should register the death at Salisbury – then it would have been the right service. As an alternative, technology-wise, it should be a trivial matter to arrange for the call centre to pick up calls that couldn’t be answered at Salisbury, rather than make all calls pass through the call centre...

"A Customer Services call centre has a role for people that don’t know what to do, or whose relatives didn’t die in hospital. But the bereaved are given a useful booklet at Salisbury District Hospital. It sets out the requirement very clearly. It should have the direct number for the Registration Service. Anything else, any different number, any other mandatory step in the process, is an unfair and insensitive imposition on the bereaved, and not without cost for the council tax payer. I hope that the council will make the process as simple as possible for future customers."

He then responded "I have to say that I totally agree with the points made and I know that the current process is by no means perfect.

"It is a knotty problem to untangle as the previous process of being able to ‘direct dial’ into the Registration team worked well when Customers got through but there were a lot of complaints from customers not being able to get through.

"That said, now that the Registration Team in Salisbury have released another line specifically for death enquiries, it seems to me to be a sensible next step to start making that number available to the public. This is a proposal I am going to put to the Registration Operational Managers. "

I think that's a very fair response, and would like to thank Wiltshire CC for the consideration given to the points I raised. I hope that the right decisions are made - and that I don't have a reason to use the service again. Of course, any feedback is most welcome.

Labels: , , ,

12 November 2009

Administrative cruelty

What happened? My Dad died on Monday morning, about 07:15. I'd been due to start a new contract at 09:00 after a year without serious work. The hospital called at 07:10. Instead of heading to work, I drove to Salisbury, and on the way, took a phone call from the hospital, confirming what I'd expected. Arriving there, I did what was needed, including contacting my brothers before the body was removed to the mortuary.

What happened next? The medical certificate wasn't ready until Tuesday afternoon. The doctor had gone home after working the weekend, and nobody else could write up the paperwork.

And so? To register the death and arrange the funeral, I needed the medical certificate and an appointment with the Registrar of Births Marriages and Deaths in Salisbury. Knowing that the certificate should be ready, I called the number given by the Salisbury District Hospital bereavement booklet. It turned out to be a number in Trowbridge, not the local Register Office.

Guess what! The lady on the line asked me lots of questions and then concluded that I'd need to speak Salisbury Register Office to make an appointment. She wasn't empowered to do anything except pass me through. But their number was engaged. If I'd been given their number, I could use Ring Back to connect me as soon as they became free. "But we don't offer Ring Back on that number!".

So we had a little discussion about the meaning of life, and she tried again. Still engaged. And then the excruciating moment. "I could take your number and then they should get back to you within 24 hours". At this point, I thought my head would explode. I explained to the lady on the line that I would call her back in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and so on until I had my appointment. We talked, and at the fourth attempt, she put me through.

Finally, speaking to the Register Office, I reached someone with competence and who was actually able to help me. We arranged the appointment, and I was able to register the death that had happened 30 hours before. By the way, none of the information that I had given to Trowbridge was passed on to the Register Office. So the whole imposition of the call centre was completely pointless for the 'client'.

One of my brothers remarked that if Dad had been a Muslim, it would all have been done and dusted by sunset the previous day.

I cannot praise enough the feeling of safety and reassurance given by the staff at Salisbury Register Office. They know how to deal with real people. But I feel that the imposition of a call centre that is not empowered to do anything positive between the bereaved 'client' and the service provider is cruel, pointless, costly, negative, foul and criminal.

Now it may be that this is an interim stage in the centralisation of bookings into Trowbridge. If that happens, then there is a point to the call centre. But until it happens, it is (to repeat myself) cruel, pointless, costly, negative, foul and criminal.

I'm not a Wiltshire ratepayer. I live in Hampshire, my father lived in (East) Dorset, but Salisbury and its crematorium are in Wiltshire, and the focal point for all of the stages of the process. Wiltshire County Council have introduced a disgraceful and cruel process to stop bereaved families from meeting their statutory obligation - to register the death. Shame on you.

Labels: , ,

17 April 2009

Greedy Times?

The hikes in the annual subscription for The Times/Sunday Times have outstripped the rises in the cover price. Since 2001, the cover price has doubled, but the subscription rate that we pay has almost trebled.

Annual subscription
06/06/2000: £91
23/05/2001: £91
17/06/2002: £91
4 x 12 weekly subscriptions: (add 8% for yearly rate)
24/11/2003 - 24/10/2004: £96
25/10/2004 - 10/09/2005: £120
11/09/2005 - 20/08/2006: £144
21/08/2006 - 16/07/2007: £156
17/07/2007 - 16/06/2008: £192
17/06/2008 - 16/05/2009: £216
17/05/2009 - 16/04/2010: £240 (about £260 a year)

Some cover prices gleaned from Google:
Oct 2001: 40p weekdays, 70p Sats, £1.20 Suns - £3.70 per week
Oct 2002: 45p weekdays, 80p Sats, £1.40 Suns - £4.45 per week
Sep 2006: 65p weekdays, £1.30 Sats, £2 Suns - £6.55 per week
Sep 2007: 70p weekdays, £1.40 Sats, £1.80 Suns - £6.70 per week
Aug 2008: 80p weekdays, £1.50 Sats, £2 Suns - £7.50 per week
Jan 2009: 90p weekdays, £1 Sats, £2 Suns - £7.50 per week

Labels: ,

11 March 2009

Barclaycard on the ball... and then not

Barclaycard contacted me on Saturday morning (7th) to ask if I'd just done a transaction for £1,000 with a mortgage provider on my business credit card. No! Then did you do £2,000 with an energy utility on Friday? No! What about all the other transactions? One other was fraudulent, a Pay As You Go phone top-up - I don't have a PAYG phone. Top marks for picking up the untypical transactions, two of which weren't what I would consider as suitable items for a business account.

The disclaimer form arrived today - and included a number to which it could be faxed after completion. And guess what - no answer (multiple times), number busy, no answer. Less than top marks for that.

Labels: , , ,

23 April 2008

Bloody Gillette

They've just put their prices up again. Over £6 for four Mach3 Turbo blades. The girl in Superdrug wanted nearly a tenner for a pack of five. The pattern seems to be the same each year. Shops run out of the blades at the current price, racks empty. It's strange how they all seem to run out at the same time.

Then Hallelujah! Some fancy new device arrives, with even more expensive replacements, accompanied by another stupid and no doubt very pricey advertising campaign. If you can get them, the supplies for your existing razor are jacked up at the same time. This pattern seems eerily familiar - every year? And the price seems the same pretty much everywhere - in this country and abroad. The marketing department from hell.