Ensuring the cart doesn’t get spectacularly in front of the horse


I rarely use credit cards, but I keep one for situations when only a credit card is accepted. That happened a few weeks ago, and I spent a grand total of £9.38.

Mind you, I had to phone the card company first, to make sure the card was active. On the due payment date, out went the direct debit from my bank account. I know, because I checked.

So on Saturday morning I was surprised by a call from my card provider.

I got the pause and crackle which told me this wasn’t a local call centre. The woman couldn’t pronounce my name, and I could hardly understand her accent, so what with the obligatory misunderstandings through the security questions, we were off to a good start.

My direct debit had been returned. I was a week behind with my payment. This was, if not the actual end of the world, a pretty close approximation.

I checked again, and the direct debit had indeed been returned. Then the fun began. It must have been my fault – insufficient funds (not according to my online account, which showed me well within my limit through the month).

Warming to her theme, the woman continued. Was I employed? Did I have sufficient income to cover my outgoings? Next stop, debtor’s prison, clearly.

With as much good grace as I could muster, I cut off the interrogation by paying the entire £9.38 on the spot.

I’d barely put down the phone when the post arrived. It contained a letter from my card provider to let me know that as I hadn’t used the card for some time, they’d helpfully cancelled the direct debit…

No system is perfect. Nonetheless, one of Britain’s largest retail banks should have safeguards in place to ensure that the cart doesn’t get quite so spectacularly in front of the horse.

If you’re responsible for customer communications, you may want to double-check your own systems. You may also want to see what information you hold on a customer, before jumping to conclusions.

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Rod Hirsch is Global Director Brand and Content at Thunderhead. Joining the Thunderhead team in 2010, Rod has spearheaded the development of the Thunderhead voice, building the company’s brand strategy and content and bringing alive its vision and expertise in multi-channel customer engagement. With over 30 years in the business of building brands for B2B clients, Rod has combined strategic thinking and tactical implementation to deliver award-winning programmes for starts-ups and multinationals alike.