Hello, how may we abuse you today?

Paolo Kernahan -
Paolo Kernahan -


BANKS in TT needn't bother improving their customer service. Consumers swallow what they serve because overpriced, subpar service is all that's on the menu – everywhere.

Last week “de madame” called, shall we say, bank A about her soon-to-expire credit card. She needed to know whether her new card was available. Speaking with the customer disservice rep she started by saying, “The expiry date of my credit card is looming (She doesn't talk so fancy. Those are my words), but I haven't gotten any mail...”

The person on the other end butts in abruptly, “We don't send credit cards out in the mail.” This is what almost all customer service goons do – cut you off assuming they know the rest of what you're going to say. Nine times out of nine they're wrong. This isn't a Taylor Swift song.

De madame persisted, “I was going to say before you cut me off that I haven't gotten any notification in the mail about the new card.”

Without apology, the rep replies, “Oh, well you will have to call your home branch to find out.” Given that I'm within earshot I can hear the conversation deteriorate further.

Typically, if ever you get someone to answer a call, the customer gets a hearty helping of haughty derision, a thickening air of contempt, and a broadly unhelpful, condescending demeanour. Who the hell needs that? Life is hard enough as it is. Now we're expected to tango with someone more miserable with their life than we are with ours?

Furious with the way she was treated, de madame did the only responsible thing she could – she reported the bank in question to Facebook. Eventually, someone seeing her post responded: “So sorry about your experience. Can you DM us the query with your card?”

What a surprise. The bank completely missed the point about their deplorable customer service.

It wouldn't be a shock to hear that this bank's customer service queries are handled by a private, offshoring company. Those hired guns, however, represent the bank. What they do, and how they interact with customers directly reflect the values of the financial institution. They don't care, ergo the bank doesn't care.

Customer contempt prevails at the highest levels of the banking sector. Like mould, once it finds a suitable environment, it can take root anywhere.

Not long ago “my” bank was having serious problems with their online banking platform. Alleged upgrades applied to the system triggered havoc for users. In response to public anguish, a senior official demurred, “Not that many customers were affected.”

It's unclear what this organisation's threshold of customer dissatisfaction is before they trot out at least some manufactured concern.

Dedicated disregard wouldn't be so intolerable if it weren't so widespread. Experiences I've had with other financial institutions have been similarly draining.

In an earlier relationship with another institution, a grievous error caused the lapse of an insurance policy I'd been paying for years. The bank was minimally apologetic and did not explain how such a catastrophe could have happened.

I've been swinging from bank to bank like a monkey hoping for better service; they're all gru gru bev trees.

I was even willing to try one that was never on my radar. In the fresh days of this exciting, new romance this bank said and did all the right things. That changed soon enough. During the pandemic, I placed an order for cheque books through their offshored customer services, handled by some foreign outfit. The customer service reps were courteous and helpful because they weren't Trinidadian. They took my particulars and processed the order.

Where everything fell apart was at the local level. With the relationship consummated, my bank claimed to have never received the order. As such, no cheque books were available, putting me in a tight spot. When I interrogated a bank employee on the source of the miscommunication she became visibly irritated and prickly.

The cure for widespread dreadful customer service is simple enough – an investment in customer service training and regular evaluations of employee performance influenced, in part, by a culture of customer reviews. The reason banks don't need to bother with any of this is even simpler – they don't have to.

For those of you wondering why I didn't name specific banks, that's precisely the point; they are all the same.

Regardless of how banks treat customers, they still boast obscene profits. Soaring revenues, an absence of accountability, and a shared monopoly tell them change isn't necessary.


"Hello, how may we abuse you today?"

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