Monday, 19 August 2013

Don't lie to your customers. Just don't, ok?

There I was, sitting at a coffee shop enjoying a late breakfast, minding my own business when my cellphone rang. It was a South African number, +27 (12) 991 0877.

A female voice asked if this was Mr Harriman and then announced that it was "Stanbic Bank South Africa" calling.

I responded politely, saying "No, it's not."

Yes it is, she maintained.

I suggested, still politely at this point, that it was not Stanbic Bank in South Africa and that I knew this for two reasons. Firstly there is no Stanbic Bank in South Africa. In South Africa it's called "Standard Bank".

Secondly, I pointed out, she was actually calling from "M & E Accounting Services", not Stanbic at all. I knew this because I'd looked up the number she was calling from. I suggested to her (I stress still politely) that opening a conversation about a banking matter with a lie is a bad idea.

Yes, she conceded, she was indeed calling from that company but that Stanbic Bank had told them to say this.

I repeated that I thought lying was a bad start to a conversation so she explained that they felt this was easier for customers in Botswana to understand and less likely to confuse us. Presumably because we are easily confused in Botswana, simple souls that we are.

By this stage I was irritated and I might even have been slightly less than polite. I firmly stated that I wasn't prepared to answer ANY further questions or provide any further details. She thanked me and said goodbye.

I don't blame the woman calling, it wasn't her fault that she had to phone me and irritate me. It wasn't her fault she was told that in Botswana we're easily confused and don't understand about borders. It wasn't her fault she had been told to lie.

I don't have a problem with a bank outsourcing calls like this, particularly when it follows that bank screwing up its credit card payment mechanism and leaving us all looking like we're behind with our payments when, in fact, we've done our best to make them.

So who is to blame? I think that's obvious, don't you?

My business mentor, Bill Marsden, my first boss in the private sector, told me that the first rule of business was never, ever to lie to a customer, firstly because it's wrong and secondly because the customer will almost certainly find out. Sorry Stanbic, you've been found out.

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