Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Off the hook

We have a very simple (or so we think) task to perform.

Children of deceased parent own the freehold of a very ordinary residential property subject to the life tenancy of parent’s surviving spouse. It’s all beautifully documented with a declaration of trust and the Land Register in neat order.

Life tenant has the property insured and we can note our client’s interest as freeholders on the policy. It’s all agreed in principle.  Life tenant has spoken to insurers and has a named contact who just wants the detail from us.

Can we get anybody to give us an e-mail address??  We telephone to try.  Named contact is not there this week.  Colleague will do no more than leave a message for that contact to call back.

So, now the prospect of numerous calls backwards and forwards and nothing getting done.  Why do insurers and banks insist so often that this is the only way they will operate?

Is it because they can ignore the telephone, or hide behind layers of robotic messages that drain the spirit of even the most avid enquirer?

Is it because it’s not possible by telephone, as it is with e-mail, to create a portfolio of all the failed attempts to connect and perhaps produce that at a later stage to an ombudsman or judge?

Is it because they have a minority of people capable of composing basic written communications?

Or is it more sinister than that – is it that they’re happy to let people loose on the telephone where the inaccuracy or inadequacy of what was said is far less likely to be recorded? 

It’s not just lack of evidence that we have to be concerned with in a society that seems to care less and less about the truth.

How many of these institutions record conversations “for training purposes” with the result that they have a record of what was said but the caller doesn’t?

I defended a client against the aggressive claims of an electricity supplier a couple of years ago where, because it was a business contract, they were able in principle to rely on a verbal contract recorded over the telephone.  We would not accept what they insisted repeatedly would have been agreed and we demanded production of the transcript.

Eventually, it came and with it the observation that..... oh – there had been a mistake and their operator had in fact agreed a much lower rate.  We were right.

One wonders in these situations how many times that unfavourable recording would be lost or erased in circumstances where it was a customer or client on the attack rather than trying to fend off a claim.

The great virtue of telephone communication used to be that it was quick and easy by comparison with every other medium. Well, e-mail is now generally quicker, easier and safer.

It’s there when you’re ready to read it – not just right now. It says what it says and doesn’t (generally) change.  It transports other documents in a variety of formats, or through links to other web locations.

There doesn’t seem to be any acceptable or legitimate reason for organisations – notably banks and insurers – refusing to recognise these truths.

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