Perhaps it's a kind of contemporary morality tale. Several months ago I moved house. Two accounts I hold with one well known High Street bank helpfully provides a change of address slip on each monthly statement. Helpful customer that I am, I duly completed the slips and took them into my local branch the next time I was in town. The teller looked at me with a certain disdain, 'Oh, I don't need those, I 'll do it on screen.' Two minutes later I was assured all was changed and the slips were ripped up and consigned to the waste bin.
The next month the statements were delivered to the old address. I phoned to complain. After the usual 'Press this and press that, followed by hash. You are reminded that all calls are recorded for security purposes,' and having to detail the place of my mother's birth, I was assured that the corrections had been made.
You guessed it – the next month the statements were delivered to the old address. This time my wife went in person to the local branch to make sure all details on all accounts had been changed. 'Easily done, madam. Can't understand what's gone wrong. So sorry. It's all correct now.' This was interestingly followed up by a personal letter to me kind of apologizing. I say 'kind of' because the between the line message was that this was a security check to make sure I was still married to the woman who had appeared at the bank counter. Anyway at least the letter had come to the correct address.
The next month the statements were delivered to the old address. I phoned to complain. After pressing this and that and entering my security details – 'your security is our prime concern,' really? – I spoke to an advisor. 'This is awful,' she agreed, 'this shouldn't have happened.' 'Please hold so that I can speak to a supervisor.' The line went silent – that ominous silence that suggests your call has been dispatched to the outer reaches of digital space where nothing can be heard, ever. Then suddenly good news: 'I have credited £50 to your account as compensation for our failures. I am so sorry, this really shouldn't have happened. I understand your security concerns. This really shouldn't have happened. … …' This went on for several minutes until I began to feel uncomfortable for complaining. I beat a hasty telephonic retreat.
The next month one statement was delivered to the correct address, and one to the old address. Progress, or a computer glitch to fool me?
How am I to interpret this experience? I don't think anyone who dealt with my request had any ill-will towards me, but perhaps I'm fooling myself. Maybe my mistake was to ask a person to change the details. If I'd just posted the address slips perhaps the change would have happened seamlessly. Customer care might might really be shorthand for 'machines do all the caring here, don't try to speak to a person.' That's so often how it feels. Or is that the mass of detail in a computerized world is growing beyond what people can deal with? Behind the apparent detailed information there's actually something nearer chaos. World economics sometimes makes me suspect that. It's not very reassuring when the niggles of ordinary life appear to confirm that possibility.