To start with: I have been so naive, when I have thought there wouldn’t be much differences between the UK and Germany. Although the differences might be smaller than to other countries in the world, they are still significant.
Not yet arrived, I had my first cultural shock when dealing with call centers. Getting things sorted is much harder than expected (if you are not used to the way it works in the UK). The good thing about call centers in the UK is that the time to hold the line until someone answers is shorter compared to Germany. The bad thing is, that you need a lot more calls and that the calls take you a lot more time.
The major issue seems to be that there are pretty well defined processes for most of the problems a customer may have. In addition, the call center staff is very well trained in following these processes. Unfortunately, this results in inflexibility. If you are not able follow the intended process, you will be stuck somewhere in the process and the call center staff will tell you as often as you want (or not want): “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
My favourite story with call centers so far is, how I blocked and unblocked my online banking. The story started when I tried to make the first payment from my UK bank account. The payment was urgent to move forward in the rental process (which is a separate story to tell). As in Germany, each payment made online has to be approved by a unique number. In the UK, this number is generated by a so called card reader, a little device looking like a pocket calculator which is able to provide you with a number when inserting your debit card and entering your PIN for the debit card. However, we were (and are still not) able to enable the card reader for our bank account.
In order to get the card reader enabled, I called the call center. As the call center staff had no immediate solution, she suggested to make the payment by phone, which I appreciated as being a good idea. In order to identify myself and prevent fraud, the relevant team for making telephone payments asked me some security questions. My name and my date of birth were straight forward. My address, however, not. My first attempt was to tell our German address, which we have provided in our application for the bank account. To some reason, this was wrong. My next attempt was my UK office address. However, this was also not working. So, what to do then? I had to admit that I don’t know the address and need to check my documents. Unfortunately, this made the call center to block my online and telephone banking and to ask me to identify myself at a bank branch. As I found out later, the address of my branch was taken as address for my bank account. Who would have thought this? At least not me…
The second part came when unblocking the online banking. As I have been told by the call center, I went to a branch, explained the problem and that I needed to identify at a branch. Surprisingly, the branch staff has not heard about the process before and first asked me to set-up a new online banking account on a tablet provided in the branch (I suppose that was the process as trained). As this did not work, the staff asked me to call the call center for solving the problem, which I could do in the branch. I did how I was told and called the call center. I was told to ask the branch staff to leave a note in the IT system that I was in the branch. Afterward I should call again. After the branch staff left the note, I called again and was put through to the team for unblocking the system (a first success). However, this team was not happy with the note in the IT system and wanted to talk to the branch staff. Luckily, I was still in the branch. After talking with the call center, the branch staff also needed to update our address as it was still set to the branch’s address. After updating the address, the online banking should work again, I was promised.
Actually, the online banking was unblocked. But it took me about an hour in the branch. In course of saying goodbye to each other, the branch staff told us, that Germany is know for its efficiency. I answered politely that I have heard about this reputation before but thought that it is not difficult to be more efficient than spending one hour for unblocking the online banking.