Regularly flying out from the London airports, I’ve been expertly brainwashed into the image of HSBC as the “worldwide local bank”. Their campaigns are witty. They highlight cultural differences around the globe. Like the poster showing three identical images of a grasshopper. The caption reads: USA = “Pest”, China = “Pet”, Thailand = “Appetiser”. I’m convinced this is a bank with ample global and local expertise for wherever my company’s business takes me.
I’m somewhat perplexed when I visit the local bank branch and find they closed at 3:30pm. My impression of the worldly financial institution dwindles further the next morning when I manage to enter the tired half-empty premises. The lone cashier informs me through a drive-in type speaker system from behind the bullet-proof glass wall that they do not offer Business Services at this branch.
Off to the Internet it is. Not able to tick all the boxes of the bank’s online application criteria, I’m forced to the mercy of the automated menu maze of their call centre. First, I’m delighted with “The number you have called is chargeable”. Thank you. Then, navigating the initial menu options, I get a less than helpful recorded tip “Did you know that you can also apply online? Simply visit…”. The minutes tick by. I fail to grasp why companies insist on having looped on-hold music. So irritating.
Wait, problem solved. There’s a chat service on their website. Andrew, chatbot, virtual assistant, chatterbot, virtual agent, conversational agent, brand agent, virtual employee. I quickly type a short three-sentence description of my enquiry into the chat box. The reply is almost instantaneous. But Andrew is clearly having a bad day. He can only deal with one sentence at a time.
The muzak continues with an occasional burst of static. I finally reach an agent. She listens to my request and decides to connect me to a different department. I’m put through to Trade, where another agent determines I should really be talking to Business Services. She kindly offers to place me in their phone queue. More menus. “Press 1 or alternatively, select one of the following…”. More waiting. Until I’m asked to punch in the sort code of my branch. If I only had one.
I’ve given up on Andrew, so I call the initial number again. Having memorised the menu options, I’m enjoying the on-hold music in record time. Great. This time I tell the agent I want to set up an appointment with a Business Specialist. A real person. At a real office. Sure, she just needs to take a few details off me first. We go through my entire life history for the past three years, before she says that she’s unable to access the calendar availability of the branch. But I’m welcome to call them.
I further cultivate my mobile bill with another hour of outgoing call time, explain to a call centre operator that there is a Kingston in South-West London, write a stern email to the branch I want to visit, and receive an apologetic reply, before I’m at long last telephoned back by a Business Specialist. Let’s see if this “worldwide local bank” can now live up to my expectations.