Why is it that all large organizations in the past few years who have set up an internet system for accepting people’s enquiries, payments etc always get it wrong in the beginning? I know why. It is because the people or companies they employ for setting up these systems are absolute geniuses, their websites cover all probabilities faced by the anxious customer. Prices, payments, passwords, terms and conditions, data protection, privacy rules and in some of them you can do your business in a multiplicity of languages. The only thing they forget about is the customer, the human being who has not just jumped out of the pages of George Orwell’s 1984, the human being with feelings, emotions and generally with an innate sense of fair play. Why should they not forget? They are web designers, anoraks, thrutches and worst of all third parties who do not inhabit this wholesome world of ours, but sit in front of screens and dream up systems.
The customer is the single most important piece in the business equation. Without the customer there would be no business, no employment and no need. So what we get is high tech companies delivering high tech channels through which the unconsidered customers can send their hard earned monies to automatons. What if something goes wrong? Well, we will set up a call centre and because the customer has not been considered, we will fill this call centre with non- empathising, unsympathetic, underpaid decendants of the Black and Tans and Auxillaries ” Saturday nights out”. They naturally have a bullying disposition and are able to spit down the phone.
Such a company is eFlow, an organization set up to manage the barrier-free collection of tolls on Irish Toll Roads which has been in operation since 30 August 2008. Now nobody minds teething problems but when the baby is approaching majority and still suffering it is time for the alarm bells to ring.
I have been through this barrier free tolling system twice in the 16 months of its operation, so I cannot be called a frequent user or even an experienced traveller but on the 18 October 2009 coming back to Roscommon from Dublin Airport, I let myself in for the full force of this bullying, customer last philosoph, of Ireland’s premier, barrier free tolling specialist.
It was around 5.00pm on a lovely October Sunday afternoon, after we had dropped off two of our daughters at the airport, having sampled the delights of the Shelbourne Hotel’s famous high tea. We, my wife and I that is,were in a happy mood as we went through the said system and then diverted off onto the N4 for our two hour journey home. So it must have been around 7.00pm when we drove onto our property and Helen, my wife of many years standing and not prone to lies, sat at the computer and through the eFlow barrier free toll website’s automatic collection system paid our €3 toll.
Imagine our surprise when, on 27 October 2009, we received a UTN from eFlow. A UTN, to you untrammelled people of the Gobi Desert, is an Unpaid Toll Notice that eFlow send out like Dail deputies send out Christmas cards. They informed me that because I had not paid my original €3 toll within seven days, I now had an additional charge of €3 , a total of €6 to be paid immediately.
I was alarmed and rang their lo-call number and was put through to a neanderthal Cork man, one of a team of simians working that day at eFlow barrier free tolling’s call centre. I explained to him my plight and he grunted as only the neanderthal can, that the payment was not on the system therefore we had not paid. Quod erat demonstrandum as they say in the maths class. It is not the duty of eFlow to prove they had been paid but it is the duty of the customer to prove that he has paid. After a few more minutes lambast from the prehistoric rebel, I put down the telephone and shivered. I decided on another approach and at 3.14pm that afternoon I availed of the email system displayed on the eFlow barrier free toll system website and explained what I had done.
Nothing until the 3 November 2009 when I received our monthly bank statement showing that €3 had been deducted from our account on 20 October 2009 and it had been credited to the eFlow barrier free toll account. By that same post I received another UTN from eFlow barrier free toll telling me that because I had not paid the original €3 or the additional charge of €3, I was now landed with a charge of €41.50 leaving me with a total charge of €47.50 and confirming that if I did not pay this within 56 days a TVN would be issued. To you Gobis that is a Toll Violation Notice, demanding a further €104.50, making a total of €146 which if not paid would result in an immediate prosecution and either a fine of up to €5,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.
My blood was up and I wrote a registered letter to eFlow confirming eveything that had taken place and told them also that I charge my fees out at a very reasonable €150 per hour and would appreciate this sum of €150 for system consultancy work to be paid by return. On 20 November 2009 I received a letter from eFlow Customer Services (I was wrong they obviously value their customers). The letter informed me that they had checked their call centre and there was no record of my telephone call to prehistory, my ensuing email or my money on their system but the money could be possibly traced if I was to give them fresh details of my payment method, card number, expiry date of my laser card and names of bank account holder. I was naturally and still am reluctant to divulge of this information to such a bullying, uncouth and disorganized company. I thought of Bertie’s biscuit tin and wondered if my money might be there. In this letter of the 20th they apologised like only eFlow Customer Services can and said “However due to the standard protocol to be followed in this circumstance this is the only method we can correctly follow in order to cancel all amounts due”
I wrote back to say that the original €3 had been massively overwhelmed by the threat of a six month jail sentence. I felt like Ned Kelly and Jack Duggan rolled into one. I also told them that my financial details were my own affair and their intimidating behaviour was the cause of my reticence and I also upped my fee to €200 having not received any recompense from my original charge.
December dawned and with it another eFlow letter apologizing for their poor service so far and the fact that my correspondence had been forwarded to their IT department. Perhaps this is a euphemism for their Accounts Department and perhaps I might receive my consultancy fees. They went on to say that I had made a “genuine attempt to pay your toll on time and correctly” but that they could not close the notice and they requested the same financial details and went on then to say “We acknowledge that you made a payment” but the notice still stands.
Can anybody out there tell me:-
1) Where is my money?
2) Will I get my consultancy fees?
3) What should I do now?
4) What is life like in Mountjoy?
5) Why is the world full of idiots and companies full of idiot systems held together with idiot protocols?
6) Where is Scotty?
7) If my original bill was €3 and my original fees were €150 does it mean that every employee of eFlow will get:-
€3 = 6 months
Therefore €150 = 300 months (or 25 years penal servitude).
Is it a little hard for writing idiot letters?