Poor Customer Service Exposed: Mortgage from The Woolwich (Barclays Bank)[2]

Open letter to John Varley, CEO, Barclays Bank (BARC), from a Barclays shareholder concerning spectacular failure of The Woolwich Mortgage Retention Team

26 Cheney Way
Cambridge CB4 1UD
John Varley,
Barclays Bank,
54 Lombard St.,
London EC3P 3AH
22nd August 2006

Re: Open letter from a Barclays shareholder (BARC) concerning spectacular failure of The Woolwich Mortgage Retention Team

Dear Mr Varley,

I write, as a Barclay’s shareholder, to bring your attention to the spectacular failure of your mortgage retention team at The Woolwich.

I first took out a mortgage with The Woolwich in 2000 and got a decent low rate for the first 2 years and then felt dismayed at being locked in for the next 3 years. I’ve been out of the lock in period for a while now, paying SVR at 6.59%, and continuing to do that out of laziness (or inertia as I believe it is called in banking parlance).  Throughout this period I have had rare occasion to call The Woolwich but the rudeness from the call centre in Cardiff is something that stays with me (you perhaps would not have had direct experience of this since I see from the press that your own mortgage is with HSBC).

Well, this paying SVR because of inertia has got to stop – the game is up. Being somewhat lazy again I thought I should consider another Woolwich mortgage. The Open Plan Offset product is exactly what I wanted and has an excellent rate. I thought to bury my previous feelings about Cardiff and just get on with it and change product.

I called The Woolwich to enquire about an Open Plan mortgage and got some good advice. It was indeed the product for me. I’d decided to pay the application fee (£595) and go with the 4.98% deal, instead of going with the 5.25% deal, which has no application fee.

I was ultimately connected to the retention team in Cardiff and was soon reminded of their surly attitude and basic rudeness. When I explained that I was going for the 4.99% deal with the application fee I was immediately informed that it would be another £100 for “rate change”. When I explained that the mortgage advisor had not mentioned this, and indeed I had not seen it on the website, I was told, “If you don’t send it in we can’t process the mortgage” in that special Cardiff call centre surly manner. They told me that if I didn’t want to pay the “rate change” fee that I could go with the 5.25% option instead, which has no fees. This I found quite confusing because the 5.25% product is billed as having no application fee but it is still a rate change, so why is there a “rate change” fee in one case and not in the other. After much sighing from Cardiff I managed to get to a supervisor who was also completely disinterested in retaining my business. I asked what incentive there was for an existing customer to re-mortgage with The Woolwich with such fees. I just got more sighing and a ‘rules is rules’ attitude.

In the end I asked how to make a complaint and got put through to the complaints department. I was quite surprised by the background noise in the office of the complaints department. I couldn’t tell when the operator was talking to me or when she was talking to a colleague. I mentioned my consternation about the “rate change” fee and the usual awful service and rudeness from Cardiff. Mostly what I got in response were long delays and the sound of a keyboard tapping away. Eventually she said, “so did you want to make a complaint about Cardiff too”. Well, yes I did, that was really the point of my call.

I have recently received a letter from The Woolwich dated 19th July. It says, “I am looking into your concerns and will let you have a response or update as quickly as I can but no later than 16 August 2006.” It seems clear that The Woolwich has no interest in retaining my business. I have had a mortgage with you for nearly 6 years and have never missed a payment. I was attracted by your new Open Plan Offset deal but the abysmal level of customer services shown has really put me off. Friends have told me that I shouldn’t worry, and that you can mostly manage the account online but I’m afraid it is not enough. I mostly manage my Smile account online too but when I need to speak to a person it’s like speaking to a super-helpful friend. I’m afraid this makes a difference to me.

After talking with The Woolwich I phoned Smile. They don’t have the offset mortgage deal that I want and I will need to phone them every month to overpay on the mortgage but you know, that’s ok, I like talking to them and with their regular improvements in customer service I think the system will improve too. Their product rate is 0.01% higher than yours but the application fee is only £399 and I have faith they will manage all the details for me – they’ve proved that before. Oh, and they have a very good ethical policy too, which suits me well.

I write then, as a shareholder, to ask, what you are going to do about this dreadful customer services that can only drive customers away from The Woolwich? I would be interested to know what the Net Promoter Score is for Woolwich products. In the interest of growing The Woolwich business and enhancing shareholder value, what is to be done about this continual rot in The Woolwich customer services organization?

Please note that this open letter will be reproduced on www.litsl.com and I will, of course, be prepared to post your reply there too. You can find this letter by typing 'woolwich customer services' into google.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Carl Myhill

(Head of User Experience, GE Network Reliability Products and Services)