Yesterday I got a bit side-tracked. An excellent 2000 Saint Julien helped loosen my brain and lubricate my writing. I didn't stop much for fact-checking or to find ludicrous synonyms, and I certainly didn't bother to write with the subject in mind that I had earlier set myself. The bail-out of Ireland was only meant to provide the backdrop to a banking horror story that I've gone through recently. Instead of tagging this onto a post that looked, though the haze of a good red wine, as if it could stand on its own, I decided to dedicate another post to the topic of incompetent companies and their place in the modern economy. You will find that it connects smoothly with what I wrote yesterday.
The eponymous bad bank of the previous post is Santander. This originally Spanish bank had entered the British market quite a while ago, mostly unnoticed. About a year ago, they introduced their brand name to retail customers and have since been trying quite hard to increase their market share, aggressively advertising deals that often sound too good to be true.
I was caught in their close-meshed net at the beginning of this year when shopping for a suit. I was about to pay when the shop assistant offered me a store card, complete with MasterCard and Santander logos and twenty percent off my first purchase. As I said yes, thick smoke seeped in from womens' wear and a ear-piercing fire alarm went off. I should have taken this as a warning, but I came back half an hour later to sign the card application. The suit I left on the hanger; it had a hole in it.
The credit card was much worse. It came with a credit limit that wouldn't get me through a week if I had to spend all my salary on it. It has frequently failed me, sometimes on the sharp gravel of far-off lands, when one large transaction (like a flight) prevented another (like a car rental deposit). If the card were just useless, I could simply use another, but it has recently assaulted me with customer service that's so spectacularly poor that it amounts to abuse, and that's harder to stomach.
My credit card account is linked to my bank account, so that each month's balance is always paid in full. Last month, this didn't work. There was no explanation and no apology. In contrast, I had to call Santander twice to make the payment, and then again to get the late payment fees and interest charged canceled that the bank had quickly slapped onto my account to punish me for their blunders - all the while I was receiving threatening letters concerning my alleged non-payment.
I shouldn't have been surprised. Santander really is that bad. Surveys done by the consumer finance information and discussion website moneysupermarket.com have repeated ranked Santander as the worst by far. In line with this, my letter of complaint has gone unanswered. Now I'm really glad I didn't sign up for their current account, a very poor deal indeed despite the £100 sign-up bonus and 5% interest on balances up to £2,500 for the first year.
In the same league as Santander plays Hertz, another unapologetic bottom feeder. I've written about this before, and there's not much to add. Hertz's rates are second to none in Europe, but the customer's experience couldn't be worse. It pays to pay a bit more. I will certainly not rent with Hertz again.
The third company that has shocked me with its incompetence and lacking focus on the customer is eBay. I hadn't used them in a while. With their fees going up every few months, there didn't seem to be a need. In London, gumtree does a decent job of matching sellers and potential buyers. But I was in the market for a little radio to complement my hifi stack and there's an unlimited supply on eBay. I made the single bid on a Technics that I could pick up halfway across town. All was good.
All stayed good until I noticed cheap Wee remotes and remembered the kind of tricks I've always wanted to play with my MacBook. Presentations in style, for example. I bought one now, but it never arrived. Worse, the transaction disappeared from my list of items won/purchased. Serious eBay flaw, I thought. I contacted them but never heard back. Luckily, I found a record of the transaction on my paypal account and could trace the seller. His recent feedback is horrible. My mistake for not checking but eBay's for not closing the account and protecting its members.
I'm not the only one to have opened a case against this seller, and yet his store is still accessible. It is quite obvious that eBay doesn't care. When I opened the case, I received an email stating that resolution of the problem couldn't be expected within another ten days and that, in effect, the guys at eBay were hard at work waiting for the issue to go away. Getting out of the way is great when things go well between seller and buyer, but when there are problems, there'd better be someone to contact. Try to contact eBay. All you can do is put one of a number of approved questions into a form. They say you can call them too, but they won't tell you the number. Stay away from eBay!
Santander, Hertz and eBay are the worst companies I had the misfortune of doing business with in the past year. If any of them went under, it would be a reason to celebrate. I would be happy, and the nation would be better off. Fingers crossed.
Astute readers of this blog (and I don't think I have any of another kind) will wonder why Ryanair doesn't feature in this worst-of list. They are, after all, Europe's most offensive airline, and I flew with them earlier this year. True enough, but at least Ryanair is honest about it. They don't pretend to like their customers. They hate them and screw them openly. They're in a different category altogether, having the same effect on a budget traveler as a whip does on a masochist. You know what you get with Ryanair and that it will hurt, but with Santander, Hertz and eBay, people might still have illusions. Don't say I didn't warn you.