Customer avoidance

August 11, 2012

I had reason to pay a visit to a large branch of the HSBC bank recently. I’m not a customer of theirs but needed to pay a cheque in for someone else to a bank that they supply a service for. The sliding doors revealed a dimly lit interior full of machines that one is expected to carry out ones transactions through – if you can see which one is the appropriate one in the plush surroundings more reminiscent of a 70’s night club. After wandering about looking for the correct paying-in slip or a service counter I found a lift that indicated there was a service desk on the ground floor but the only one I found was for business customers. I stopped a young assistant, obviously the modern day equivalent of the department store floor walker who directed me to the first floor – I informed her that the lift claimed one was on the ground floor but only received a look that indicated that I was wrong.

Making my way up the stairs (I didn’t trust the lift!) I found a service desk hidden in a far corner with two staff behind glass and a short queue. This journey was quite a long one from the front door, so entirely designed to discourage face-to-face custom. Patiently waiting my turn I was eventually seen to be told that I couldn’t pay the cheque in without a pre-printed paying-in slip – something I had actually managed to do at a smaller rural branch in the past, but times had obviously changed and HSBC were intent on making life hard for customers unwilling to adapt to their systems.

Having got rid of a load of staff in April and now finding itself caught-out laundering money for gangsters and drug cartels, HSBC is obviously reinventing itself for a new market, but it’s not after ordinary customers who just want reasonable service. This was so unlike the Cooperative Bank branch I had just been into, where a cheery “Good Afternoon” had greeted me before I’d even put pen to paying-in slip.

I pray that in its attempts to be efficient government, including local government, avoid the HSBC model and focus on delivering service through systems that work.


Storm cloud

July 18, 2012

The recent stormy weather on the east coast of the USA should serve as a warning to all potential  and cloud users. The storm knocked out Google and some other providers for a time, and some of these were facilities used by government. In response the USACM, the US ACM Public Policy Council has published some guidance for US federal agencies but also a blog post extending this to state and local government. The post is entitled, slightly confusingly in my opinion, “USACM Makes Recommendations On Continuity of E-Government“.

There are two issues here in my opinion:

1. Web services and supporting applications – is there a joined-up business continuity plan between your web offering and the applications that may feed into it or from it?

2. If you have entered the cloud, is your cloud service replicated with more than one provider or does your provider ensure that it is replicated onto differing technology, on a different network, in a different area?

Local government web sites are different to central or federal in that they present multiple service opportunities to the citizen. Each one of these needs to be reviewed in terms of risk and resilience. If you put all your eggs into one Google, Amazon or other basket, is there the provision for a cut over to another location or network in the event of a disaster?

It may be that the risk is worth taking if it’s a less important application, but the business case needs to be considered from the citizens’ standpoint. Are the citizens likely to be financially challenged, as occurred when HSBC had problems in May 2012?