Thursday, June 25, 2015

THE GIRL STAR OF ABSA BANK'S CUSTOMER CARE

Dear Credit Card users,
           Shona Herbst is the star of Absa Bank’s customer service even though her name is far down its who’s who list.
On this occasion she completely outshone the top brass including possibly Maria Ramos the Bank’s head, who is also the CEO of Britain’s Barclays Africa Group which now owns Absa.
          I say possibly because I sent emails to maria.ramos@absa.co.za but I never got a reply from her. I know that CEO’s like her are very busy and have to be protected from complaining clients like me, but what’s the point in her having a personal email address if she doesn’t reply personally.
          Shona, who works at a small branch in Cape Town, had the final answer to my problem after head office had bungled its way around for months with inexplicable answers to my many emails and phone calls.
          Here is her story. 
          Actually it’s mine but she is the heroine.      
          I was the victim of a scam on my Absa credit card by a company from goodness knows where with the picturesque “merchant name” of Pinnacle.com8668076974.  
          The worst part of my experience however was the way Absa’s head office in Johannesburg sided with the crooks.
          When both my wife and I had been loyal clients for something like 20 years I didn’t expect my word to be completely ignored especially when it was backed by solid facts.
          My case was fortified even further by numerous internet tales of woe of people having been defrauded by what was clearly the same organisation because the method, the product and even the amounts of money matched my experience.  
        

         
The only person who believed me from start to finish was Shona.        
         


        Here’s what happened.  In August 2014 I was Googling away when I came across this Marie Claire magazine cover that was all about skin care. With it were two trial offers for creams at R110 each. I completed the on-line order for one of each with my credit card details and the transactions went through on 7 August 2014 according to my card statement.


Initially I didn’t think there was anything odd when the order failed to arrive as there had been a postal strike in South Africa.
          I was only alerted to the scam in December when I got my card statement showing that two unauthorised amounts of R1087 had been charged to my account the previous month in the name of these two products. So I contacted Matt Loy head of the Digital section of Associated Media Publishing that publishes Marie Claire in South Africa.
          He told me that the cover I had seen was a fake as they had never run or promoted the banners in question. He said this looked like a scam and suggested I contact my bank as soon as possible to request a charge back for all the amounts.                 

 So that’s what I did at my local Long Beach Mall Absa Branch. There Shona picked up the phone right away and told the Card Division to reverse all four payments.
          This is how the saga continued.
February 2/ 2015: I followed up with an email to Absa’s Disputes department giving the reference number Herbst had given me.  “I was told the amounts involved could be reversed,” I wrote. “Can you tell me what is happening about this?”
That’s when the bungling started.
February 9: Disputes consultant Minzelle van Wyk replied by email asking me for all the details I had already given to the branch. I told her she should be able to get this with the reference number the branch had given me otherwise what was the point of me being given one. I also tried to call her at the 086 number given at the bottom of her email. The woman who answered said they did not know her. And when I told her Minzelle was in the Disputes department she said they could not put calls through to that section.

February 10: My next move was to complain to Yolande Fourie CEO Complaint Adjudicator who I got when I phoned the CEO’s office about the bad service I was getting. She emailed me saying she was sorry about the way I had been treated and asked for the name of the person at the branch who had helped me “as disputes seem to have a problem tracing the information.” I replied saying, “I realise it is not your fault but it certainly caps it all to hear that Disputes has lost the information” I then repeated my complaint to her.

February 11: I emailed Yolande again saying that Doctor (that appears to be his name) Mohlala the manager of the Disputes department at her Credit Card Division had phoned me to ask me for the information in the email I had just sent her. “He said he hasn’t been in touch with you when I told him I had given you the answers to the questions he was asking,” I explained. “It seems the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing at Absa.”

February 11: Evidently as a result of Shona’s call my card was credited with all four amounts although I was unaware of this at the time as I had not yet seen my statement dated February 13.
February 12: Yolande emails me to say she has escalated the matter “to card Division” and she gives me a new reference number. She evidently didn’t know that the amounts had already been charged back.

          I was relieved when I saw the four credits on my February 13 statement and I was happy everything had been sorted out without me losing a cent.
          How wrong I was.
          What the bank didn’t tell me until well into April 2015 was that when the credits were made they kept me in the dark about the possibility that they could be reversed at a later stage when the “transaction vouchers” were received from the merchant.

April 14: My card statement showed that the four transactions were back.

It was now more than six months since my card was debited with the initial amounts and I still hadn’t received the creams they were expecting me to pay for.

April 16: When I told Yolande what had happened she replied that she could not help me as she was on maternity leave. She suggested I contact my branch, the card division or I could email CEO@absa.co.za.  This email address is misleading. It gives the impression that it gets you straight to Maria Ramos. It doesn’t. You get an automatic reply and it’s not a direct line to her.

          After calling head office once more I started all over again, this time with another CEO Complaint Adjudicator Charmaine Sharp.

April 21: Here’s what Sharp told me in an email with my comments in brackets. “The items (charges) were returned in February as per your request, but were presented again as according to the company this is a valid transaction. You need to provide proof that you have tried to stop these transactions.” I replied saying that on 14 December 2014 I sent an email stating that “on 7 August 2014 I bought a trial offer of the two skin creams and I authorised for a total of R220 to be taken off my card. Needless to say I have not received the creams and now more money is being deducted from my card quite illegally. I can only conclude that this cream promotion is a swindle unless you can convince me otherwise.” The reply I got was that my ticket had been submitted and I must let them know if I have any issues. No name of the sender or the company was given. Charmaine attached 56 pages the firm had sent to justify that the transactions were valid and added, “According to the tracking sheets the goods were delivered as well. You need to provide proof that you have returned the goods” (This was impossible as I had never received them).

The merchant’s documents themselves prove what a fraud it was but the Bank ignored the obvious discrepancies. The staff kept repeating that I must be liable because I gave my card details; agreed to the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs), even though I never saw them and had received the goods. Here are some of the many examples that showed how the supplier’s laughable gaffes completely supported my allegations.

Example 1: The firm stated: “Received email (this is the one mentioned under April 21 above) 14/12/14 disputing trial charge, didn’t receive yet. Replied with terms and conditions verifying shipping address and offering reship and 25% refund.” This was not the reply I got and I never saw the T&C’s until they were sent in the bundle of 56 pages. These showed that they had evidently got another scam mixed up with mine. They referred to products which I never ordered. “So who in their right mind would accept these conditions?” I asked my Bank. “I ordered Cellapuria and Amabella to improve the skin whereas the T&C’s referred to weight reducing products Cleanse EFX and SlimGenix Pro.”

Example 2: The T&C’s also allegedly gave them the right to automatically deduct various amounts from my card on a monthly basis after my initial order with other impossible to comply with conditions.

Example 3: The firm claimed I was “still benefiting from the product I received in exchange for this transaction” and that it was sent to me by “Registered letter.” It never dawned on Absa’s head office staff that in South Africa registered letters have to be collected from the post office where you have to sign for them and show your ID document. And no evidence of this was produced as it never happened.

April 28: After telling me she was now closing the case on her side Charmaine sent me feedback she got from Nell Skosana, another Disputes consultant. Skosana in her wisdom decided that the bank was not “authorised to cancel any transaction” on my behalf. She quoted from Clause 16 of the Bank’s own Credit Card T&C’s that states “No dispute of whatever nature between the cardholder and a supplier shall exempt the cardholder from his liability to the bank in respect of payment.” It also stipulated that no dispute between me and a supplier would allow me to instruct the bank to refuse to pay a supplier or to do a charge back. This took the absurdity prize that Absa had already won hands down in its handling of this matter to a new height. “If this is the part of your T&C’s that you are now relying upon why did Absa reverse my payment in the first place,” I asked. “And if I can’t instruct the bank to do charge backs why do you have a whole charge back department?”

April 29: Charmane sent me Dawn Minnaar Team Leader, Issuing Chargebacks' “final response from the Card Division.” Here’s what Minnaar said in her email and my reply with my subsequent comments in brackets. “As stated by the merchant, the cardholder accepted the Terms and Conditions at time of purchase and the goods have been delivered. Due to all the attached information and validity of all the information (this was not true as all the information was definitely not valid as I have shown earlier in this post), we cannot assist further and suggest the cardholder contact the merchant to resolve the issue with them to obtain a refund.” My response to Minnaar was: “Are all my emails being given to the people (at least nine people or more dealt with this at one stage or other - a system tailor made for mistakes) who are taking decisions in this matter because I can’t believe the lies that are being circulated about me in emails by members of Absa’s staff. In your email you state as fact things that are not true. You say I accepted the Terms and Conditions when I never saw them, so I could hardly accept them. That’s how the fraud works. Don’t let the customer see them and then put much higher amounts through his credit card and claim this was according to the Terms and Conditions. How many people would knowingly give an unknown company what was virtually a blank cheque to draw against their credit card? You also say the ‘goods were delivered’ with the only inference being that either my wife or I received them and are denying that ever happened.” I pointed out that the T&C’s referred to weight reducing products when I had ordered ones for skin care. I also gave her links to five websites that mentioned people who had been scammed by what appeared to be the same people.

April 29: Charmaine tells me “The matter will be sent to the Fraud Department.”       
     
When I was at my branch I felt I should give Shona an update on the latest developments. She immediately phoned the Card Division and arranged for my card and my wife’s (her’s is linked to mine) to be cancelled and for new ones to be issued. She did what head office should have done months earlier. Very effectively with just one phone call she stopped the crooks from getting any more money                               from my account.

May 5: Charmaine gave me this encouraging news: “If you do not stop or attempt to stop the transaction Card Division cannot assist and it will be debited against your account again.”

May 5: I told the supplier I had received no product; I didn’t want anything of any kind from it and they were not authorizing to deduct money from my credit card. The surprising reply was that all further shipments to me had been cancelled but there was no mention of amounts already taken off my account.



May 6: In an email addressed to Maria Ramos I sent a copy of the May 5 email mentioned above that I had received from the supplier. I told her: “On  the face of it the crooks have decided that they have milked this cow long enough with the help of Absa Bank  and it’s now time to move on to another sucker. The way this entire case has been handled by Absa’s head office staff has been absolutely shocking. Absa is aiding and abetting crime, hardly a good example especially when it is a sponsor of Businesss Against Crime SA which describes one of its roles as ‘to get business’ own house in order’ by eliminating crime-enabling processes. Well it’s obvious that Absa’s house is far from in order.”

May 7:  Much against the run of play I got an email from Minnaar saying that all four amounts had been credited to my account once again. 

          I decided to pass the details of my experience on to Wendy Lucas-Bull the Chairperson of Barclays Africa in the hope that she would do her best to ensure that no other Absa client gets the same treatment if they get scammed like I did.
          She has been described as the “saviour of banks” after turning an ailing First National Bank around when she was its CEO so I couldn’t have had a better person to contact.
          She got Ian Smith, Head CEO & Specialist Complaints at Barclays Africa, to looking into my complaint. Shona had done the right thing he told me. “We have congratulated her via telephone and a formal note to her line management. Truly appreciate your support and the time taken to acknowledge our staff on a job well done.”  
          THANKS AGAIN SHONA FOR BEING THE BRIGHTEST LIGHT IN YOUR BANK. THANKS FOR KEEPING PERSONAL SERVICE AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION ALIVE IN AN AGE WHEN IT HAS ALL BUT BEEN REPLACED BY IMPERSONAL CALL CENTRES AND INEFFICIENCY.

Click here:
Good and Bad Banks

Regards,
          Jon, a long standing Absa Bank client who had every right to anticipate far better treatment from the head office staff.

P.S. As a Consumer Watchdog I can’t always be wide awake especially as I am required to be on guard most of the time. However this has been a valuable eye opening lesson about loyalty - the client can be this to his Bank but he can’t automatically expect to get it in return. 




                                                                                                                                                     




          

2 comments:

  1. Well done Shona. You should be the CEO

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  2. FNB isn't all that wonderful either, they tied up 80k of mine a few years ago for something like 8 months until they could finally decide I *hadn't* bought 30 or 40 plane tickets and cashed them out in Indonesia, whilst still using my card daily in Cape Town.

    ReplyDelete