On Monday 11th April 2011, I was busy making plans for Richard to come home from the hospice. It was a hard-fought battle, as we needed to secure two live-in carers to help. This was because I had two very young children to look after and as much as they wanted to help, all our family lived 80 miles away or more and so couldn’t always commit to be here. I was in a state of heightened nervousness; I needed to make sure everything was just right for Richard, that the hospital bed was set up in the right place in the sitting room, that the house looked its best and that the carers’ room was clean and ready for them. And of course, I had the overriding knowledge that Richard was coming home to die. None of us knew when that was going to be, but I just hoped that his wish to die at home was going to be possible.
That was the first day I received a call from a credit card company – for now I will call them CC, although I am sure in time their actual name will come out. Expecting a call from the hospice, I answered the phone and heard someone asking to speak to Mr Smith. I explained that it wasn’t possible and asked if I could help. When they told me where they were calling from, I explained very clearly that they would never be able to speak to my husband, that he was dying and asked if they could please write to me and that I would sort the matter out at a more convenient time. I assumed that to be the end of it. How wrong could I have been?
We then seemed to be caught in a CC loop of hell. The calls increased in frequency. On the Tuesday I think I spoke to them twice. This was the day Richard came home and I could have done without speaking to a credit card company again, quite frankly. Richard died at 3.45pm on Wednesday 13th April. At around 4.30pm the phone rang and his sister Jenny answered it. It was CC. Jenny explained that her brother had just died. The caller said they would need to take some more information. Jenny again explained that her brother had just died and asked if they could call back at a better time. The caller’s response? To ask for his date of death! There was no compassion, no human response at all, just an insistence to get the information they needed, regardless of circumstances or suffering.
The following days should have been about grieving a wonderful man, of sorting out the death certificate, funeral and other arrangements. And they were. But interspersed in the pain of very early bereavement were the ever-increasing calls from CC. Whenever the phone rang, we could almost guarantee that it would be CC asking to speak to Mr Smith. I tried ever so hard to remain polite – quite possibly too hard, as when I did eventually blow I did it with gusto! Each time I spoke to them I would say very clearly that my husband had died and asked them to write and I would settle the account. At one point I remember asking to speak to a manager as I wanted to complain. The agent came back and told me not to worry as they had resolved the issue and I wasn’t in any trouble!! I insisted on speaking to a manager, who eventually deigned to speak to me. I said that I wanted recordings of every phone call the company had made to my house over the past week and that I would be complaining at the highest levels about the organisation. The manager told me that it would be impossible, as they didn’t keep recordings of customer calls. Of course I knew this to be a lie.
In a state of desperation, I googled the company and found the contact details for one of its key people. I emailed him at 3.46am on 15th April. He responded at 5am assuring me he would look into the matter as soon as he got into the office. That morning I received further phone calls from CC, asking to speak to Mr Smith. I wrote another email, stating that I would be contacting the police as I felt I was being harassed by his organisation. I think during one of those phone calls I may have advised the caller to fuck the fuck off and fuck off some more when he got there.
I then received an email from the company’s CEO and from that moment on, my view of the organisation was completely turned around. Instead of being an incredibly negative feature of Richard’s death, CC became a positive part of it. In the first instance, the CEO offered me his condolences and his sincere apologies for the distress his company had caused. He wrote off the outstanding balance on Richard’s credit card – I still have no idea how much he owed. He offered to make a substantial donation to the charity of my choice, which was the Katharine House Hospice, where Richard had been cared for so well. In addition to this donation, the teams responsible for the calls did their own fundraising events and raised a further £4,000. But much, much more than this, he changed the mindset of his organisation.
Now, instead of doubting the honesty of their customers, the agents are trained to accept what customers are saying to be the truth, after all, very few people do actually lie about such things. Employees are now trained, targeted and rewarded in different ways. Instead of the focus being solely on successful collections, customer satisfaction plays a big part. The calls between CC and me during that week of hell are now used in their training programme for collection agents and customer services representatives – a fantastic example of how not to speak to a bereaved customer.
A few months after this, the CEO came down to Banbury to meet me along with his senior management team. I then went to their offices and met some of the key members of staff, many of whom told me how they had been brought to tears by what had happened to me and the way I had been treated. They were happy to show me how change had been affected throughout their organisation and that no more customers would ever be treated in this way again. At that time, just over two years ago, I wanted to do something with this, to try to influence change across other organisations, as although CC were the worst company I had dealt with, they were by no means the only one to get it badly wrong. Two years ago wasn’t the right time for me, Richard’s death was too raw. But now I feel it is the right time and judging from the response I have received from this blog, things really do need to change – bereaved people need to be treated with more respect, compassion and kindness during their most vulnerable times.