â€œITâ€™S the system,â€ they say. â€œSorry.â€
Well, the system sucks. And itâ€™s being used far too often as an excuse.
I had an MRI scan of my spine at a large radiology facility just off the N1 highway near Sandton on March 30,2016. It was all authorised and according to Cocker (for those who arenâ€™t acquainted with slang from the early 20th century, that means done properly and according to established rules).
So imagine my surprise when I got an invoice on May 3 which gave the age of the account as 60 days, and added for emphasis, and I quote, â€œTHIS ACCOUNT IS NOW LONG OVERDUE. PLEASE SETTLE AND CLAIM BACK DIRECTLY FROM YOUR MEDICAL AID TO PREVENT BEING HANDED OVER.â€
So I leapt into action, a leap which was foiled in mid-flight by the fact that it took ten full minutes of phone calls before I actually got someone on the other end of the phone and was finally able to ask my question.
â€œI had the procedure 33 days ago, not 60, and this is the first invoice I have seen. How can it be â€˜LONG OVERDUEâ€™?â€
â€œYes, I see that. Well, itâ€™s the system, you see . . . â€
â€œThe system simply sends out exaggerated claims and threats to hand people over, all by its little self?â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s the way itâ€™s programmed . . . Oh! I see we are still waiting for payment from your medical aid!â€
â€œYes, well, that was going to be my next question: how come youâ€™re threatening me, when this was supposed to be paid by my medical scheme?â€
â€œYou see, the system just generates an invoice after 30 days.â€
â€œThe system, presumably, can be programmed to do anything that involves text and boxes and numbers. So hereâ€™s a thought: why canâ€™t it send out a first invoice that says: â€˜Just FYI: weâ€™re still awaiting payment from your medical schemeâ€™?â€
This stymied the unfortunate clerk, but she suggested I write a letter to her bosses. My husband said she was just passing the buck, but I donâ€™t think so. â€œPoor soul, she probably has to deal with phone calls from irate and anxious people all the time,â€ I reasoned. â€œAnd in my experience, â€˜bossesâ€™ are far more likely to take action on a direct complaint from a customer than on the plea of an employee.â€
So that took up about 45 minutes of my time on May 3; on May 4, I discovered that I had once again been debited twice by the company managing my new investment. (That sounds larny, doesnâ€™t it?
I do assure you itâ€™s minuscule; basically Iâ€™m saving R500 a month. So theyâ€™ve lifted R1 000 extra off me since 1 April this year.)
A bit of firm and definite talking got me escalated from â€˜Customer Serviceâ€™ to â€˜Executive Serviceâ€™ (sort of like â€˜Advance Searchâ€™ on a search engine, I suppose). And blow me down if they didnâ€™t actually do the investigation and phone me back. Yes, something had gone wrong and they would have to refund me. â€œIâ€™m sorry, itâ€™s something in the system, you see . . . â€ Twenty minutes of my time.
And now an online service has informed me that theyâ€™re refunding me for a book I ordered from them, and immediately cancelled, in November last year. (At the time, they did not give me the delivery cost till after the purchase was completed and I almost fainted: the book itself cost less than R200, but the delivery was going to be R600!) How much time and energy is it going to take for me to hunt down their â€˜customer serviceâ€™, get them to understand the story and sort out the glitch in â€˜the systemâ€™ which has led to this? Sigh. I donâ€™t think so. For once, I think I might just let â€˜the systemâ€™ err in my favour.
Ever since I started blithering on about efficiency – or lack thereof – a couple of weeks ago, Iâ€™ve been keeping track of all the time I spend dealing with inefficiencies. Last Friday I spent several hours in Home Affairs, for instance, to get a copy of my marriage certificate, which should be a simple task.
In two weeks, Iâ€™ve wasted more than a full working day, with no break for lunch, on sorting out messes created by other peopleâ€™s â€˜systemsâ€™. And let me point out that more than half of that time was spent on private sector issues, where competition and â€˜the marketâ€™ is supposed to turn the dross of public sector inefficiency into the gold of customer-focused snappiness. Not.
The private sector has outsourced so many admin issues to us, their clients.
They run everything through computer systems that appear, in real terms, to leave it to the client to spot and flag errors, then give us no way of sorting things out except through over-burdened, disempowered (and presumably therefore less expensive) call centre people who have to escalate and query and â€˜talk to my managerâ€™, instead of being able to make decisions and interventions on the spot. Result?
Costs flow to the customer in a sort of toxic trickle-down.
Thatâ€™s what I see, anyway. And it ainâ€™t right, folks!
â—† Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor.