The Bizzle

"Saving your ass since 1999"

The Angry Pencil: a pathology of customer complaints

I wrote last week about random civilian encounters, and noted in passing that it’s only the special cases that get passed to the legal team. That got us to reminiscing about our favourite callers and correspondents from down the years. 

So just how special are those cases? Let me count the ways… 

1. The opportunists 

There are people who can’t let a bandwagon go unjumped on. I imagine them sitting in front of the TV, laptop and printer at the ready, waiting for the merest hint of a legal loophole or compensation-worthy scandal to be broadcast.

Watchdog runs a piece on PPI mis-selling? I’d like to reclaim a premium from 1975, please, and while I’m here Martyn Lewis says you have to write off my loan. 

Or maybe the US government plans legislation to constrain the use of credit scoring by lenders and employers? I demand that you cease this foul practice at once, and advance me a loan of £25,000 forthwith. 

A special mention here, as well, for the man who called us on the day that the Human Rights Act came into force to claim that his human rights had been breached because – and I am not making this up – we had refused to give him a loan. 

2. The form letters 

“Dear Mr Smith, thank you for your letter of 21st September regarding your payment protection insurance policy. Whilst I do not wish to minimise the obvious seriousness of your complaint, I feel that it is incumbent upon me to note the following facts: 

(i) Your complaint relates to a policy purchased in connection with a credit card. That is clearly a matter of some importance, but I confess that I am unable to comprehend its connection with your Acme Bank personal loan. 

(ii) You profess that you “have no recollection of the salesman discussing the benefits and exclusions of the policy” with you. Given that you applied for and obtained your personal loan entirely through our website, that is perhaps not entirely surprising. 

(iii) Your complaint repeatedly refers to Barclays Bank plc. Although at Acme Bank we are keen to assist all of our customers wherever possible, it is possible that you will obtain redress more speedily by writing to Mssrs Barclays directly. 

(iv) Perhaps most pertinently of all, we are bound to point out that you have not, at any time, purchased a payment protection insurance policy from or through Acme Bank. 

On that basis, it is with regret that I must inform you that we are unable to uphold your complaint. If you would like to waste our, and your, time further, you are of course entitled to refer this matter to the Financial Ombudsman.” 

3.  The typographers 

Traditionally, the more agitated correspondents write in green ink, although personally I have a soft spot for the Angry Pencil. In all cases, the comparative legibility of the writing and the number of holes in the paper provide important clues to the mental state of the correspondent. 

My favourite, though, was the man who became so enraged about receiving letters in 12-point TNR (having sight problems that he hadn’t, in fact, told us about) that he insisted on writing all his correspondence with us in 4-point type just so we could see what it was like. To this day, I haven’t a clue what his complaint was actually about. 

4. The sob stories 

There are cases that tug at the heart strings of the coldest-hearted cynic (i.e. me). And then there are the tragedies of Jude the Obscure proportions, that induce fits of guilty giggles in the most liberal of bleeding hearts. 

Who could remain stony-faced by the end of a 6 page epic of divorce, disease and debt, that ends with a plea for the writer’s creditors to work together in the manner of theUSand its allies in the Iraq war? Or the 10 pages of autobiographical despair (that we had to translate from Angry Pencil), in which we were accused of wrecking a long-cherished dream to become Secretary-General of the UN? 

To my eternal shame, not me. 

5. The rage 

It is to be expected that many of our correspondents are angry, perhaps justifiably so. What I treasure is the anger that slips its moorings, and sails off to the stranger shores of human behaviour. 

This is the world where the smallest slight can trigger volcanic eruptions, usually in proportion to the complainants own contribution to their problem. Thus we might find an educated man (a professor, indeed) who sends 10 to 15 enraged emails a day, every day, about a recurring problem that arises largely from his refusal to set up a standing order.

It’s a world where there are no mistakes, only conspiracies. Where it seems entirely logical to sue one lender for discrimination over paperwork lost by another lender, because frankly what other explanation could there be?

And it’s a world where the peak of demented raving is perhaps reached only where you have no personal interest in the matter at hand. Probably the angriest, and least coherent, person I have ever dealt with was a debt advisor for whom it was beyond the bounds of civilised behaviour to ask her client to do anything so demeaning as provide evidence as to her financial circumstances. 

Rage does have its amusing side, of course: a friend of mine once showed me correspondence in which the bank he acted for was referred to throughout, with angry sarcasm, as ‘Northern Cock’. Well, it made me laugh, anyway.

6. The randoms

There are times when you think that the complainant has a point, and times when you think they’re just after some free cash. And then there are times when you think, “Wut?” 

Some favourite random complaints: the pupil barrister who tried to pin a loan fraud on her estranged husband using faked correspondence; the caravan-dweller who complained that he wasn’t receiving his post; and the woman who kept failing telephone security checks because she sounded too masculine. 

And my all time number one time-waster: the man who, having evidently mistaken us for the letters page of the Telegraph, reached a peak of apoplexy because we included “Slough” in his postal address. OUTRAGEOUS. 

7. The space lizards 

Hello, my old friends. We meet again…

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could legitimately get out of paying taxes, debts, parking fines and whatever else just by deciding that the law doesn’t apply to you? And if you could persuade your creditors that they actually owe you money, simply by writing a series of increasingly incoherent and frankly barking letters? 

Since I wrote that piece I have discovered that I am either a criminal, or that I don’t exist. I’m not entirely clear about the reasons for this, but no doubt all will become clear when we see John: of the family Lizard (but never ever JOHN LIZARD) in court. Or not. 

8. The tin foil hats 

Although I do get some out and out nutters, I can’t really do better than these from Nearly Legal:

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3 responses to “The Angry Pencil: a pathology of customer complaints

  1. George October 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I want to know which council that is so I can complain to the Local Government Minister that *my* council doesn’t do it.

  2. Pingback: Eyes Only – What the law blogs are up to this week (Part1)… « Charon QC

  3. Durandal February 4, 2012 at 10:04 am

    At risk of coming late to the party (story of my life, anyone needs me I’ll be trapped in the kitchen by someone 8 drinks ahead of me), I used to answer correspondence in the public sector. It was quite a famous address, has a big black door and everything.

    It was almost entirely like your experience, except the level of hate reserved for the incumbent at the time was possibly slightly higher. We did have the advantage of having some stern men in suits who could go round to have a quiet word with some of the more ‘excitable’ correspondents and to ask them, nicely, if they wouldn’t mind not sending three letters a day for weeks on end.

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