Disturbing signs of the neo-liberal end game

I keep seeing signs, these days, of corporate moral over-reach. Take direct debits, for example. Has anybody noticed lately how power suppliers, insurance companies, city councils – all of the organisations we have to deal with when paying for normal household services – have switched to direct debits?

It’s an insidious shift which has happened in the last ten years or so. And why is it insidious? Because the older direct credits were under your control. You credited them. Whereas a direct debit gives the corporate full authority to dip into your bank account and take whatever they want. You have no power to stop it – you have to ask them to do so.

From the viewpoint of the corporate it’s a great system. They get their money, no matter what. From the viewpoint of your rights? Not so much. And sure, most of the companies that do it are ‘honest’, insofar as corporates are. If they’ve over-dipped into your account, they’ll usually refund the difference.

But it’s up to you to make that happen – which brings up the other new business model. In the ‘old days’ – as in, about five years ago – if you wanted to deal with your bank, insurance company or whatever, you’d go in to their office. Sure, you’d usually end up standing in line for ten or twenty minutes. But you’d deal with a human, face to face.

These days, apparently because ‘people want it’, you have to make a phone call. This gets you to a robot offering options. Once you’ve selected one, you’re put into a ‘priority queue’ because hey, this corporate values its customers. And you wait. And wait. And wait.

Eventually a human answers, often in ways that make clear English isn’t their first language. But can they help you? Of course not. They’re working from a script. Anything you want – I guarantee it – won’t be on their script. But the script tells them to block, fob off and otherwise obstruct taking anything further.

Right now I have an issue with my website service provider, who played hob with their own accounting system by creating a new subsidiary to handle hosting, then cocked up the billing. I paid for one month last year – I can prove it with documents – but the new subsidiary doesn’t know about it. I had to pay again to get the service continued. My first call alone took me an hour to get through their robo-system and hold queue, only to find myself going in circles with the person at the other end. Two months later I rang back and got a different person, I was told the enquiry had been bucked up to the manager – who’d sat on it. A couple of weeks back I approached them and suggested that, if they didn’t address the issue, I’d consider it a dispute and take them to court. That prompted an instant reply – but not a resolution. They simply said they were ‘looking into’ the problem. Since then? Nothing.

Oh, I did get a robo-email asking me how they’d done.

How do these companies get away with it? You need them more than they need you. And you can’t threaten to go to a competitor, because all companies have gone to the ‘phone frustration’ model and bot responses.

All this has been made possible by technology, but to me it’s also philosophical; it’s driven, ultimately, by the need to make a profit, which corporates usually do by cutting their staff costs. Closing offices and out-sourcing their phone system to a contractor in a low-wage economy has become standard. Neo-liberal de-regulation facilitated it. These days Atlas doesn’t so much shrug as fart in the face of the poor consumer, who’s then left to bear the cost – in time, frustration and so forth – of corporate policy in which customers are clearly the bottom priority.

To me it’s another of many disturbing signs that the neo-liberal experiment of the 1980s hasn’t merely failed, it’s entering its end game. People are tired of being disempowered and dispossessed by a system that has served to transfer wealth and power in one direction only. And I hope things don’t get ugly.

Well, uglier than they already are.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021

12 thoughts on “Disturbing signs of the neo-liberal end game

  1. Back in 2018 I was trying to get out of a phone contract with Vodafone. They wanted to charge me $1,000 to exit. I was trying to do this because at no time in the store did the person explain the exact cost of adding a new phone to my contact, not was it on Any of the paperwork from the store. It only showed up the true cost in my bill. I took this to mediation with a outside telco disputes and resolution service and while that was happening and we had conference calls, without my knowledge Vodafone sent my file to a debt collection agency. It took days and a huge fight to get resolved and get my credit rating sorted. I was shocked at just how quickly they escalated everything. So I agree with all you said.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Vodafone are one of the several companies I won’t deal with ever again, not even after the universe has died of heat death, as a result of my experiences with them and their attitude to customers. The problem with corporates is that they really don’t care about their customers – banks, in particular, make most of their money from corporate business, not individuals. And it shows.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Unfortunately I have to completely agree in most cases except for a few smaller companies here in our little out of the way place in Atlantic Canada. I also feel that our current pandemic has been tremendously helpful to a lot of the major corporations as they have been allowed to close smaller branch office with impunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a worldwide phenomenon for sure. Smaller companies definitely still need their customers – and will go that extra mile, which is great. I honestly miss the old business model in which you’d build up a rapport with a supplier who – being local and small themselves – had common interest with you. It produced results that simply don’t happen today with cookie-cutter ‘service’ by anonymous phone systems. I agree about the pandemic being used as a pretext. Here in NZ, one of the major insurance providers, AIG, closed down all the public ‘stores’ of its ‘AMI’ brand on the basis that its customers had shown they preferred phone ‘service’ in 2020. Well, of course they did. We had a strict lockdown!


  3. We seem to be moving to everything by subscription society, but I don’t see any benefit to the consumer in this as we still get charged for every transaction whether it’s there by choice or need.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is no benefit to the consumer out of this. None. We’re just expendable in the new business model – either because the corporate makes its money in other ways (such as from other corporates) or because some bean-counter has worked out that it’s cheaper to lose a few customers than to provide everybody with proper human service.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I deal with the large corporates as little as possible. My bank is the Bendigo bank. It started as a small, local community bank. It’s getting bigger now, but it still has physical ‘stores’ and I’ve never had an issue with them. My ISP is Internode, again, a relatively small company that I’ve never had any trouble with. Where I have the same expense month after month, I set up a recurring payment via the bank. That means I’m in control, not them. As for /them/ taking a direct debit straight from my account, I only allow that in a very few situations.

    Here in Australia we can still insist on paper bills and no direct debits. It’s a bit more effort but well worth it in terms of peace of mind.

    If you’re still in mediation, isn’t it illegal to sick the dogs on you? Might pay to see if you can have them charged with something. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have no direct debits myself – avoid them like the plague for the obvious reasons! I’m not in mediation yet with my hosting service provider – I’ve threatened them with court action, but haven’t lodged papers yet. I am tempted to do so. Nothing I’ve done so far has got past the ‘first tier’ of their system, but this is also the point of contact for a court order. If it’s stalled there too, they’ll be in trouble before very long.

      Someone actually did this to Dell back in 2006 when they were running their ‘100% by phone/remote kiosk’ business model run from international centres via VOIP and shipping. It’s a hilarious story that underscores just how disconnected these customer front-ends are: https://www.engadget.com/2006-12-10-disgruntled-dell-customer-finds-crafty-path-to-lawsuit-settlemen.html

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hah! That’s priceless. I guess a kiosk is a registered place of business even if there’s no one there! Very clever.

        Btw, have you asked to speak to the line manager? Here in Australia you can demand to speak to the next person up the food chain. I assume you can keep escalating who you speak to until something gives. Having all correspondence on paper and delivered by registered mail is also helpful as it creates a third party paper trail you can use as evidence. It also alerts the company to the fact that you /are/ gathering a paper trail.

        Apologies if you know all these tricks already but a lot of people don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This is all too typical. New Zealand, Canada, USA, we all face the same obfuscating rigmarole. They rely on the consumer’s frustration to just throw in the towel and they giggle all the way to the bank. 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

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