A few months ago I went into the local branch of my bank (Lloyds TSB) to do a non-routine transaction involving transferring a significant amount of cash. I’ve been a regular customer at the branch since 1985 and several of the staff know me by sight. All of my personal accounts and those of one of my companies are managed by the branch. But when it came to do the transaction, the cashier requested evidence of my ID. “Eh?” I replied. “What kind of ID?” Back came the reply: “A passport or driving licence will do”. Why did she need this, I inquired? “So that we know who you are.”
At this point I became rather, er, annoyed. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does it isn’t a pretty sight. So eventually the ‘manager’ was called and in due course the transaction was carried out without production of any further documents. Of course this branch ‘manager’ didn’t know me personally. It’s not his job to know people. That function is now delegated to my “personal customer relationship manager” — i.e. the chap who writes to me at irregular intervals to say that he’s just taken up this interesting new post and would like to get to know me better. Needless to say, I’ve never met any of the holders of this important post.
Given this background — which I’m sure is entirely unexceptional — you can see why I have been struck by Charlie Leadbeater’s lovely essay for Cornerhouse. Here’s a taster:
Often in the name of doing things for people traditional, hierarchical organisations end up doing things to people. Companies say they work for consumers but often treat them like targets to be aimed at, wallets to be emptied, desires to be excited and manipulated. The person who calls himself my ‘personal relationship manager’ at a leading high street bank does not know me from Adam but in the cause of trying to sell me some savings products I do not want pretends that we are lifelong friends. In the name of doing something for me, actually he wanted to do something to me: relieve me of some money. Many experiences of public services are often little different. Social services departments were created to help people in need. Yet those on the receiving end of services often complain they feel they are being done to, processed by a bureaucratic machine.