The acquisition scam

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Buy, buy, sell, buy, sell. The scramble for your customer data is as hot as ever, but it comes with a price tag that need recouping.

Quite a lot of big names are transferring business to other corporations at the moment. Egg is going to Barclaycard (the kiss of death to my Egg card, as Barclays are a bunch of tools), and Virgin have transferred their insurance arm to some other random firm.

The customer-facing reason for this is “a better service”. The real reasons are:

  • it’s cheaper to offshore / offload it while retaining the brand
  • the new operator gets access to hordes of customer contact and demographic data to which they would not ordinarily have been privvy, to use however they see fit

Transferring a business costs money. The customer details are valuable because the new company can sell them on without your consent, thanks to the clause buried in the new Ts and Cs in 6pt pica you didn’t read. But they still need to recoup some of the costs of the transfer.

Here’s how Virgin do it:

  1. Six or so months after moving all records over, they issue a letter stating that some of the customer information they hold about you is ‘N/A’. The letter blathers on about how important it is for them to have accurate data and that it may affect your insurance when they pluck a random “competitive quote” from someone’s arse on renewal date.
  2. You call up. It’s an 0845 / 0870 number of course.
  3. The call connects immediately and starts charging.
  4. The automated voice, that reiterates the call is important, reads complicated instructions about what number to call if your insurance renewal date was before such-and-such a date or you took out the policy after such-and-such a date. Baffled, you stay on the line.
  5. It asks you to key in random data like your date of birth, customer number and bicep circumference.
  6. You listen to music punctuated with messages about how awesome their website is and how important you are. The revenue spirals upward.
  7. Someone answers and doesn’t believe it’s you so they ask you all the same information you just keyed in, as well as how many weeks Bryan Adams was at number one with Everything I do (I do it for you).
  8. You’re eventually allowed to explain the letter and your reason for calling.
  9. The operator types for a bit and can’t find your details because it transpires they’re stored “on the other system”.
  10. They scold you for not redialling when given the chance, then transfer you anyway.
  11. Music ensues. You really begin to loathe T’Pau.
  12. You explain it all to a new person who this time magically finds your information.
  13. They cheerily inform you that when the move happened between companies that some details defaulted and that you’re now an Acupuncturist from Abingdon.
  14. You inform them that it’s not your fecking fault they can’t use IT and they should sort it out themselves instead of wasting your precious time and money.
  15. Unfazed, the operator asks random questions they already know like where you live (which they must know because you got the letter), your job (which they must know to insure you) and so forth.
  16. During the course of the interrogation they sneak in questions like “Are you a homeowner” (which they know already) and then “When’s your home insurance due for renewal?” so they can cross-sell you other products at the right time from their newly acquired portfolio. The correct answer to that question, by the way, is “Mind your own bastard business” because that’s not one of the items in their dropdown list.
  17. Eventually they conclude the data mining charade and ask if there’s anything else they can help you with.
  18. “Yes”.
  19. (excitedly, tasting the commission already) “What is it, Sir?”
  20. “I’ve lost a few pieces of jigsaw and was wondering if you could help me find them. They’re probably down the back of the sofa but I can’t be bothered to look so if I could just ask you some questions about when I bought the jigsaw and who has been playing with it, I can put all the pieces back in the box where they belong.”

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