Why is big data never there when you actually need it?

simon hayEarlier this summer I cycled from London to Paris to raise money for charity. Sadly, one of my dearest friends died training for the event. Beyond the tragedy I found myself having some unusual conversations with some big brands.
Some of them – American Express in particular – were amazing. They had been booking various parts of our travel and every person I spoke to was aware of the context and expressed their condolences in very genuine ways.
However, Eurostar wanted a copy of the death certificate to prove why I wanted to cancel a ticket. At one time I had a seat booked for my dead friend but I wasn’t able to book a new one for the person who kindly stepped in to take his place because the train was “full”.
I understand that fraud abounds, but I am not sure treating you as a fraud until you can prove otherwise constitutes the customer service intent of such a big brand.
The one that really got my attention was Vodafone. I have been a customer for 25 years or more spending at least £1,500 every year. I was on the phone a lot at this time talking to people in different places. I had long calls to Europe and Africa. I started getting friendly messages saying “we notice your spend is higher than usual” – great, thanks for letting me know.
After a few of these I got the show stopper “Your spend is high, to help you we have stopped your calls, texts and data” – wow, that’s helpful! My account includes a work phone, a personal phone, my daughter’s iPad and my 81-year-old mother’s phone – all cut off.
I phoned and spoke to a person whose job is to justify the policy. It turns out I was £90 above my usual £160 bill that I pay by direct debit. This was greater than my credit limit which I was supposedly told when I signed up 25 years ago! I paid up and got myself reconnected. I gave a 0 on the NPS questionnaire that followed, explained why and continue to do so every time I get asked. No one calls back.
Here’s the question then – where is data when you need it? Fraud data is available but wasn’t part of any check on my Eurostar ticket. My loyalty card data and previous transactions too but that didn’t count for anything.
With Vodafone there is credit data, fraud data, 25 years of on-time payment, data on my home, employment data and more, enough to get me £90 of “extra credit” when I needed it most – or just call me so I can make a payment and not be cut off. I gave a bit of data back in the NPS questionnaire but it must have gone missing too.
In the world of big data it is amazing how it can go missing when you need it most…

Simon Hay is chief executive of Outra

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