THIS letter was triggered by my outrage this morning (June 18) to find that I was speaking to a computer when I called my bank. I also discovered that you have to know the right vocabulary before it is able to respond. It’s reminiscent of the old joke about how foreign phrase books let you down; ie, the foreigners don’t know the right answers. What if I was being scammed or had an urgent crisis? Everyone wants to know that when phoning the bank that help is at the end of the line, not a computer.

For me the issue is: am I the only person in the world who wants to deal with a human representative that knows their company’s business and can read the details of my account, bill or order? I suspect not. By all means have security measures, but systems designed to deter customer contact are disagreeable and have become a curse. I’ve been resigned in recent times to recognising that companies see ways of saving resources and discouraging nuisance calls. However, when one’s bank, in this instance the Royal Bank of Scotland, introduces a barrier to communication on that most important matter of my money and its security, I feel things have gone too far and it’s worth making it a public debate.

In recent years I am sure all your readers have been dismayed at the way in which contacting their service providers from airlines, broadband providers, utilities and the like has been made more difficult and impenetrable. Many like myself will hang on to the phone for long periods (once approaching an hour) rather than resort to the internet or email (if the facility is provided). The assumption being that a human being at the other end of the line knows their company’s system and will quickly be able to understand your problem. I, and I’d be surprised if it’s not true of others, often don’t know the technical terms with which companies characterise their business transactions so having to communicate with a computer is a challenge. I learned from an agent of the bank that it has a solution for people like me, a contact number for vulnerable people. I suggested to the agent that the bank should provide that number to all its customers but clearly this recommendation was above his pay grade.

One last thought regarding the above comments is the degree to which the digital internet age compounds failures of understanding and communication. This is a further factor which businesses, their staff and consultants appear blind to. And, possibly, are taking advantage of the uninitiated deliberately.

I ask myself the following questions:

• Do those companies introducing excessive barriers to communication recognise they are arrogant, if not contemptuous, of their customers and clients?

• Should the Government not set standards for business customer service designed to ensure that problems, concerns are dealt with in a civilised and timeous manner?

The answer to the first question is writ large in this letter. Re the second, when banks feel they can fob off customers with a computer rather than a member of staff, it’s time for a public debate.

John Walls, Glasgow.


I DON'T believe for one moment that the Scottish Government has any plans of Clearances in the Western Isles, a hypothesis put forward by Iain Gray (Letters, June 17). However, the way in which it has mishandled the island ferry routes in its 14-year tenure beggars belief. CMAL/Calmac must be broken up to allow other operators to tender for some of the routes.

In the meantime, let Pentland Ferries not only lease out the Pentlandia on the Arran route, but let it run the service until the replacement MV Glen Sannox new build is finished, tested, and run for six months on a suitable alternative route until its integrity is proven. This scenario would allow the MV Isle of Arran to be patched up, yet again, to give some relief to the rest of the aged fleet. Ironically, whilst writing this ramble/rant, my spellchecker kept replacing aged with ageing; I think we are long past that point.

George Dale, Beith.

* FURTHER to Ian Gray’s letter, I doubt if many islanders or visitors would be upset if the provision of ferry services was transferred to a private company. Perhaps not a huge concern like Serco, but certainly either Western or Pentland Ferries, who both have a track record of competence, efficiency and fair pricing in their provision of service.

John NE Rankin, Bridge of Allan.


PERHAPS we should look at the benefits of the climate change industry. It does give students something to worry about, and is a valuable government tool for taxation and control of the individual. It also makes many people feel good as they make a 50-mile round trip in their Range Rover to recycle12 Cabernet Sauvignon bottles.

Malcolm Parkin, Kinross.


RAB McNeil ("A broth of fresh air", Herald Magazine, June 19) need look no further than the excellent recipe in the Herald Magazine in January from Gary Townsend, chef at One Devonshire Gardens. The recipe for his Lentil and Ham soup is nice and easy to follow, and make it the day before – soup needs to mature a bit to get the best flavour. And it's a smoked ham hough you need, by the way, not shank.

Elizabeth Mueller, Glasgow.


IAN W Thomson's cautionary advice to gentlemen to be careful where they wear their kilts in the presence of midges (Letters, June 19) prompted me to ask myself where else might they wear them other than in traditional fashion?

Images abound, at least in my mind.

David Miller, Milngavie.