I’ve always considered myself fairly tech-savvy, but First Direct have truly been challenging my levels of technological patience over recent weeks.
For 15 years I have been a very loyal customer of First Direct – the UK’s first ‘direct’ bank – and was always proud to have been one of the first ‘online bankers’ in my friendship circle. The bank is well known for its loyal, vocal customer base and has long been a case study in the power of word of mouth and customer recommendation. Over the years, other high street banks have, of course, become every bit as ‘direct’, but First Direct customers can still be heard gushing about phone access and queue-free banking like it’s 1999. Yes, we’re very loyal.
Until recently, that is. Since First Direct’s latest Mobile app and security features were introduced, the business has been testing this loyalty to destruction. In the past few weeks, I have been spending copious amounts of time on the phone to the customer help team: resetting passwords, resetting them again – oh, and then two days later re-setting them yet again.
I use my mobile phone for banking at least three or four times a week, but I’m now reduced to crying while sitting on the train, desperately trying to pay my Next Directory bill (another ‘direct’ pioneer, come to think of it), only for First Direct to tell me for the umpteenth time in a week that none of my security details match. “You must be entering your details wrong” I hear you shout. “NO, I’M NOT!”, I’ve told endless First Direct support staff.
I know that in the era of the celebrity hacker we do need to be careful and security-conscious, but spending 45 minutes, three times a week just to pay a simple bill takes security vigilance to the extreme.
Having delved around on twitter for answers like any self-respecting digital native (yes, twitter – I’m no greying technophobe), it’s quite apparent that I haven’t been alone in my misery with First Direct. Indeed, even the business’s chief exec has made a public video apology, recognising that the bank’s apps are ‘not as good as they should be’, but that the team are ‘listening to you and we’re going to fix them’.
It’s reassuring to hear this admission and I’m hoping to test the promise when my next Next bill needs paying. Until then, the experience has been a powerful reminder for me of how fragile even decade-long reputations can be when everyday functions break down – and how the same ‘word of mouth’ that elevated a brand can quickly turn against it. Over to you, First Direct.