I’ve just written this email to the county council’s Chief Executive:
I feel it’s sometimes a good idea to do a bit of mystery shopping to see ourselves as our residents see us. So when I received an enquiry from a resident today (‘Can I still renew my bus pass at the post office?’) I thought I’d use the council’s systems to find out.
The council’s website shepherds people very firmly towards online renewal. It also says you can get help to renew your pass at your local library. But it doesn’t say anything about the post office, so I rang the number on the page to find out what would happen.
The telephone menu once again shepherds people very firmly to the website. If that fails, it then offers at least seven different options, saying that ‘some of these options will enable you to speak to an operator’. I listened to all the options, and as none of them did that, I waited in silence. Instead of defaulting to an operator, as any decent system would, there was a recorded message basically saying I had reached the end of the process so goodbye, and the call closed.
I called again, listened to the seven options all over again (which took three minutes), and having confirmed that there was no ‘to speak to an operator’ option, and none of the options I heard was likely to lead to an answer to my query, I decided I would just have to choose an option at random and hope. Most of them sounded as if they would just need to another lengthy recorded recital, but the ‘lost or stolen’ option seemed to me to be the one that would be most likely to lead to a human being, so I chose that.
When I finally got through, the operator was very helpful and said that the resident could not renew at the post office, but would have to rely on friends or family, or make an appointment at the library.
I’m genuinely shocked that a council service – particularly one which is the sole preserve of those aged 65 and over – should render itself so inaccessible. If there has previously been an option to renew at the post office, and that is no longer available, the website should say so. For the telephone recording to say ‘some of these options will enable you to speak to an operator’ without saying which ones, is really quite unkind; and for its default to be to close the call if you feel frozen by the process is unforgivable. The whole experience felt like the council deliberately using the internet to throw up walls, and I’m a fairly confident person (though I do loathe the telephone). I dread to think what it must feel like for an elderly person who may be much less confident with computers and council procedure.