Southern Water. And their failure seems to me to have important lessons for services generally.
The problem stems from the fact that my new house boasts both a number and a name. I enrolled with Southern Water (not that I have much choice) using the number; though I didn't realise it at the time, they used the name.
I realised they had been worried about this when I started getting letters asking me who I was and addressed to the named house. I phoned them back, rather generously I thought, a couple of times to explain the situation but the letters kept coming. A month or so ago, they sent round a real person to seek out why there seemed to be only one water meter for two properties. I explained the situation to him. He grasped it immediately. But no change.
I began to worry about it when I started getting letters warning me that the named house would have its water cut off.
This letter led to a long conversation with their call centre when I insisted I should have a second letter accepting that they now understood that it is only one house, and withdrawing the threat. They promised.
Unfortunately, the next letter I received said that they had closed my account at the numbered address (now an 'uncharged property', apparently) and opened a new account for me at the named address.
I rang them back and told them that this was a lie and that lies tended to have serious consequences. Not a bit of it, I was told. Everything was fine, everything I had paid had been transferred and there would be no further problems.
After a flash of inspiration, I asked that my new named address should be changed so that it also has a number. This has to be done 'offshore', I gather.
Only a week later, I started getting bills for 34p at the numbered address to close my account, and letters asking me if I have moved elsewhere in the Southern area.
I should be furious about this waste of my time. I should be railing at the stupidity of the brontosaurus that is trying to make sense of my actually rather simple address. Actually, I've been feeling rather sorry for Southern. They have an IT system, managed offshore, which has rendered them unable to deal with variety - the fatal cause of extra costs identified by John Seddon, the system thinker.
All that investment has rendered their system extra stupid.
Perhaps my address doesn't matter, but think of the same effect repeated time after time - not just across Southern Water but every public service using the same kind of inflexible IT system. Think of the extra costs that we pay for. Think of the escalating costs involved in trying to treat a very simple variety virtually, when a more human, less controlled system would be able to deal with it instantly.
It is actually scandalous that governments and corporate suppliers should have been so misled. Unfortunately, they are still being misled.
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