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This isn’t just any bureaucracy, this is M&S bureaucracy: Miriam Gross was told by the high street giant that she needn’t worry about her lost card. That’s when she should have started worrying.

Modern Life

Friday evening

M&S: Welcome to M&S Money. For quality purposes, your call may be recorded, etc, etc, blah, blah. For credit card inquiries, press One.  

Me: Hello. I wonder whether you would be kind enough to check whether anyone has used my M&S card earlier today or yesterday. I seem to have mislaid it and I’m a bit worried in case it’s been stolen…OK, I’ve just given someone my date of birth and first line of my address, otherwise I wouldn’t have got through…but here it is again…Oh good, my card hasn’t been used, that means it’s unlikely to have been stolen. Thank you so much.

M&S: Would you like us to block your card?

Me: I don’t think so. My experience is that once you block a card it takes ages and a lot of bureaucratic to-ing and fro-ing to unblock it. I’ll probably find it. I’ll block it in a day or two if it hasn’t turned up.

M&S: I would advise you to block your card, madam. If you find it, all you need do is phone us and we’ll unblock it. It’s only if I order a new one that you can’t unblock it.

Me: Are you quite sure it can be unblocked straight away? Well, all right, if you say so. Thank you.

One hour later

M&S: Welcome…quality purposes…date of birth etc, etc, blah, blah.

Me: Hello, my card was blocked about an hour ago because I thought it might have been stolen but I’ve found it. I’d be most grateful if you could unblock it.

M&S: I’m afraid we can only unblock a card if you write us a letter asking for it to be unblocked.

Me: What? I was specifically told by one of your people that I could unblock it right away. You can listen to the conversation for quality purposes.

M&S: Could you just hold for a minute…Thank you for holding. Your card has been unblocked.

Me: Great. Thank you so much. 

Monday at M&S, Marble Arch, Food Hall

M&S check-out man: So sorry, your card is blocked, try it again. Sorry. No. It’s definitely blocked.

Me: Oh no, I knew this would happen. Can I speak to a manager?

M&S: You will have to go to the third floor and speak to Customer Inquiries.

Customer Inquiries, third floor

Me: My card is blocked even though I was assured that it had been unblocked. I’m on my way to work and in a bit of a hurry — could you possibly do something to unblock the card?

M&S Customer Inquiries: You will have to phone the number on the back of your card. 

Me: Well, all right — though I could have done that downstairs, without coming up here and queuing. 

M&S in-store telephone: Welcome…quality purposes…date of birth etc, etc.

Me: My card is blocked though I was assured last week that it had been unblocked.

M&S: Could you hold for a moment while I check…Thank you for holding. I have just checked and as far as I can see there is no block on your card. You should be able to use it quite normally.

Food Hall, lower ground floor

Me: Apparently, my card is unblocked, so I hope I can pay for these items now.

M&S check-out man: So sorry, your card is still blocked. Try one more time…No, so sorry. 

Me: Well, I’ll pay cash — that means I’ll lose my bonus points. I wonder whether you or some manager could look into this for me if I give you my details…

M&S check-out man: Yes, certainly. We’ll do our best to sort this out.

Wednesday morning

M&S: Welcome…quality purposes…date of birth, first line of address, the following options, etc, etc…How can I help?

Me: I just want to make sure, before I go shopping, that my card is not blocked. Someone at your Marble Arch branch said they would make sure that I can use it.

M&S: I will just check…Thank you for holding. Your card is not blocked.

Later. M&S, Whiteleys, Bayswater

M&S check-out girl: Sorry, madam, your card is blocked.

Me: I can’t believe it. F***ing hell. Sorry, I know it’s not your fault, but I’ve been a regular customer at M&S for about 30 years — you’re no better than British Telecom. I’ll pay in cash.

Later

M&S: Welcome, quality purposes, card number, date of birth, blah, blah.

Me: This is about the sixth time I’ve phoned and each time I’m told that my card is not blocked. But actually it is blocked — I’ve just been shopping and can’t use it.

M&S: I’ll just check…Would you mind holding? Thank you for holding. I’m afraid that once a card has been blocked it’s not possible to unblock it. The best thing would be if I issued you a new card. It will get to you within five working days.

Me: Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything else I can do. I am astonished at M&S’s incompetence. Thank you.

A few days later

Me: Hello, I have just received a new M&S shopping card and am phoning to activate it, as you instruct. You haven’t sent a new pin number. Can I use the old one?

M&S: Let me just check. Thank you for holding. Yes, as it’s not your first card, you can use your old pin number.

M&S, Whiteleys

M&S check-out girl: Sorry, but you have put in an incorrect pin number, try again. No, it’s incorrect again. Sorry.

Later

M&S: Welcome, etc, etc, blah, blah…How can I help?

Me: Earlier today, I was told by one of your colleagues that I could use my old pin number for my new card, but it’s not working.

M&S: Would you mind holding? Sorry to keep you waiting, madam. Our rule is that you always have a new pin number when you get a new card, though you can of course change it to your old one. You should have been sent a new pin number before you received your new card. I will send one right away. 

It will take five working days…