Tuesday 17 May 2016

On behalf of ordinary collector customers of Royal Mail's Philatelic Service

Two months ago I wrote about a Meltdown at Tallents House, resulting from the replacement of their separate comupter systems, Unisys - handling Philatelic/Collectors - and AS400 - covering retailers and trade customers - by a new system, known as S+C One, developed by EPICOR.

And after a lot of early frustration collectors reported several weeks later, that their phone calls were being answered in 5-10 minutes instead of 40-50, and that some missing items had been delivered - in some cases more than once!

But all is still not well.  Understandably, the Queen's 90th Birthday stamp issue attracted a great deal of interest with advance orders coming from all over the world, and ad-hoc orders flooding in after the miniature sheet design was revealed to include Prince George.  I'm guessing that a lot of interest was from people who don't normally collect stamps but are royalists so that will be more to Royal Mail's bottom line!

So what's gone wrong with the order processing.  This question/comment was posted on the blog earlier today:

Is it just me, or has anyone else not yet received their Standing Order for the QEII 90th Birthday issue? I've called Tallents House several times now, and although they are always polite, understanding and apologetic, I feel this is very poor service. This issue will have been planned months, if not years, in advance and could easily have been predicted to have been popular, and yet RM just don't seem to have geared up for it. No way to treat a Standing Order customer (for all issues) of over 35 years! My ANZAC Customised Sheet has also not arrived, presumably caught up in the QEII issue debacle. Shocking planning and service.
And another collector sent this email to philatelic.enquiries@royalmail.com:

Again The Royal Mail management do not appear to know how to handle their customers' Regular Orders. In the dim and distant past orders were received on the issue date. Then,  it seemed to change to 5 to 7 days before receipt. Now with the Queen's Stamp issue of the 21 April delivery appears to be 24 working days!! That's according to the Philatelic Bureau today, and you have the audacity to charge delivery.
When can we look forward to the current management being changed to one who believes in Customer Service?
Several other people have also mentioned not receiving their Queen's Birthday orders - and many of these are standing orders which should have been packaged up and ready to go well before the date of issue, just as those to dealers usually are.  One of these is producing special first day covers - he's not a regular cover producer, and not a registered dealer, though he does sometimes sponsor special handstamps - if he's hoping to sell those, the market will have evaporated by the time he gets the covers back from the handstamp centre.  Too much monkeying about, perhaps...?

Well, here's the good news - they do have the stock!

Last Wednesday I put in an order for a dealer friend of mine and on Saturday I was able to supply him with the freshly-delivered Queen's Birthday Prestige Book (and Star Wars PSB, and Royal Mail 500 miniature sheets).

It's not all roses for dealers, though.  Their new S+C One accounting system hasn't yet produced any statements - none at all.  We should have had February, March and April by now.  And we buy on credit account, so while they (a) have your money on your standing order account, (b) take your money on ad hoc orders, they are (c) not even telling us how much we owe them!


  1. Thanks very much for this update Ian. I was on the brink of phoning them up as my order from 20 April still hasn't arrived - the website said 7-10 working days. Obviously now it's much longer. So I will save my time and patience and am reassured by your blog here as I am not alone or to worry! I also remember not long ago you got them on the day of issue which was excellent - but this is certainly off-putting - better for me to go to Trafalgar Square - I work ten minutes walk from it so Tallents House is really now just a waste of time and patience for me!

  2. I have had an email this week referring to them as 'Tallentless House'!! It made me laugh!!!

  3. Trafalgar Square is great, unless you want something non-standard, or multiples / blocks from a set, when you get directed to Tallents House instead!

  4. Ian, thanks for the news - it;s good to hear something.
    I've had a list of issues too..
    I'm still waiting for both standing order and online order from the QM90 issue.
    The Anzac sheet arrived today - damaged.
    The Animail MS and PHQ turned up today (ON THE DAY!!), but no FDC.
    The subscription for the Bulletin has not been charged and no copy received this month, despite the item being on my February statement (last one I had from the old system).
    I appeared to be double charged for the QM90 standing order - first time about 2 weeks before the issue (as expected), then again on the day. My credit card company have resolved.

    I cannot spend the amount off time required on the phone to go through it with TH, so have emailed - still waiting for a response - 7 working days and counting.

    It's a shame to see how badly this new system has gone. I hope they come through it soon as I'm getting tired of trying to guess what I'll be charged, when it will hit my credit card and when I may receive the items.

  5. My experience to date with the HMQ 90th issue:

    - before the end of March I wrote (via snail-mail) closing my account as the card on their records for DD payments was being withdrawn from 31 March (so I thought it a good time to cancel my remaining limited standing orders and just use the web as and when I might feel inclined!)

    - on 20 April (from abroad and well before anyone would have been up in the UK!) I placed an order over the web. AS OF TODAY'S POST, THIS HAS NOT YET BEEN DELIVERED

    - on 26 April (now just back in the UK and with Press Sheets appearing on the on-line shop menu - I'm as sure as I can be they were not there on the 20th otherwise I would surely have ordered one then but...), I placed another web order and that was delivered late last week (with the exception of June's upcoming retail booklet)

    - the day after my 'second web order' was delivered, I received an envelope containing the 2 products which would have been on my standing orders (both of which I have effectively duplicated by, in expectation of account closure, ordering over the web!). The enclosed paperwork indicated that my account with them was still open! The 'good news', though, is that I haven't yet come across any charge, or request for payment, for these from Royal Mail! Being an honest bloke, I will in due course ensure that the 2 items are either returned or that they charge me, but I am just hanging on awaiting the outcome of my first web order and any response to an e-mail I sent them via their 'contact us' facility a couple of days after I got the web order that has been delivered (needless to say, no reply as yet!).

  6. Whenever possible I've used the RM eBay store but, of course, I'm sure the presence of the eBay feedback system and the perfect service I've received are purely a coincidence.

  7. Where I previously worked we loved the AS400 system. It was then replaced by an 'innovative' system that we loathed and looked like a Summer project with no front page. It had all the appearance of our company having been sold a 'pig in a poke'. Needless to say, Management soon got the message and we returned to AS400 with a Windows-based version.

    1. Thanks Paul. I wasn't expecting any technical responses, but deliberately included the system names for search engine purposes in the hope that there may be some interest.

    2. Hi Ian.

      A pseudo-technical response:

      I worked on AS400s and their predecessor for 27 years developing and maintaining software, and it truly was a dream machine. The concept of the database was actually built into the operating system, with the result that things like tying orders and history to an account was an absolute doddle. However, at some point since the millennium IBM took their eye off the ball and lost all impetus and strategic direction, with the result that the AS400 did not have a natural interface to the internet.

      This meant that it was no longer "sexy" and the people who make these decisions voted to replace it with Windows-based systems, often written or configured specifically for them. My experience of these systems is that they are typically produced cheaply in the eastern hemisphere, but they are characterised by poor testing - if indeed they are ever tested, and in my last job we were able to prove that no testing had taken place at all. Change control just does not happen so that bugs that were fixed at one point suddenly re-appear months down the line.

      The people who write this software also do not appear to be able to think like people who USE software, so all manner of strange behaviour appears in the software.

      If this sounds a bit prejudiced - it is. Technologically we should be moving forward, and yet here we are going back decades with our IT. It just doesn't make sense.

  8. I did not receive my Animail mini sheet yesterday so phoned TH and was told it had been put on hold! But no reason was given, so I was offered the chance to re order it which went fine until after the call I realised I had been charged £1.45 handling charge. I e mailed RM and got a reply within 2 hrs full of apologies and the offer of a refund of £1 by cheque which I accepted they also promised to investigate why some orders are being put on hold for some customers so everyone be aware!

  9. The last major order I did with Royal Mail was probably a few months after the Darwin issue - they had stopped listing the different values online and I had to ring up. I was lucky to have found a lovely little post office a few miles out of town (bus fare more than the P&P for mail order but well worth it) with a lovely old gentleman who is a philatelist (now retired, almost 10 years after he first tried to) to get my new stamps fix. Two more small post offices later (they've moved/are moving into Spar, due to retirement), I've had to get my stamp fix yesterday from a crown post office (albeit in another shop) - they didn't realise Animail came out and had to buzz the safe... Time to finish off a letter, and work out how to affix the Orangutan or Koala to the envelope..

  10. I wonder if they've 'held' my order because I ordered both retail booklets and only realised the second one wasn't coming out until June when I went to Trafalgar Square looking for cylinders. They never used to 'hold' orders like that so I hope that's not what they're doing!!

  11. Just to update I phoned up Tallents House today re my order of 20 April. Apparently all outstanding QE90 orders (thousands of them) were pushed through this weekend and everyone should have their order by the end of this week. All a tale of woe but it seems to focus on the new system being a complete mess and totally misplanned and risk assessed.

  12. Rang today. Part of my standing order for 90th Birthday is still outstanding and they could not explain why. An order placed on the 21st April has 'failed' again and I was asked to just wait. This long after the new system was introduced they are now apparently investigating making it possible to put orders through on variable Direct Debit! Just like the old system did. Tallents House make Vodapone look like they have good customer service.

    1. I think the customer-facing staff, ie the people you talk to, are doing their best but have been landed in deep do-do by the computer project management who suggested that everything would be 'just the same'. The new package is 'off-the-shelf' from EPICOR and it seems that Royal Mail managers accepted the assurances of their contractors that 'changes would be minor'.

      That, at least, is the explanation for the wholesale changes to the invoices I receive and which, our account manager now accepts, should have been explained to us before the transition. But apparently nobody thought to check with the internal (or external) users or 'sign-off' the change in documentation. Unbelievable ineptitude by somebody.

  13. Having been told on Monday that all QE90 had been processed at the weekend and should have been delivered by the end of the week I phoned again today as my order had not arrived. On checking my order(QE90 and Anzac) had still not been processed and the person I spoke to had no idea when it will be - he apologised and said they had been told to tell customers(on Monday) that all outstanding orders had been processed but it now appears the new system has still not processed thousands of orders. How the staff on the phones have managed to maintain their sanity is beyond me.

    1. I hope they haven't shipped to New York the stock that their ordinary collector standing order customers are waiting for!

  14. I got most of my order on Friday but the M/S is missing and I got two of the same retail booklet although ordered the 2 different (I know one's not issued yet but this looks like a mistake). After waiting more than a month it's all pretty terrible. Needless to say I hsve ditched two other potential orders.

  15. I began to believe that things might be improving when I got my order for six Queens Booklet no.2. yesterday. I have given up all hope of the rest of my order for the 21st of May ever landing. Today out of the blue 5 blank Welsh regional envelopes (one with black marks on the front) turn up. They are not wanted nor were they ordered. As the last lot of unwanted product returned for a refund was never actioned it is probably best just to accept this cock-up.

    1. I think some orders have been processed against wrong account numbers, somehow, so that some people are getting other customers' orders. Also there have been problems processing credits for returns.

      In law, of course, unsolicited mail may be retained. If it has been charged to your account, then that will be crdited, just email them with the details and ask if they want the goods returned.

      Don't return anything unless you have a returns authorisation number.


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