Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Problems With Customer-Service Systems


Sometimes it is better not to upgrade services that you regularly receive and are happy about. A couple of months ago I received a text message from my bank asking me if I would like to have an upgraded debit card. Since my existing card was a nameless one with a long time ahead before its validity ends, I thought it would be a good idea to have an upgraded one with my name on it; and I chose to respond. The new card was a good one, no doubt: Longer validity and lots of benefits and features associated with it. I was happy that the bank is actually honoring my long standing association with them, till I tried to undertake internet banking with the new card.

So here is the procedure: The bank gives you a login ID for internet banking (I prefer using this mode of payment than using the card directly) and the user logs in to the system and undertakes the transaction. After the user enters the transaction password, the website asks the user to provide some details from the card. The user furnishes the details, the bank verifies it and the transaction is complete. In case an incorrect user name or password is entered for a specific number of times, the user ID gets locked and the user needs to contact the customer care to get it re-activated. You know the drill.

When trying to book a travel ticket, the payment site forwarded me to the bank website where I am supposed to login with my details. I found that the website wasn’t accepting my password, and ultimately my transaction ID got blocked. I knew the drill here too. I called up the customer care and followed the IVR instructions announced on phone, and finally reached a point where I need to enter some information from my card to authentication. To my surprise, despite repeated careful attempts to enter the correct details, the system did not accept my details. Finally giving up on me, the system transferred my call to a customer care executive.

 The executive was quite polite listening patiently to my description of the problem. I know the drill here too. The executive explains the standard procedure and moves the user back to the mechanical IVR menu with a beautiful voice. User follows instructions and furnishes details from the card number and the login ID gets reactivated. Except that in my case it doesn’t accept the details. The call gets automatically forwarded to another executive. Here I explain the whole story to the clueless executive and mention that I had entered the right details. Ultimately as a last hope I spell out the details, letter by letter. He agrees “That’s right, sir. The values you have entered are the correct values as per the system.” Then why is it not accepting the data I enter?

Here I try to explain the executive the possible flaw in the system: man vs. machine. This incident came to mind while I was reading  a similar story this morning from MIT professor and Harvard blogger Robert Plant. My bank’s system too is designed by some team that comprises of human beings like me. It appears that though the bank has started sending away cards with longer lifetimes, the system wasn’t updated to accept cards with validity periods later than 2020 and hence it kept on rejecting the 2021 validity year of my card.

When we design systems in order to ensure smooth handling of customers, we also need to make remind ourselves that the customer is also a human being like us and won’t probably be happy doing things that we ourselves don’t.

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