Sunday, May 25, 2014

You have been there before. That cold, clammy feeling when you are far away and there is a banking issue.
Mine came while I was inn-sitting for friends in the middle of France, Sancerre a hilltop village overlooking the vineyards that produce the wine of the same name. Peaceful, the placid Loire coursing along quietly, life’s turmoil far far away.
Then fear and terror strike. “Your credit card may have been compromised, we are cancelling your current card and we will send you a new one. The prospect of being lost in the wilds of the French countryside cardless (not true of course because I have three more but it makes it a better story the other way), gave me chills. The chills were in fact based on the prospect of a long and potentially fruitless search for a solution to the dilemma on the telephone. Bless Skype because the project would cost me less than a ransom for my daughters.

Put it off a day and it may go away. It didn’t.

Screwing up my courage with repeated reminders to remain calm, don’t lose your cool, don’t scream at the innocent people on the phone who may be half way around the world from the Bank of America and are not responsible for the strange policies of their employer.

A deep breath and the hit the mouse and dial the number.

Three rings and the recording began. Many options, none that I wanted or needed, but a quick attempt to hit 0 and get to a live human being produced nothing. I entered my card number and additional ID information. I waited and waded through the options, then hit 0 and Eureka, a human answered after three rings.
I reminded myself  “you’re a preferred customer dummy, ordinary civilians would be on the line rotting.”

The requisite identification dance proceeded apace. I had to repeat all the information I had entered electronically to get this far. I never have understood that part of the system. Does the automated computer information the client offers get transmitted to the live agent’s computer? Of course not.

I explained my plight. I had six weeks to go in France and wouldn’t be home to retrieve my new card.

Sympathy and kindness from the Bank of America person in native English. But I had fallen on someone in the wrong department.

Instant panic.

The hairs on my arm leaped to alert. Switching. A transfer to another department. An electronic cliff without a safety rail. “Sure I’ll wait.”

Click and I was gone into the digital void. I was connected. The Bank of America wasn’t. I wondered what I was connected to. I will never know.

Start again. Same identification ritual. This time I knew to tell the human being that I needed a different department to solve my problems. I found out this was to be the fraud department, but the kind person said: “I’ll stay on the line with you until they answer to make sure we don’t lose you.”

One or two musical compositions later an answer. The earlier voice chirped: “There they are, thank you for waiting.”

“No problem and thanks for sticking around.”

The identification ritual for the third time. The electronic voice at fraud wanted my card number and either the last four digits of my social security number. Once satisfied, another human came on the line, another cheerful polite person who listened to my plight and suggested the solution would be to send me the new card in France.

Elation was obliterated by visions of the international mail trying to find me where I didn’t live. Delays. Lost or returned mail. This odyssey might occupy the rest of my stay in France and I would be tied to the Inn waiting for the knock on the door or worse, the call to tell me of failure.

Questions and persistence pays. I was in the middle of asking questions (“How will you send the card…”) when the dreaded silence reappeared. Dead end. No one on the other end. I was connected to a void; the Bank of America had again disappeared.
Deep breadth. Go to the bathroom. Pee. Hydrate. Tick, tick, tick, tick with the mouse.

“Welcome to the Bank of America…”

In a pinch they could hire me as their recorded voice; I have the welcome greeting down pat. Credit card number. Last four digits of my social security number. I passed them all with flying colors. No reward.

“I need someone in the fraud division…” I was feeling like a Bank of America veteran. Another human being after a relatively short wait and no disconnect….yet. The ID ritual for the (I have lost count) third time? Live people want answers to the secret questions. I was on the third options, passed again with flying colors. “Thank you.”

“We could send you the card by express.”
“Express mail, or FedEx or UPS?”
“Express.” (why is it that people who do not know fear saying: “I don’t know” perhaps followed by “I’ll check”?) I wasn’t going to push it fearing the dreaded disconnect. I needn’t have worried. I was disconnected anyway in mid-sentence.
Fuck you Skype, Microsoft (they own Skype), Bank of America. None of that helped.

Tick, tick, tick. Lets see, where are we? Fifth try? I have been there before so when I faced the first call, I had allotted at least an hour for this task. I didn’t have anything else on the schedule. How many people have that luxury?
ID+ for the automated answering system. ID and secret questions for the human and the last helpful human being assured me my name and the address of the Inn would get the card to me.

“Let me check to be sure.” A diligent helper and a coddled preferred customer.
“Today is Tuesday May 20th. The card will be delivered on May 28th.”
“Great, I’ll be here and I’ll be sure to be available all day.”
Thanks all around. Relief poured from me. Forgiveness. I forgot all about the dropped calls and the silliness of the system repeating itself. Loyalty to the Bank of America welled in my breast.

Two days later on May 22 the card arrived. While basking in the glow of the new card solution I wrote a message to the Bank on their website:

-----Original Message-----
I was recently notified that my card may have been compromised and that a new card would be issued. I received this notification while in Europe for two months, unable to receive the new card at my home address (Seattle).
Arrangements were made to express deliver my card to a small village in France where I am resident. I called B of A on May 20 and was told delivery would be on May 28. It is May 22 and the card was just delivered. That is impressive service. When I went online to activate, the site informed me that the card had been activated. Thoughtful. Thanks, that helps offset the six calls I had to make to negotiate the delivery (your system dropped five calls).
I did nit expect an answer. “Thanks for the compliment” would have been more than enough. But lurking in the vaults of the Bank of America there are algorithms at the ready. Algorithms that have a way to go to differentiate between call volume and dropped calls. Therefore:

RE: BankAmericard Privileges with Cash Rewards Signature Visa - 8830 compliment for service
Dear Peter M. Herford,

Thank you for your e-mail dated 5/22/2014. I am able to assist you.

I would like to inform you that Bank of America was experiencing high call volume on 19th May, 2014. Therefore, our customers calls were not answered due to wait time. We apologize for the inconvenienced you have experienced.

Reply to this email with your question and we will be happy to assist you.

We value you as a customer and appreciate your business. If we may be of further assistance, please contact us again by email. Thank you for choosing Bank of America.


Aayan Kites
Bank of America

The answer I did not send:
Dear Ms Kites,
My sympathies. I am so sorry you had such high call volume on May 19th, though I am dismayed at the notion that you do not answer customer calls when there is high volume.
In fact you answered my calls promptly and efficiently. Perhaps that was because I called on May 20th and call volume had dropped precipitously overnight. What did happen was that my calls were dropped six times. Here too it may not be the fault of the Bank of America. Perhaps Skype is at fault. Perhaps it’s a little of each, or a gremlin neither your institution or my computer know anything about. How sad. We will never know.
But before leaving I want to acknowledge the mellifluousness of your name. It is unusual and unusually musical. I wish you well in your career.

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