Your Customer Service Is Unrecognized

Recently I went online to check the balance on a small bank account that I hadn’t used in a couple of months. I was denied access. The reason given: I was attempting to log in from an “unrecognized device.”

Hmm. Weird. It was the same device I’d been using for several years with no problems. Sure, it was a little worse for wear. But “unrecognized”? That made it sound like it had suffered the digital equivalent of catastrophic plastic surgery.

Like many of these inscrutable online messages, there was no additional information about what might have caused my device to become unrecognized or what I could do about it. One bit of good news: There was an 800 number I could call. At least the bank hadn’t gone the Facebook route and arrogantly cut off all customer contact. (Although, in hindsight, that might have been less aggravating.)

I dialed the number. No live person answered (of course). Instead I had to sit through a long-winded voicemail menu (again: of course). I was instructed to listen closely because the options had changed. I’m not sure what the previous options were, but none of the eight revised ones appeared to have been created with my particular problem in mind. So I picked the only one that sounded vaguely relevant and hoped for the best.

The entity that answered identified herself as “Star, your virtual assistant.” She* somehow sounded both jaunty and stilted. And she seemed confident that she could solve my problem, even though she had no idea what it was. She asked me to describe it in a few words.

I read her the “unrecognized device” message verbatim. I assumed she would know what it meant because she worked for the same people who had created it.

“I almost understand that!” Star replied enthusiastically. She seemed thrilled to have come oh so close to deciphering yet another clueless customer’s incomprehensible babbling. She encouraged me to “try rephrasing slightly.”

I did my best, although it was difficult to rephrase “unrecognized device.”

“I’m still just shy of understanding!” Star said. She made it sound like we were just the teensiest of tweaks from a breakthrough. Like a life coach, she kept me from yielding to despair. “Try using fewer words,” she said.

Since specificity hadn’t worked, I went with a dumbed-down, generic approach instead. “I’m having trouble logging into my account,” I said.

Jackpot! I could practically feel Star jumping for virtual joy as she proclaimed, “I can help you with that!”

Then, just as I was allowing myself an inkling of hope, Star added this: “But first I need you to log in to your account.”

At that point the charade collapsed beneath the weight of its absurdity. I told Star to log off (or words to that effect) and hung up.

I have a message for the bank, and I encourage them to listen closely because my options have changed. I’m getting rid of that account as soon as I can.

Frustrating your customers into silence through automation, artificial intelligence, chat bots and other forms of virtual gatekeeping is not the same as satisfying them. And just because you no longer hear complaints doesn’t mean they no longer exist.

* Pronouns have become a potential tripwire in the corporate world. But Star was clearly just anthropomorphic artificial intelligence with no actual gender “identity.” At the same time, it was clear that Star was supposed to sound like a “she.” So I’m just playing along here.

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