BoALast week Section 619 (Spokane) of the American Society of Quality (ASQ) had a member meeting at the Mirabeau Hotel where we heard Manuel Marco discuss the upcoming changes in ISO 9000: 2015 – it was our most attended event in years. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Mirabeau wanted to be paid and, because they already had my credit card from the initial deposit, the entire bill was placed on my credit card. No problem because our treasurer had come prepared to write a check for the full amount, which he did only to me instead of the hotel. I promptly deposited the check in my personal account so I could cover the bill.

Imagine my surprise yesterday when the check was returned by my bank with a $12.00 return fee and a note saying “Refer to maker.” As I knew we had sufficient funds in the ASQ account, I couldn’t imagine what could be the reason for the check not clearing. A quick phone call to our treasurer revealed that Bank of America had FROZEN our account. Why?

Well, it appears that Bank of America had asked for our Tax Identification Number (TIN) which our treasurer had provided two months earlier. Now this account had been in existence for over 10 years with never a problem. But now there was – The TIN was associated with the American Society for Quality – our account was associated with the Spokane Section 619 with American Society for Quality on the second line.

Apparently, the two names didn’t agree and hence the account was frozen. Oh, a letter was sent explaining the action but it hasn’t been received yet.

Now how could anyone decide that the TIN didn’t apply to our account? Well, it’s a case where no one decided on the specifics – what happened was that some programmer working for Bank of America wrote a program to check the name associated with the TIN and compare it with the name on the account – if they weren’t exactly the same, freeze the account and send a letter. There were no people involved in the actual decision – the rule was created in the computer and that was that.

I understand the need for verifying TINs in order for the government to correctly collecting the taxes that are legally required. The problem comes in the fact that a majority of the “problems” with TINs are not attempts to avoid proper taxes but human error including simply typing the name incorrectly. Why should an honest mistake required so much effort to make right?

The fix required people. Our treasurer found out when he couldn’t deposit at the drive-in money received at the meeting. He had to enter the branch office and talk with a customer service representative, who, after investigating, found out what the real issue was and posted a correction – which took place over night because these things are done in batches. (Seriously, who does batch processing anymore? Bank of America!) So the next day, we could deposit money and get checks cashed – again.

But from a customer service perspective was this a happy ending? As I explained to the customer service representative, the trouble was confined to me as the Section leader, but if we had paid for the event with a check to the hotel instead, what would have been the damage to our reputation? She made the proper sympathy sounds but nothing in the system was changed – Bank of America credited the charge to our account and that’s the end as far as they are concerned.

But their response was disturbing to me because it indicated only a half-felt commitment to their own policy statement:
In the present scenario of competitive banking, excellence in customer service is the most important tool for sustained business growth. Customer complaints are part of the business life of any corporate entity. This is more so for banks because banks are service organizations. As a service organization, customer service and customer satisfaction should be the prime concern of any bank. The bank believes that providing prompt and efficient service is essential not only to attract new customers, but also to retain existing ones.

What customer service is it that accepts disrupting your customers’ financial abilities to operate in good faith? From the customer’s (ASQ Section 619) viewpoint, we had done nothing wrong. We have operated for over 10 years with the same name on our checks and account, we provided requested information promptly, and we had even met with representatives and reviewed the account just weeks before the account was frozen. How could we have known there was a problem and headed it off? Unfortunately, we couldn’t. Bank of America had created a system and processes that guaranteed disruption along with angst, frustration and anger.

Ultimately, Bank of America created a system that dehumanizes everyone. The account doesn’t represent people, it’s just letters and numbers in a computer. Rather than communicate in a way to speed problem resolution, send a computer generated letter – it requires no human interaction and it’s cheap. Rather than proactively dealing with the situation, you wait for the customer to come to you – who’s going to be angry and upset. Rather than having a customer service representative contact the customer offering to help resolve the questions quickly, have the customer service representative first have to deal with the fore-mentioned angry and upset customer and apologize for a screw up they aren’t responsible for. And everyone involved has to suffer the consequences without being able to do anything to make the system better.

Is it possible to come up with a worst system?

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.