Technology With A Human Face

by Ivor Soans    Jan 14, 2005

I’m all for technology-savvy businesses–especially in the services sector. But I’m discovering that unless service-oriented businesses fuse technology with a personal touch, they run the risk of making a mess of the business and bringing in new complexities that are no better than the legacy complexities of yesteryear.

Look at what happened to me with my over dependence on private banks. A few days ago I was in another city and made a payment at a petrol station using my credit card. Surprisingly the transaction was rejected. Some more tries amidst increasing grumbling from the staff at the petrol station and we got more of the same result. Finally, I used another card.

I called the bank that had issued the card. After I explained the problem the executive kept me on hold for a while before she admonishingly told me that I hadn’t paid a card bill and so my account was blocked. I was dumbfounded–I’ve been banking with this bank for some years now and I’ve always paid the complete bill on time, despite heavy usage, leave alone default on a payment.

Some more time resulted in her getting back with more information. I had supposedly defaulted on an electronic credit card account (one that can only be used on the Net) and the amount was quite small. Since I had just availed of this facility around two months ago and I never remembered getting a bill, I protested. I was told that all electronic card account statements were only sent by e-mail. Now that was news!

I probed further. Even if I had overlooked the statement (which indeed I had, as I later discovered–I thought it was more marketing junk from the bank), couldn’t the bank call me before blocking my account? And what about my past credit history? The bank had recently given me a premium card free for life and kept bombarding me with new offers everyday–proof of good standing. Shouldn’t a past credit history be taken into consideration when you block a good customer’s account over an unpaid payment that is measly by any standards?

I was informed that things worked the way they worked, and nothing could be done because some system somewhere had automatically blocked my card. Of course, she sweetly suggested that I could take a manual authorization, which they’d be glad to provide (based on my card history), for each transaction.

I didn’t quite appreciate that last bit. I haven’t used this bank’s card since–I’ve happily used my other cards. If a bank that touts itself as a bank that never sleeps has its hands tied because of some ridiculous technology that takes stupid decisions, and if the bank says nothing can be done even after the ridiculousness of the situation has been brought to its notice, why should I provide business to that bank?

I think that’s where public sector banks are making a difference–they are using technology with a human face, and not as a dumb solution that may do a task automatically and quickly, but at the same time could inadvertently send a customer into the waiting hands of the competition.

There’s a very important lesson in this for enterprise IT managers. Don’t simply use technology blindly–ensure that all the possible scenarios are taken into consideration, and always ensure than technology can be overruled when it makes a dumb decision. Else, you could be left with only technology and no customers.