Customer from Hell Business Card

Bruce Lightner vs. The Bank of America
(The Customer from Hell)

Introduction

BofA Logo

This is an account of my dealings with customer "service" automation at the Bank of America (BofA). I opened checking and savings accounts with the downtown La Jolla branch of the Bank of America over 30 years ago when I moved to La Jolla to attend the University of California at San Diego. (In my student days, we called it the Bank of Amerika.) I've banked there ever since. Everyone loves to complain about BofA service, and at various times I've been one of them.

My needs are simple, and my interaction with the bank is well defined. After every payday, I walk to the local bank branch and deposit my paycheck into my BofA checking account. At that time I take back a little cash for spending money. During the intervening times we write checks on the account and the bank honors them. That's what banks are supposed to do.

However, with the invention of automated teller machines (ATMs), my relationship with the BofA was subject to change. This is a story about how the local BofA branch and I have come to an understanding regarding "automated" teller service (and the evolution of my new moniker as "The Customer from Hell").

What's Your Sign?

After I stopped being a student and landed a "real job", I got over-draft protection on the checking account, a good thing, given that in those days I let the bank balance my checkbook. (Some people found this hard to believe...but, if the bank didn't steal too much from my account, then I was happy to let their computers do the book keeping.) Over-draft protection was a good thing, it was automatic, and it only cost money if I used it.

Then one day, along came automated teller machines. In the "old days" the bank even charged us to use them...little did we know the direction things were heading. ATMs were a great source of cash, given that the banks were only open from 10AM to 3PM Monday through Friday in those days. ATMs also offered to take deposits, so one day we decided to give it a try. We began depositing our paychecks via the ATM. As I recall, the BofA even gave us a discount for doing that. However, that didn't last long...

One weekend we deposited our paychecks via ATM, then proceeded to pay a number of bills via checks drawn on the checking account. What most people don't know is that deposits made via automated teller are processed by sleepy minimum wage employees late at night in some gigantic BofA processing center, where speed, not accuracy, is the prime directive. We later learned that to our misfortune, the minimum wage person at the processing center somehow changed the sign of our deposit, and turned it into a withdrawal of the same amount as the deposit. As it turns out, what you enter into the ATM as your deposited amount doesn't figure into the process. (Surprised?) In processing our ATM "deposit", the bank first deducted the amount of both paychecks from the account balance (taking it negative), then, after first exhausting our over-draft protection, the bank then began bouncing checks right and left. In those days, notification of overdrafts were made via U.S. Mail, which made the discovery of this ATM processing error less than timely!

Although the BofA eventually made good on our deposit, and called a number of our creditors explaining their error, the pain was not worth the convenience of depositing a check via ATM. This lesson also soured me on the concept of "automatic deposit". A piece of paper promising to pay some cash amount is what I want in my hands at the end of a pay period! I also want my cancelled checks back...another paper trail that cannot be denied. I'm also not ever paying bills by phone or via the Internet...once again, you don't get a paper trail, and you're left to the mercy of "The Computer".

The Big Lie

After the ATM deposit "sign error" incident, I settled into a familiar pattern with my paycheck, which I have come to enjoy. After each payday, I walk to the bank, go inside, give my deposit to a teller, ask for a bit of cash back, and (now that the tellers all have computer terminals), ask for my current account balance. I leave with a record of what happened to my money...I even know who is responsible for entering the amount of my deposit. That person is paid more than the minimum wage key-punchers at the BofA ATM processing center, and hopefully is better qualified to handle my money. I can even check to see if my person is awake!

The BofA doesn't like this scheme, even though I've been using it with them for over 30 years! Now days they want you to use the ATM. They don't want you inside the bank talking to their tellers. (They even have checking accounts where they charge you for even coming inside.) I felt things really went down-hill several years ago after the BofA installed ATM card readers at each teller's "window". Now, when you go up to a teller window, they want you to swipe your ATM card through their reader. Looks like an ATM, smells like an ATM, "quacks" like an ATM...must be an ATM! This is where I drew the line...

In the "old days" the bank tellers knew me by name, and seldom asked for ID. In recent years, the tellers started getting younger (or am I just getting older?), and their turn-over rate accelerated. Being a human teller has no future...the "real" future lies with somehow becoming an automated teller. More often than not, I am served by a "teller trainee", sometimes more machine-like than the ATM outside the bank.

Initially, the teller trainee programming went as follows:

   Program #1:

   IF {customer requests cash back} THEN
      {ask customer to swipe ATM card through reader and enter PIN}
      IF {customer says no} THEN
         {tell customer THE BIG LIE}
         {ask customer for driver's license}
         {copy license number into computer}
         {dispense cash}
      ELSE
         {dispense cash}
The "Big Lie" goes as follows: "We only ask for your ATM card and PIN to protect you." The truth is that the procedure was put in place to protect the bank, not me! Also, the procedure allows the bank to hire mindless people as tellers. What bothers me (besides the fact that I never had to do it before) is that I am left with the feeling that the bank is assuming that I am trying to defraud them, at the same time I am extending my trust to them by depositing my hard-earned money (at ridiculously low interest rates) in their bank.

I accepted BofA's initial "automatic teller zombie" programming as long as I could abort the "Big Lie" part. However, when the State of California sent me a new drivers license with a magnetic strip on the back, the teller programming changed to:

   Program #2:

   IF {customer requests cash back} THEN
      {ask customer to swipe ATM card through reader and enter PIN}
      IF {customer says no} THEN
         {tell customer THE BIG LIE}
         {ask customer to swipe drivers license through reader}
         IF {customer says no} THEN
            {tell customer THE BIG LIE again}
            {ask customer for driver's license}
            {copy license number into computer}
            {ask customer for second form of ID}
            {do something else...}
            {dispense cash}
         ELSE
            {dispense cash}
      ELSE
         {dispense cash}
This made me crazy! We never have gotten past the "ask customer for second form of ID" part, so I don't know what they do with that information. At that point I'm in full "road rage", but I'm not in my car!

What happens next is a dialog that goes something like the following:

  • Me: I want to talk to the manager
  • Teller: May I have your drivers license?
  • Me: Why?
  • Teller: So I can take it to the manager.
  • Me: You mean you want my wallet?
  • Teller: No, can't you take it out of your wallet?
  • Me: No! Send the manager over here?
  • Teller: [goes to get manager]
  • Manager: What seems to be the problem?
  • Me: If I wanted to use the ATM, I wouldn't have come inside...
  • Manager: [begins to tell the BIG LIE...]
  • Me: [interrupting] Save your breath, you've told me this before...
  • Manager: [gives secret sign to teller]
  • Teller: How would you like your cash back Mr. Lightner?
  • Me: [Teller's name from name tag], will you remember me if you see me again?
  • Teller: Yes
  • Me: Good, because, to quote Arnold Swarzneggar, "I'll be back!"
We followed Program #2 for months on end, except for the rare times that I was served by a teller I had encountered before. They always did remember me, and reverted to Program #1.

Customer from Hell

But this began to get old, it was taking far too much time, and my blood pressure didn't need the boost. I believe that the bank manager was quite relieved when I shifted over to the following procedure when the teller did not recognize me and asked for something other than my freely offered drivers license...in my wallet, of course.

  • Teller: Would you swipe your drivers license through the reader?
  • Me: Tell the manager that "The Customer from Hell" is here?
  • Teller: Huh?
  • Me: [Smiling] Tell the manager that "The Customer from Hell" is here?
  • Teller: [goes over to managers desk]
  • Manager: [gives secret sign to teller]
  • Teller: [returns to window]
  • Teller: How would you like your cash back Mr. Lightner?
  • Me: [Teller's name from name tag], will you remember me if you see me again?
  • Teller: Yes
  • Me: Good, because, to quote Arnold Swarzneggar, "I'll be back!"
Under this system, the manager is happy, the "automated teller zombies" are (may be?) happy, and most importantly, I'm happy. The bank manager seldom looks up from her work anymore. My semimonthly transaction is quick and painless...and I don't get upset. (I guess this also makes me famous in some banking circles? One time a BofA teller I'd never seen before told me: "I've heard of you!")

I've had a special "Customer from Hell" business card made up for the purposes of banking with the BofA. The cards have become popular collectors' items for BofA "automated teller zombie's"...and their managers.

Postscript

One of my good friends shared this BofA story with me the other day. He went into the local BofA branch to get some cash for an upcoming off-road trip to Mexico (with me). Because of the relatively large amount of cash, he was hassled by the teller regarding identification. When asked for the dreaded second form of ID, he replied: "The Customer from Hell doesn't need a second form of ID!". To his surprise, the teller then gave him the cash...no additional ID required! (Apparently, just knowing the "Customer from Hell" gets one special treatment at the local BofA branch. Try it at your branch...who knows...it could catch on! :-)

This Web page also became the basis of a story at BankingInfo.Com.


Last updated Sat Jul 18 11:06:25 PDT 1998

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