Caught on tape: Another support call nightmare (this time, Bank of America)

Summary:In this third caught-on-tape installment (#1 T-Mobile, #2 Ticketmaster) in of a series of IT Matters podcasts I'm calling The Support Files,  I've got Bank of America on tape giving me blantantly false information about the customer service phone numbers on the back of its ATM cards.

In this third caught-on-tape installment (#1 T-Mobile, #2 Ticketmaster) in of a series of IT Matters podcasts I'm calling The Support Files,  I've got Bank of America on tape giving me blantantly false information about the customer service phone numbers on the back of its ATM cards.  Not only that, the recording of my attempt to locate a human while navigating the company's interactive voice response system (IVR) on the telephone demonstrates how BofA falls apart during a critical moment of truth: that moment when you're standing in front of an ATM machine that's outside of the country and its not working (in other words, you can't get to your money). 

This situation actually happened to me during a recent stay in Canada.  I walked up to an ATM machine, put my BofA ATM card into the slot, and, after entering my PIN number, it responded with a message that it could not access my account.  I took my card back and, naturally, flipped it over in search of a phone number to call to rectify the situation.  I was out of money and needed cash. Very clearly printed on the back of my BofA ATM card are two phone numbers for customer service. One is a toll-free 800 number. The other is a number for cardholders to call if they're outside the US. It's 315-724-4022. Since I was in Canada, I called the second number and the message I got was that the number was no longer in service and that no further information was available. So, imagine if you're out of the country with no access to your cash and no way to reach your bank.  Problem?  You betcha.

On a wing and a prayer, I tried the 800 number and it actually worked from Canada (contrary to what the card suggests...another little customer moment of truth).  I found my way to a human (a painful process: strangely, for a number printed on the back of an ATM card, there's no option for "I'm at an ATM machine and can't get to my money") and, in the process of resolving the problem, the customer service rep said she'd look into the disconnected number.  There are basically two ways for BofA to solve the main problem.  The company must either (1) reclaim that phone number and make sure it rings through to its customer service center or [not sure if this is even possible] (2) re-issue ATM cards to all of its customers with the correct number on the back [imagine the expense?].  To leave things as they are as BofA has so far done is putting its customers at significant risk.  Not just the ones who travel internationally, but also the one that, for some reason, can't get the 800# to work (which I've had happen to me at pay phones).

So, yesterday, more than a month later, I decided to try that 315 number again.  And again, I got the same message.  So, once again, I called the 800 number and found my way to a human even though no such option is clearly offered.  After I explained the problem, the customer service rep (who was very pleasant over the phone) looked at her own ATM card to verify that I had the right number (which I did) and here's the exchange that took place next:

BofA rep: What I'm going to do...I did just look into this a little bit further.. that is the same number, OK.. basically, what must have happened is that day, OK, that you called, the phone line must have been down at some point.
DB: No I just called it a few moments ago. It's still down.
BofA rep: You just called it a few moments ago and you're out of the country?
DB: No, no, no.  I'm back in the country right now.
BofA rep: But that [number] is for outside of the country.
DB: It only works outside of the country?
BofA rep: Outside of the country, correct.
....
DB: So, in other words, this is only a phone number that works outside of North America?
BofA rep: That's correct....So, if it's outside of North America and you called that number, it will go through. If you call from inside, it's not going to go through.

You can hear this entire exchange in my recording of the call, plus you can hear me ask at one point, how it was that they were able to verify my ability to access my account by checking the phone number I was calling from.  I have CallerID blocked on all outbound calls.  Does BofA have the same sort of special access to the CallerID system that the 911 system has? I was promised that I'd be called back that same day with an answer, but never received a call.

More importantly, I called James Governor -- one of the principal analysts at Redmonk and someone who is based in the UK -- and asked him if he'd do me a favor by testing the 315 number from his European phone line. Like me, Governor got the proverbial "no longer in service" message proving that the explanation I received was pure bunk. My converstation with Governor is included in the podcast. You can download a recording of the call, or it's streamable with the built-in player above, or, of you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it will automatically get downloaded to your computer and/or MP3 player.  Note: using an audio editor (Audacity), I edited the audio to remove the long telephone hold periods and a bit of conversation where I was talking abou the weather with the customer service rep.  Also, anything confidential (account numbers, phone numbers, etc.) was edited out as well.

Topics: Mobility

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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