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

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.

TOPICS: Mobility

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.

Topic: Mobility

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  • Telephones

    It is possible to set up telephone systems so that a number will only accept a call from a certain source (or sources). There's no way that you would do that in the circumstances described.

    With regards to blocking caller id.: This is a function with very high levels of flexibility, and a bank would certainly have access to all inbound caller ids. I'm fine with that - provided that its handled properly. What you do not want is to receive an unprompted sales call from your bank when you have caller id blocked, and when you are ticking boxes to instruct them not to call.
  • wow, you are the most anal retentive cust ever!

    I can't believe you would expect such immediate service about a disconnected phone number when you were very easily able to dial the alternate number, lol. If the alternate number didn't work, then you have an issue, otherwise stfu cause you got through. Were you able to get your cash? That's what's important.

    You are obviously of the "instant gratification" generation that plagues my peers as well. Please try to work on that some and you will be a better person.

    To believe that you would even suggest that BoA automatically replaces every credit/debit card they have to correct a disconnnected phone number is ludicrous. However, I do understand where you are coming from being that you are prolly an ocd gen x'er that thinks BoA is making trillions hand over fist on a daily basis and that if you can point out a small oversight made by this world dominating corporation you are doing a service to all of the little guys everywhere. Get a freaking clue. Think about the csr's that make $10-15/hr. and their opportunity for a raise being chipped away by every idiot that weilds the power of the press to point out insignificant csr "issues". Get a life.
    • 1 month = instant gratification?

      Ahem, Greanhouse, he said that he tested the 315 number [b]over a month later[/b] and it still failed. That doesn't equate to instant gratification to me.

      Moreover, he discredited the idea of BoA replacing every credit/debit card as soon as he mentioned it - or how do you describe the comment, "Imagine the expense?" RTFA.

      BoA certainly has the money and the ability to reclaim the 315 number within (I imagine) a week or two. Whether they do or not, David got his money, as you say, but what will you do if you're in France and [i]neither[/i] the 315 nor the 800 number work?
      • Thank you....

        I really didn't understand the instant gratification point. If you are, as you say, in France, you certainly deserve to either (a) get your money out of an ATM machine there (instantly), or (b) seek telephone-based recourse.

        With no way to contact the bank (the "advertised" numbers not working), it may not be a question of instant gratification. It may be a question of survival (or of getting home, or whatever).

    • Greanhouse - It is difficult to find a strong enough insult for you

      You post was utterly ridiculous and displays tremendous ignorance.
      You ability to not grasp what was said and not identify with the nobility of this expos? suggests
      1. You are not a BofA customer
      2. You don't travel internationally
      3. You will have no need to use your bank or credit cards outside of the US.
      4. You have complete faith in banking technologies and believe them to be infallible.

      I would hate for you to be in any position of responsibility over any service I would ever, directly or indirectly need.

      Congratulations to the author of the piece and podcast for doing a great service to his customer peers and hopefully teaching others an important lesson.
      • Yikes

        I don't understand why you have to "find a strong enough insult for" db...
        The guy is just trying to make people aware that the BofA international number in the back of the card doesn't work. It's for other people's benefit. So the points you list are proof of your obvious igonarnce as to the purpose of the post.

        Then you go on to generalize that since he was upset (and rightly so, in my opinion) that he was lied to, and could have been left stranded and without money by the bank he trusts, it means that he could not take a position of responsibility of any service you might need...

        uh, ok.

        anyway, go aheand and rant to me if it makes you feel better

        and after that, take a chill pill
    • Anal Retentive

      I just can't beleive you are this stupid!
      Of course BoA should replace any card with a none working customer service number. Why not? They after all chose to disconnect the number in the first place and should have at least warned their customers by any mean available to them that the number is no longer in service and offered an alternate contact number for the customer to use in the event of any difficulty accessing their accounts.
      This IS after all called "Customer Service" and is a service provided by the bank, therefore the bank is responcible and accountable to it's customers.
      I take it you have never travelled out side of you town/city and encountered the problem of not being able to access your account?
      How about this scenario:
      pull up to a gas station in Canada and fill you car then go in to pay for it using your debit card, only to find that the station can't access your account. You have no cash on hand (that's way you're usin the debit card) and now the problems really start when the police are called in. Just remember, you are considered a forign person in the eye's of the canadian police and with no working BoA customer service phone number, the police will likely think you are pulling a scam and you can kiss you butt good bye for a little while.
      Think the potential problems thru befoe calling people names because you are just showing everyone you total lack of comprehension of this topic.
      • Sure...

        Although I understand what your intent is, Canadians, (even those wearing police uniforms) are not that stup?d. It would be more likely that they would help him figure out a way to pay or maybe even let him go. The possibilities of being detained are remote. Of course, that would depend on his attitude. If he displayed the same kind of arrogant asocial behaviour he did here, then he might have a hard time. :-)
    • Maybe the 800 number works in europe too!

      I'm with Greanhouse on this one. If the 800 number works in Canada then perhaps it works in France as well. I would automatically try the 800 number first in any country. As long as one of the phone numbers works, who cares? The world's a big complicated place and I'm sure the back of a credit card does not contain enough space to explain the telephone requirements for every country on earth.

      I worked for many years as a Service Manager with Sony of Canada and I can tell you first-hand that there are some customers who take pride in arguing their way around all reasonable policies and procedures and spend a great deal of time and effort just to 'nail' some poor csr rep. I agree, get a life!
      • obviously never been out of the us

        Obviously you've never been outside of the USA either - since 800 numbers only work in North America. 800 (along with 877, 866, etc.) are area codes set asside in the NANP for toll free calling. France uses a different code for their toll free calls.
        • North America?

          Are you sure it is North America? I am pretty sure it is only the US & Canada, as they share the same country code. When I was handling international calls, the technicians in Mexico would need to be patched through their local call center who would then call our direct US number.

          Justin James
      • Uhmmm No - 1800 is not a free call overseas

        I've lived abroad and I also worked for a company in London where I frequently needed to call 1-800 numbers in the USA. It was a toll call then and is a toll call now. So if the caller had no cash to pay for the call from a foreign country he would have been flat out of luck.

        For the non-travelers in this forum USA toll-free numbers are free from any country with a phone service interconnected with the USA phone service - Bahamas, Canada etc. Even if you dialed a long-distance USA number from these countries you would still dial 1 plus your 10-digit USA number. Callers from abroad must dial 001 and/or other numbers to access the USA phone system.

        For the record I have actually worked for Bofa and if you are lucky enough to actually reach the right person (whom I assure you definitely does NOT work in Customer Service) then at some point in the future the phone number MAY be corrected on future ATM cards.
    • The customer is always right

      ALWAYS. I am sure that BofA appreciates your vitriolic defense of their poor customer service, but who declared BofA a natural resource to be pandered to or a god to be worshipped?

      If they can't serve customers then they have no place in business. Period.

      BTW BofA's 2005 sales were $85.064 Billion and 2005 net income was $16.47 Billion. Divided by 365, that comes to $233.05 million and $43.96 million per DAY. So yes, that is only millions not trillions, ut could you tell the difference if you were in a room with it? And how many credit/debit card replacements would that fund? Also, while it's nice to "Think about the csr's that make $10-15/hr" (if that is indeed what they make - do you know for sure?), please remember that it is th $43-million-per-day company that woul pay for the credit/debit card replacements if that was the appropriate thing to do.

      It is people who behave like you, scared and beholden to large companies for no other reason than they are large, that enable them to perpetuate poor or nonexistent cstomer service. Suppose BofA discovered that the phone number that you have registered with them was no longer in service. They would be all over you, regardless of what you may have written on this website.

      YOU get a clue and a life. The only thing that I can figure is that either you are a BofA employee or you are receiving, shall we say, some very nice treatment from some BofA employee.
    • Unbelievable!

      There are some serious implications from Mr. Berlind?s article that apparently escape you as you do not give them any credence. First off saying because the 800 number worked it was problem solved and is a non issue is incorrect, secondly to claim a disconnected number is no big deal is incorrect, particularly where the number seems to have been out of commission for sometime and not only has the company done anything to rectify it, they have not notified customers about it, nor do they seem to even acknowledge they were aware of the problem or seem to be able to find a clue that the problem exists!

      Just because in this case Mr. Berlind happened to be in Canada and the 800 number worked that does nothing to change the fact outside of Canada or the U.S. the 800 number dose not work and who ever finds themselves in a very tough situation that BofA seems incapable of addressing, and Im betting they sell themselves based on the notion that they can address those emergency situations, so that is incorrect on their part.

      Further, if you listen to the recording of Mr. Berlinds call to BofA?s service rep you will hear an empirical illustration of what is wrong with customer service lines today generally. You have to weave your way through a series of automated prompts and responses that all too often lead to either a place you do not want to be, or to no place at all and a resulting dial tone in your ear. The length of time it took, and the hopps Mr. Berlind had to jump through to get to a real human on the other end of the line were inexcusable. I have watched many people over the last few years dealing with these so called ?automated help? lines and many people do not have the capacity of patience it too often takes to figure out what to do next when they cant get to a human on the other end and they give up. Without an available selection and prompt to use that selection to contact a human rep it certainly gives the impression that the company in questions really would rather not actually talk to you, and that is bad.

      The problem with too many service reps is they have the same attitude you displayed of; ?Don?t bother us when you see a problem in the making, don?t expect us to fix our service when its broken, and if you have a real problem that?s big trouble for you and its our fault, don?t blame me, I only answer the phone, I didn?t create the system or make the promise that was broken and I don?t know how to fix it, so all I have is a lie for you??
      • unbelievable

        Right on! Too often there is NO button that will answer your question. Too often you cannot find the button to get to someone who will answer your question. Shame on you for having a question they have not thought of so they could install another button with no meaning to you.
    • if the colunist is anal retentive, BofA is 'anal explusive' ;-)

      On the contrary, the author is doing something that journalists should do a great deal more of: muckraking, and holding corporations and individuals to some standard of truth. Not everything is just a matter of how much gobbledy-gook people can spin!

      I am very sympathetic to the poor workers who have to be underpaid and insulted; and I understand why they might learn to invent blah-blah. But invented blah-blah is not information; it's lying. Better to say, I'm so sorry I don't know and I'm afraid I don't know how to find out.
    • if the colunist is anal retentive, BofA is 'anal explusive' ;-)

      On the contrary, the author is doing something that journalists should do a great deal more of: muckraking, and holding corporations and individuals to some standard of truth. Not everything is just a matter of how much gobbledygook people can spin!

      I am very sympathetic to the poor workers who have to be underpaid and insulted; and I understand why they might learn to invent blah-blah. But invented blah-blah is not information; it's lying. Better to say, I'm so sorry I don't know and I'm afraid I don't know how to find out.
    • If he can't even read (Greanhouse)..

      what are the chances he'll understand the original post?

      I doubt Greanhouse will ever leave the country. This assumes the ability to get a passport and knowing that there IS something else outside the US.

      Nah, he'll happily put up with everything no matter how much time and money it costs him and others.

      Way to go Grean (moron)!

    • RE:wow, you are the most anal retentive cust ever!

      Listen Hole in the Head! BoA Really ruined a Trip To Europe when the 315 # didn't work-OUT OF ORDER and We Could'nt read the 800 number, it was worn as so many things are on the back of cards in a wallet, and yes BoA is making money HOFist, and free speech is a right in this good old USA, Just like Freedom of the Press,Why do you think everyone and their pregnant sister is trying to get in ??? 300 million Today!!And last they sure can send everyone who has a card a letter every 6 months with a change in terms,late fee's, rate hikes,How about a new out of country number? You need a suppository to keep anymore of your gray matter from, or is it brown from leaking out of the hole in your head, not the writer who pointed this out about BoA and the 39 other company's it owns!Did you forget the polish for your bosses shoes today or what!Oh and your 15hr job, forget it next year when it's 330 million one of the new 30 will have it for 8.00 an hour.
    • they give themselves away ...

      It is always easy to spot those people who are willing to put up with shoddy, second-rate service and merchandise ... by their reaction to people who think services and products should work correctly the first time!

      These are the folks that kept buying Chevy's in such huge numbers through the past 30 years that GM quite honestly just assumed that it was not necessary to engineer a car to be bug-free. Which is essentially why GM is in the trouble it is in in the US. Because the truth was that smarter folks were buying something more reliable. I have my own story vis-a-vis GM vs. Honda for reliability but that is another tale for sure. And the Buy-America crowd can just keep it to yourself. Newer Hondas have more US content than most newer Chevy's anyhow so spare us.

      The sad part is just how easy it would have been to avoid the whole problem ... just keep the official printed phone number live as a forwarder to the real number that didn't get published, eh? How tough was that one, eh? The BofA VP in charge of this department should be sending me his check, eh! :-)