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When a company providing financial services emphasizes digital convenience, you’d think that also applies to its customer service. After all, nearly every major bank and credit union pushes online banking, mobile banking, text and email alerts and electronic bill payment.

But there seems to be a digital divide between financial institutions promoting digital and thinking digital — as many of their customers do. At no time was this more apparent than in my interactions with two credit card issuers on the same day, in two potentially difficult situations, all regarding lowly email.

I’ve had a couple of VISA cards with Bank of America for years due to its relationship with Alaska Airlines. Recently, one of my cards was refused when trying to buy postage at A few days later, my online bill paying service notified me that, “Bank of America Credit Card has changed your account number.” Then Quicken stopped updating the account, saying it was no longer valid.

Sinking feeling increasing, I sent a secure customer service message on the Bank of America website asking what was going on — Bank of America has a history of immediately canceling card numbers if a security breach is suspected and has done this to me before. I waited for a response.

And waited. Two mornings later, hearing nothing by secure message, I called. Yes, person-at-the-end-of-the-endless-ad-and-option-tree confirmed, there had a been a mass breach by a merchant processor. Yes, my card had been cancelled and a new account number issued. I would be getting a letter with a new card in several days.

Frank Catalano

So, I innocently asked, since the account information includes my email address, why wasn’t I notified by email? Bank of America can’t send emails to everyone in a mass breach, came the reply.

But wait: the bank can send everyone a physical letter?

My call was escalated to a floor supervisor. That’s when the digital disconnect and discourse devolved to a state even Kafka might appreciate. To paraphrase and condense:

“So what about the email or text fraud alerts I set up?”

“The alerts don’t actually notify you unless actual fraud has already occurred. It won’t notify you if your card is canceled.”

“Why did I have to find out from the Postal Service website, then my online bill payer service and then Quicken that my card is no longer valid — and your customer service never responded to my secure message on your website?”

“I can’t comment on our security procedures.”

“Really? What if I were stranded while traveling with a non-working VISA through no fault of my own and no notice from you?”

“You have to let us know whenever you travel to prevent that. Even in the U.S.”

I was incredulous. “Even in the U.S.? No other card I hold has that kind of a policy.”

“I can’t comment on their security procedures.”

“That’s a bullshit policy.”

“Do not use such vulgarities with me.”

This is when I realized I was arguing with a script, a poorly designed ELIZA program, or a chair. “Bullshit bullshit bullshit,” I intelligently riposted.

“Thank you for calling.” Click.

I had to wonder if his goal secretly had been to see how much he could goad me so he could finally use the word “vulgarities.” Thirty minutes of my life and a small amount of adrenalin, gone forever.

Fast forward to the same afternoon, in what seemed to be an alternate credit card universe.

As I’ve written before, I have a frequently abused email address, often mistakenly used by others with a similar name. I had started getting emails about someone else’s Best Buy-branded credit card, including legal change-in-term notices — stuff the right person really needed to see.

Finding no way to message card-issuer Capital One without knowing how to log into the card holder’s account, I sighed, picked up the phone, and called the number on the contact page.

Within five minutes, a supervisor found the account, deleted my email address and arranged to send notices to the account holder by physical mail. And even thanked me for pointing it out. Capital One knew how to deal with email communications issues! I was almost giddy.

What did these two wildly divergent experiences illustrate? While digital may be touted an imperative for business cost savings and customer service, some companies fail by not realizing digital savvy applies to understanding digital communication, not just digital presentation. Social media, texting and even email counts.

Oh, and that secure Bank of America customer service reply? I finally noticed it sitting in my account inbox on the Bank of America website a month later. Without the promised email notification to let me know it was there.

In it, the customer service rep carefully provided detailed information about the wrong credit card.

Bullshit indeed.

Top image via BigStock.

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