There are days when I really believe that businesses really don't want my money. This beggars belief.
In NZ in October last year we bought my wife a cellphone with a Vodaphone prepay account and used it while we were there. Mostly because her Aussie phone was locked to the Optus network and unlocking it is a major operation because the telco wants to close down as much competition as possible.
So yesterday we charge it up because today we are going to NZ for a week, and try to top up the account. We go to Vodaphone NZ's website and try to login. OF COURSE we have forgotten the password. But that's OK because the website will text one to you.
It did. It arrived. We tried to use it. The site refused to accept it. Twice. So we can't top up the account.
Then we call their customer support. But they are closed for the day at 6PM because, you know, nobody EVER has a problem after 6PM. OK, I need to do it today.
My wife goes to work, I call their help desk. I explain that I can't give the pin number because it was October last year and who remembers it since then.
The help person then wants to know "for security" when we bought the phone.
October last year.
"Was it you or your wife who registered the account?"
Dumb question. It doesn't loom large in our lives, really.
What kind of account is it?
What kind of prepay?
You have to tell me what kind of prepay
I DON'T KNOW, your branding is of NO INTEREST TO ME.
When does your wife get home?
Not till AFTER you have closed up for the day, there's a 2 hour time difference between here and there.
Well then you need to call 777 and navigate through the menu to find out what kind of account you have then call me back and tell me.
BUT YOU ALREADY KNOW THAT
Yes but its a SECURITY question
YES, BUT YOU JUST TOLD ME HOW TO HACK YOUR SECURITY SYSTEM!!!!!!! So its not REALLY a security system IS IT?
Yes but I need you answer 2 SECURITY questions before I can tell you anything.
Holy cow, where is Bruce Schneier when you need him?
(Observation here about the marketing meaning of words - they don't have any)
Well, you can always use the IOU system
If you text IOU to number 468 AND if your account is less that 20 cents, we will put in $2 for you to make a call
OK, so how much is a local call?
OK, so how much credit do I have right now
I can't tell you because you can't give me your pin number
OK, SO IF I HAVE 25 CENTS IN THE ACCOUNT, I CAN'T MAKE A CALL, I CAN'T USE THE IOU AND, BECAUSE IT WILL BE 11.30 AT NIGHT AND YOU CLOSE AT 6PM I CAN'T CALL YOU EITHER. RIGHT?
At about that time I hung up; its not the staff member, its a seriously stupid system. Oh, and BTW, I tried the IOU and sure enough, the credit is 39 cents.
I just spent half an hour on utterly meaningless twaddle, failing to accomplish something that, with a genuine HELP desk, would have been done in maybe 8 minutes and been a positive experience. I wanted to register my credit card so I could PAY them some money. That is not in itself a security threat.
I wanted to know if my wife's account was more than 20 cents and less than 49 cents. That is not a security threat even if I wanted to know YOUR account balance.
If I had wanted to change the name of the account holder, and/or the address, or change the account type, THOSE ARE SECURITY THREATS.
The problem is that this is not unusual. It is SOP for companies like this. This stuff needs to happen because if it doesn't the system we have set up fails to operate. Which is to say that the system we have set up is designed to fail. As someone who does some work on Pandemic response, that troubles me deeply.
UPDATE: It gets better, WAAAY better.
Because I need to make an actual phone call when I get to NZ I now have to send two (count 'em) pointless text messages from the phone to push it into the IOU friendly zone.
And after messing with the menus I finally found my plan name (motormouth - erm, would that be specifically for people who actually want to TALK?) so I get back into the HELP desk and discover that
- My wife's credit card is not registered to the account
- Neither is mine
- I can't register a credit card of any kind because (tah daaaaaaah! They have just had a SYSTEM UPGRADE which prevents them from adding anybody's credit cards to the system until some unspecifiable time in the future.
So, not only was the whole process absurd and upsetting, it was totally, make that TOTALLY a waste of time because I could not have completed the task that I wanted to AT ALL.
But, because I was not SECURE, they couldn't even tell me that they could not, under any circumstances, help me. Nobody could say when I explained that I needed to do a credit card top up, that no cards were registered, none could be added and so there was no point continuing the conversation.
Now, a business that actually cared about its customers might have said something like this.
"Hi Earl, I understand the problem (late night arrival, need to call no guarantee I could buy a prepay card at that time of night etc etc) because the so-called upgrade is hanging up registration of new credit cards we can't solve it for you right now so, since your credit wont let you make that call, we'll drop in $2 to tide you over till you can buy the prepay card or use the ATM top up.
Result, happy customer instead of PO'd customer and noisy blogger. Bigger question. Why is it so hard for companies to do that?