Friday, February 25, 2011


Interactive Voice Response (IVR)

I’ve been meaning to change my credit-card PIN (not PIN number, please; PIN already includes the word number) for a while now. I don’t need it to be reset... I know the current one, and I just want to change it. For whatever reason, one can’t do that from the web site, but only by calling in. Having just returned last night from meetings in Orlando, where I’ve been all week, I decided to call in.

When I connect, I first get a cheerful voice telling me the great news (their phrase, not mine): they have changed their system, and now I can speak things like my account number, my selections, and such, rather than just entering them from the number pad. In other words, they have a new IVR system.


It suggests that I might press 2 para español (I don’t), and then asks for my account number. I choose to enter it the old-fashioned way, and I follow with my zip code when the prompt requests it. It correctly identifies my account and spends a minute or two reciting every detail about my account that it can think of, whether I want to hear it or not: my account balance, my remaining available credit, the portion of my remaining available credit I can use for cash advances, the amount and date of my last payment (along with thanks for sending it in), the minimum payment currently due and the due date. I wait all this out.

It then tells me what to say if I want to hear all that again (&deity, no!), suggests two other things I might say, and gives me a fourth choice, I want to do something else.

I want to do something else, I say.

Briefly tell me what you would like to do, it says. For example, you could say, ‘I want to change my PIN number.’ Yes, it says PIN number; waddyagonnado? But it’s funny that the very thing I want to do is the example it gives. I say, in the nice, clear voice I speak in, I want to change my PIN number, including the word number, just as prompted.

I’m sorry; I didn’t quite understand you. Not quite, you see. Almost, perhaps, but not quite. It asks me to try again, to just say a few words. I guess some folks bloviate, become logorrhetic, or otherwise confuse the electrons.

I want to change my PIN number.

No joy.

It fails on the third try, as well, and then sends me to a human, who, as they’re trained to do, apologizes for the trouble I’m having, and tells me that he can transfer my call to the PIN-changing system. Great! So he does. I wait a moment...

...and find that I’m back to the beginning of the whole process, from the Spanish prompt to the account-number prompt to the zip-code prompt, and I listen again to the account status message. It’s so nice that my minimum payment is only $24, though, of course, I would never pay off my balance at that rate. Nevermind. I again tell it that I want to do something else, I again tell it that I want to change my PIN, and it again fails to understand me thrice.

I get a second human.

I moan to this second human that the IVR system isn’t understanding me, and he offers to stay on the line with me while I try it again. This way, he can hear what’s going wrong and direct it to the right place anyway. Great!

I/we go back through the whole thing again... Spanish, account, zip, status info, do something else, change PIN, change PIN, change PIN. See?, I say, while the IVR system says it will connect me with a human operator. But my friend isn’t there after all, and in a moment a third person responds and, as the others, sympathizes with me for the trouble I’m having. She tells me that they are having problems with their system, implying that they know about it but are inflicting it on everyone anyway.

She offers me an easy solution: I can use the option numbers instead of the speech recognition. Of course, now that the speech reco is in there, they don’t list the numbers any more, but she tells me what they are: press 4, then 2. Great! She sends me back into the abyss.

Spanish, account number, zip code... but now, as it starts to read my account status to me I barge in with an aggressive 4 on my number pad, and it stops in its tracks and asks me to say what I want to do, again suggesting that I might say, I want to change my PIN number. Instead, though, now savvier, I press 2.

I’m sorry; I didn’t quite understand you. It didn’t understand the number on the pad either. I press 2 again and get the same second oops message, and a third try brings the promise of a human. It’s possible that it had understood me all along, but the PIN-setting system is what’s really broken. Human number four comes on the line, and, yes, I did get four different people.

I tell this one what happened, and he says that the only way to change my PIN is to go through the system that way — it’s so sensitive that they don’t want human operators to know the customer’s PIN (I suppose that makes sense). He tries to get me to do it again, but, feeling like a mouse in a maze or, perhaps, a Candid Camera victim, I decline, say that he should please report that the system is horridly broken, and I’ll try calling in another time in hope that it will have been fixed. He tries not to let me go, but I say, No, thanks very much for the help. Bye, and I hang up.

I should have stayed in Orlando.


The Ridger, FCD said...

I'd have tried saying "two" the second time, and the third time I believe I would have said something much, much worse than "PIN number" (which actually I do say all the time, sorry I guess, at least I don't say "ATM Machine"). Then I'd have asked the fourth operator for his boss.

Barry Leiba said...

I usually do ask for bosses, but in this case I think the best thing is to wait a week or two and hope they'll have fixed the problem by then.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Yeah - you just *wanted* to change your PIN. What if you'd *needed* to? I guess you could have cheerfully told them they'd be responsible for the charges... but I doubt that would have worked. You'd have just ended with your card canceled.