Collectively as an industry, we’ve allowed those people who manage and work with computer systems to create the largest excuse for bad behaviour imaginable.

“The system won’t let me do that.”

How exactly did we allow anyone to say that to anyone else without a good beating?

Last time I checked, computer programs implemented procedures that are derived from policy; they do not become the policy. I have a case study that would have been funnier if it hadn’t happened to me.

Recently I let my bill-paying fall behind and I missed a payment for a credit card. Good manners forbid me to mention that it’s the bank that Anne Murray used to sing for and that it has the corner on the market for issuing miles on a major domestic air carrier in Canada. Anyway, one day my card was suspended. There was no warning (e.g. a phone call) and I had to wait until chosen business hours to speak to someone.

I was told that the computer performed both the card suspension and the reduction in credit limit and there was nothing the bank could do about it.

When asked if it were not a good idea to phone before taking punitive action, they said they didn’t have the staff. But they did have five people for me to talk to (in a rage). This is illogical because common sense dictates they would have saved staff time if they had considered how people wanted to be treated.

I won’t go into the customer service rant; apparently it’s OK to treat someone badly and blame computers because it’s unsecured credit. Tell me the treatment is better with secured credit. Try missing a mortgage payment.

Obviously the CIOs of financial institutions are responsible for how a system behaves. My open question to IT leaders is: why did you let the system become policy? There is a huge distance between coding:

IF customer.LastPaymentReceivedDate – Today() >= 40 days THEN

Update CustomerAccount.Status = ‘buggered’


Send Application For Another Card


and telling a customer, “I can’t change your card; the computer won’t let me.”

Assuming the system wasn’t coded so tightly that no one has access to data, I interpreted the bank employee’s “the-computer-made-me-do-it” statement as indicating she didn’t have the authority to make a change to automated systems. For some reason she wasn’t interested when I told her computer systems don’t dictate customer treatment – the people who implemented the policy do.

Where do we go from here? We have a situation where computer systems are not being used to enhance customer service; they are being used to limit it.

It was not too long ago that IT departments were being accused of paving the cow path by taking a bad business process and speeding it up. Leadership from the IT management was needed to convince the departments – the customers of the system – that the process needed to be changed in order to optimize it for use with computer systems. Even if that had occurred, the process was not geared to customer service, but to only meeting the internal department’s specifications for financial and business practice controls.

Enhancing customer service and integrating it into internal department controls is the only way to succeed. I would dare to suggest that customers not only want things done quickly with a minimum of paperwork and fuss, but also with an interest in how they feel. So why not design systems, processes and procedures to do that?

Ford is a frustrated cardholder in Vancouver. He can be reached at robert@quokkasystems.com.