Caught between computers

There must be something wrong with me this week. For someone who has spent the better part of his career dealing with networked systems, I seem to be caught in between computer networks more often than most people. Or maybe it is just because I am more sensitive to the issues involved? It’s downright spooky.

First there was my Bank of America online account. BofA bought credit card issuer MBNA a while back, and on Monday they finally brought together the two systems, so I can view my card transactions from the same system that has my banking details. I was counting the days, let me tell you. Things don’t much more exciting around here than the chance to see two systems brought together to make my life easier.

Well, so much for anticipation. When I went to pay my bills, I got dumped into a screen telling me how wonderful BofA was going to make my life if I wanted to sign up for their electronic bill presentment system. Trouble is, I already had done a lot of work specifying my payees under the old system, the same payees that were MIA from the screen I was looking at. Harumph.

I fired off an email to BofA support (well, a pseudo-email, because you can’t really communicate with their support over ordinary email, thanks spammers) and got a non-reply reply telling me that I basically was an idiot and asking me to send them tons of useless documentation. So I called them, and after spending 45 minutes on their line waiting and talking to someone that didn’t know anything, I finally got a representative that fessed up that yes, it was them and not me, and yes, the unification of their back-end systems wasn’t going well and it would be a few more days before they fixed things. Just so my time on hold wasn’t a complete waste, I asked that this kindly person communicate to their support department that people like me aren’t crazy and deserve a bit more respect when they debug the bank’s systems for them.

The funny thing is that BofA has me listed in their system as being a customer since the 1980s, when I must have opened an account with some subsidiary that they have since bought and I have since forgotten about. How about that? So is this any way to treat such a long-term customer, I ask you?

Next it was on to Macy’s, which has been busy unifying things on the department store scene. My wife recently bought some furniture and was motivated to open a charge card to get a nice discount. She couldn’t get a new card, because Macy’s claimed that she already had one with one of the department store chains they have since bought. When she tried to open one in my name, she hit a snag with one computer not liking what was being input. Eventually, we sorted it all out, but not while my wife was at the store for several hours. This week I finally got my card, but now we have to chase the discount down. Doubtful, I say.

To top things off, I had to ship something out today via FedEx and I went to their Web site to try to find one of their nearby storefronts. Well, since FedEx bought Kinkos you can’t easily tell what is a shipping storefront and what is a copyshop. And polluting the screen listings are the many places that are basically nothing more than a mailbox on a street corner. If the package that I had was small enough to fit in one of their drop boxes, I would be good. But it wasn’t, and the unified Web site is a real mess to navigate to find the right place.

How hard can it be for FedEx to improve their store listings? People come to their Web site to do two or three simple things. Ironically, FedEx was an early adopter of Web technologies and had a very useable site for far longer than its competitors. Not now, though.

I may start using UPS, they have two locations within a few blocks. And while I would love to switch from BofA, it’s too much trouble, and anyway they got my problem fixed this morning.

I know it is nice that all these companies are expanding, buying out their competitors and making tons of money. But guys, let’s get the basic business integration issues down sooner rather than later. Customers shouldn’t be your beta testers.

Okay, thanks for listening to me vent. You can return to your regularly scheduled programming now.

0 thoughts on “Caught between computers

  1. My posting has struck a nerve with lots of readers. Here are a few selected comments.

    I have been a long time BofA user with an inside perspective — so I can tell you that, while better than Fleet, BofA still sucks. My father worked for a tiny bank on LI called Nassau Trust, which was acquired by Norstar, which was acquired by Fleet, which was acquired by BofA. He was let go somewhere after Fleet, but before BofA.

    All these roll-ups make great work for integrators, but lousy work for customers. We switched to Commerce Bank when I opened my shop last year and they have their moments–but their customer service is incredible.

    Quick case in point– I use QuickBooks to run things, but couldn’t get it to log into my account. I called the Commerce 800 number — which is at the bottom of every online screen for convenience–and told the operator I needed help with my business account. There was one switch and when I told the first guy what my problem was, he said, “Wait, Mr. Germain, are you
    using QuickBooks? We have a special routing number for online connections from QuickBooks users due to an Intuit requirement.” He then SAT ON THE LINE while I added the new routing number, connected and downloaded info. He
    watched his side to see the transaction and asked if I needed anything else. That, along with the fact that they’re open late and can take deposits 7 days a week, makes them the only bank to deal with.

    Arthur Germain, Communication Strategy Group

  2. Another reader writes —

    First let me say, I have enjoyed reading WI for several years now. I’ve often identified with many subject and conundrums you have written about, but none as much as the MBNA-BofA merger.

    We just recently moved from Kansas City to Texas so my wife could go to grad school. Since Commerce Bank (HQ’d in St. Louis btw.) does not have any branches here, we opened a BofA account. I have also had a MBNA card for the past 12 years. When we opened the account, I heard about the impending merger, wondering what effects it would have on the many great things I had come to enjoy at

    Yesterday, I realized the ability to pay online from more than one financial institution was gone. Huge bummer. I often use my MBNA card for business and when I get reimbursed, I deposit those funds in a separate account. When MBNA due time came, I could pay some of it from one bank or credit union and some from another. NOT ANYMORE!. Now I can only pay from a BofA account.

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