Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hand Over the Money and Nobody Gets Hurt

I went to the bank the other day. More specifically, the bank's ATM. I put my debit card in the slot and away we went on a mystical adventure of uber-pleasant verbosity-

"Welcome to the Bank of Overly Friendly Technology. Would you like English or Spanish?"

"Great! Please enter your code."

"Hey, thanks so much for entering your code. Would you like to check your balance?"

"Hey, I have an idea. Would you like a receipt?"

"Are you sure?"

"Hey, am I being friendly enough for you?"

"It's a lovely day, isn't it? A great day to open a new line of credit. Would you like to hear about our fabulous rates?"

"You pressed '*$#%^!&%.' Is that correct?"

"Is there anything else I can waste your time with?"

"Ok, then. This was fun! Don't forget to take your card. Don't forget to walk away when you're done. The door is to your right. Just push on it and it should open. Have a terrific day!!!"

The ATM was developed to ease the load on bank manpower. If I were to opt for a human teller, I can guarantee I wouldn't be bombarded with so many questions. Because if the teller dared to ask that many questions, one look at my face would warn him that the account on my patience was overdrawn and he'd stop.

Me: Hello.

Teller: Good morning! Would you like English or Spanish?

Me: I've spoken English my entire life. I filled out my application for this bank in English. I receive my statements in English. When I approached you, I said, "Hello," not "Hola." Whatever in the world of sober reasoning would give you the idea I would prefer to chatter with you in Spanish?

Followed by my signature New York stink-eye, that would be the end of that. The teller would immediately become
intuitive, a skill that's considered, for many species, a key to survival. If your surroundings become hostile, you must adapt or suffer the consequences.
However an ATM doesn't do that at all, and still we let it live. Because today's ATM programs were created by passive-aggressive marmosets, programmers who are confident they will never have to confront you face to face, who are prodded by marketing and sales schmos to fill the ATM queries with greasy, friendly chatter in order to create a 'warm atmosphere.' "You want nice? We'll give you nice until you choke on it! Bwahahaha!!"

For our own efficiency and sanity, we should pick the best tool for the job. Common sense dictates that I opt for the teller, either man or machine, that's the least hassle. Sadly, right now, that's the human.

There is nothing, NOTHING, keeping the banks from adding functionality that would make a trip to the ATM a truly pleasant and efficient experience. They know what language you speak, whether you usually want a receipt, and what your most common transactions are. Here's how it should go-

I insert my card and enter my code.

"Hi, Annie. Would you like your usual $60 withdrawal from checking?"

I hit


In addition to basic respect for your time, there's a safety factor involved as well. Every second you spend at an ATM you're exposed, vulnerable to the criminal element. Trimming the time your financial tail hangs out in the wind flailing twenty dollar bills that tempt sub-stellar scalawags would be a very, very good thing. And you don't need a marketing survey to know that the people waiting in line behind you while you slog through the happy-happy options the ATM spews at you might prefer a shorter wait time as well.

Knowing that banks cater to Spanish-speaking dollars but ignore my need for speed and safety sticks
a bit in my craw. Regardless of the language, numbers are numbers. If someone really needs to read the words 'checking' and 'savings' in Spanish, that's their problem. I shouldn't have to plunk through extra buttons because they are language-challenged. I don't deny the bank's right to chase multi-cultural dollars - just keep it out of my face. If any bank woke up and streamlined this process, there would be a stampede to their door.

How intuitive do you have to be to recognize I don't speak Polski or Afrikaans or Spanish? How intuitive do you have to be to recognize that when I visit an ATM, I usually withdraw $60? My bank already has this information. That they have the nerve to ask me these questions anyway is ignorant, irritating, and void of decent marketing skills. In an effort to be more efficient with their time, they are wasting ours. And they need to stop it. Now.

Just think - if this hyper-friendly interaction trend continues, it could get out of control, leading to things such as 'themed' ATMs:

The Comedy ATM
"Heeey, how you doin'? Hey, if one of our bankers pushes you, don't worry. They're just trying to check your balance!!! Hey, I'm here all week. Like I have a choice - I'm nailed to the ground here! Try the veal...and our new Certificate of Deposit!"

The Nagging ATM
"You never visit anymore. You must be using that ATM in the grocery store. What a tramp. I can't begin to tell you how often her buttons get pushed, if you know what I mean."

On the other hand, maybe they should just keep their day jobs.


ScottMGS said...

Good one, Annie. I would *hate* to have my ATM try to chat with me. That's one reason I *like* using an ATM! (Ah, the wonderful life of a recovering introvert.)

It seems that Wells Fargo is heading in the other direction. They've recently redesigned their ATM interface. Once I enter my PIN it has my most common withdrawal, my most common deposit (sans amount, obviously) and something else on the left side of the screen. All the other nonsense takes up the rest of the screen.

Just remember that you're not allowed to shoot human tellers or ATMs.

Anonymous said...

My ATM is somewhere between Annie's and Scott's.

I agree they ask waaaay too many questions. However, my bank has made one positive change: It can read the check you deposit. But now that I think about it, after it does it asks you if the amoung they're reading is correct, so I guess it really doesn't save any time at all!. *sigh*

Good column, Annie. :)


Annie said...

Thanks, guys. At least Wells Fargo is finally listening to me. ;)

btw - I used to work with an ATM company. This technology was available over six years ago, at very little cost. Instead, most banks took the path of the over-eager Walmart greeter, figuring most people preferred cheery sayings over efficiency. Dear Bankers - STOP IT.

martini said...

Here's a question extended from your piece that I always wondered: Every ATM is coated with textured signifiers in order for the optically challenged to be able to conduct commerce--a valid and noble offering by the banking conglomerates.

However: How is it this gesture is undermined by the basic fact that to conduct business you have first wade through a battery of questions and follow visual prompts with arrows directing you to depress specific buttons? The radial keratotomy pre-ops cannot follow these on-screen directives so, when it helpfully asks which language you'd wish to transact within, it gives two buttons to choose from, which in Braile probably read as "8/ENTER/Return To Previous Screen".

My vision is as good as your average major-league referee and this cheeses-off even me!

Annie said...

martini- that's why they have audio assistance for the blind - they can plug a headset in, and the ATM will tell them what to do. Of course this is written on the ATM - so they can't see it. Did I mention passive-aggressive marmosets are big fans of irony?

Very similar to, as my college roommate called it when she saw it on tv, 'closed captioning for the blind.'