We were at the bank, a small branch in Erie, CO. My mom and I sat at Samantha’s desk as I filled out the paperwork needed to recognize my ‘Power of Attorney’ role. It had been a long day of doing sitting-down tasks, there was a little more to do yet, and we were both getting punchy. After confirming all my data, Samantha the banker handed me a small form and asked me to select a password only I would know. I hate the password game, especially picking a password for something I probably won’t need for years and years. Who knows what I will remember when that time comes? I racked my brain, while I looked the paper over. The blank on which I would write the password was a field of black and white spots, to hide the writing. The directions said to write in black pen. “Is this pen black?” I asked Samantha. “What?” she asked. When I showed her what the directions said she looked at me curiously. “No one has ever asked about that before,” she told us. She’d been with the bank for five years, but I suppose power of attorney matters don’t come up that often. “I’m a reader,” I shrugged. Mom affirmed. I used my blue pen to write down my password and noted that I still couldn’t read it through the camouflaged field. I solemnly handed the form over to Samantha, who peeled back the top copy and peered at the carbon image of the password underneath before typing it into the computer. Mom and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. I could have handed her a plain slip of paper, or typed it in myself. Samantha looked sheepish. “It’s the system, this is how we have to do it.”
I received a privacy and updated minimum payment notice on two Sears credit accounts in my name the other day, one I didn’t even know I had. I never activated either account so I called Citibank up to close them both. Speaking to the nice young representative, Armando, I was relieved to find the process was simple, but a little amusing. He had to read me “a verbatim” to the effect that I understood my account was being closed, I wouldn’t be able to use it, I was losing any accumulated bonus points, would have to make alternative arrangements for recurring charges, and so on. He read it to me twice, once for each account. He seemed embarrassed about having to do so, but I knew his superiors were recording the call and he could get in trouble for not following directions so I told him it was fine. At the end of the call, according to script, he thanked me for being a loyal customer (for closing two accounts I had never used,) and invited me to call back if I had any other issues with which I needed help (presumably regarding my non-existent accounts.)
Some people might get worked up about this, and call it wasteful and ridiculous. I for one, am glad for the moments of humor. Sure, these kind of standard operating procedures can be ineffective, a little time-consuming, and kind of silly, but they were conceived in an effort to provide care to the customer. I think in general, most bad systems start out as a righteous effort to improve things but get a little (or badly) lost along the way. Sometimes old systems become outmoded and often new procedures need fine-tuning, but since humans make and use the systems, they are destined to be imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to make it better, particularly when it affects people deeply. Speaking out when it matters makes sense. Speaking out with respect for the righteous intent makes those words easier to hear.