I loathe calling the bank. Despise it. Of all the things in life that I have to do, calling the bank is one of the worst, right down there with filing taxes or taking a dump in a public restroom. I try to avoid these things as much as possible. But sometimes emergency situations arise, and the dirty deed must be done.
A few days ago, I dialed up First Niagara Bank, ready for the frustration and disappointment that I normally encounter when talking to them. A friendly voice pranced from my phone, cheery and feminine and clearly adept at customer service.
“Thanks for calling First Niagara Bank,” it said. “I’m Melissa. To start, can I please have your name?”
“Hello Melissa,” I said. Years ago, I used to have a roommate who was in sales, a businessman, and he told me to always repeat the person’s name during calls like these. And then to say the name again every time you speak. Because that way, you’re slyly communicating that you remember the name, and can rat the person out to their supervisor if need be. Yes, on the surface, it seems friendly, personable, to say, “Hello Melissa.” But what you’re really saying is, “I know your identity, sucker, and will criticize you to your boss in a heartbeat.”
The beginning of a bank call is sort of like a game show. Some kind of trivia challenge. They ask you a billion questions and you have to shoot back the answers with the kind of authority that implies you haven’t memorized facts after a long night of hacking and identity thieving.
“What’s your date of birth?”
“Last four digits of your social?”
I passed the test and, wiping the sweat from my brow, proceeded into the reason I called in the first place. “See, Melissa, I’m going to be doing some traveling, and I wanted to let First Niagara know, so that if I use my card in another country, you guys won’t think it’s stolen and block it.”
First Niagara loves doing this. They’ve blocked my card so many times in the last five years, I’m beginning to think they just like talking to me.
“Ooh,” Melissa cooed, her affect suddenly darkening. “You’re asking me to create a travel itinerary, but unfortunately I can’t do that. We would need a driver’s license or passport number to verify your identity, and we don’t have those things on file.”
“Well, okay, I can just tell you my passport number if that’s what you need. Melissa.”
“No, no, no. I would need a scanned document, like a pdf.”
“To prove your identity.”
“But didn’t I just answer five minutes’ worth of questions to prove my identity?”
“Yes, but in this case, I would need to see photographic proof.”
“So let me wrap my head around this, Melissa,” I said. “The concern is that I stole William Panara’s credit card. And now I’m planning on doing some traveling, so I called the bank ahead of time because I don’t want the stolen card to get blocked. Is that about right?”
Melissa was not pleased with my attitude. I went on to complain for two or three more minutes, and as I did, Melissa’s tone got more and more fed up, changing from ‘how can I assist you today?’ to ‘go fuck yourself, a-hole.’ In all honesty, I kind of delighted in this. If I have to call the bank for ultimately no reason, at least I can make myself feel better by ruining someone’s day.
After the call, I got to thinking: Was I wrong for giving Melissa a hard time? I mean, she’s just doing her job, right? It’s not her fault that First Niagara has bizarre policies. She probably doesn’t even agree with those policies. My school has lots of bizarre policies that I don’t agree with. What if someone, a parent or another teacher or something, started forcing me to defend those policies? I wouldn’t be too thrilled. Then I wondered what percent of the policies of any given company or institution its employees agree with. Maybe 40%, 50%. The rest of the time we’re forced into defending crap that we, like the angry customer, also find ludicrous.
And that’s why I decided it was right to give Melissa a hard time, or to give any employee a hard time. When her tone became bitter and contemptuous, it wasn’t really me she was angry at; it was really First Niagara and their asinine policies. Melissa was just projecting. After the call, she probably started thinking about things, questioning her life at First Niagara. She probably said things like, “Jeez, they really make me work long hours. And the pay, oh dear God, the pay. So crappy. And this phone, it gets so sweaty, and then the side of my face breaks out. I have a date on Friday and now I have asymmetrical acne. You know, I can probably get a better job. Yeah, I can. And then I would make more money and the different sides of my face wouldn’t look like the before and after pictures in a Proactive commercial.”
That’s probably what she said to herself. So I did her a favor. A service. Melissa should thank me, and then she should create me a travel itinerary in a display of gratitude.
I guess the point of all this is to say when we dislike our jobs, as I assume Melissa does, it’s the responsibility of whiny customers to kick-start a change. I put my phone back in my pocket proudly, somewhat looking forward to calling the bank again, later, when they inevitably block my card for buying a t-shirt in Cape Town.