Scott Reid: Human touch vital amid machine madness

Credit card security checks can become an exercise in frustration
Credit card security checks can become an exercise in frustration
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ONE day, we are frequently reminded, all our transacting and bill-paying will be done remotely.

In the age of the smartphone and internet, the days of face-to-face dealings appear doomed. It’s this promise of some technological nirvana that has helped hasten the demise of the traditional bank branch, post office and council payment counter. Which is all rather worrying, given my attempts last week to connect with the 21st century.

Example one: the seemingly straightforward task of informing Her Majesty’s mail service that I am about to move address and would like to set up a temporary redirection. Just pop online and follow a few simple steps I was assured by others who had been through the process – my previous flits having involved form-filling and a trip to the local post office (so last century).

After creating an account with Royal Mail there were the expected Qs regarding addresses, named individuals for the redirect (nice and easy that one, just me), moving date and a few other personal details including, amusingly, whether or not I own a dog (rest easy, Mr Postman, I do not).

All fine and well. Then the credit card details for payment. Pause while processing. Fingers crossed. Not quite there yet. The computer now wants the answers to four additional security questions – all straightforward enough thankfully. Another wait, then… Oops, cannot proceed as my identity cannot be confirmed. Cue the careful double checking and resubmission, only to receive the same knock-back.

Puzzled and frustrated, the online application with the same double-checked details was printed out and taken, along with a couple of items of ID, to the local post office. My interaction with the human behind the counter lasted a couple of minutes. Identity confirmed. Hand over £40. Job done.

The second hiccup of the week resulted from a missing credit card statement (ironically, possibly related to the organisation cited above), which meant that rather than the usual trip to the bank with remittance slip and cheque, I opted to pay via phone. Simple. Except that after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing said payment was declined due to an “address anomaly” relating to the debit card being offered up for settlement. Strange, as both cards were issued by the same lender and I am pretty certain that I only reside at the one address.

Yet again, a visit to a physical branch and a conversation with a sympathetic human provided some resolution. As it turned out, the credit card department’s systems did not like the way the (same) address was configured on the payment division’s set-up.

I doubt that I am a lone voice with my tales of tech-related woes. Nor would I describe myself as a technophobe. The internet can be a wonderful thing at times but, in this brave, new digital world, where machines will go wrong and systems will screw up, let’s not forget the value of human contact. «