When I finish this blog, I’m headed to my bank with money from the sale of Ballet Noir at a weekend book fair. I won’t need an armed guard, but I sold enough to make me happy. What makes me unhappy is my bank. The tellers have been eliminated and in their place are two computers ringed with flashing lights. I touch the screen and a face that might have been teleported from Transylvania, for all I know, flashes across the screen. I tell the image I wish to make a deposit and punch in my membership number on the touch pad. I am rewarded with bells and whistles and flashing lights as my cash disappears into a slot.
Seconds later, another slot spits out my receipt. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” the image asks. I can’t control my petulance. “Yes, I want to talk to a real person when I come here.” The reply is soothing. “I’m a real person.” I squint at the screen, doubtful. “How do I know that? Where are you?” My query is met with silence. Then the image repeats its question. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” “No.” I snatch my receipt and leave.
The impersonal aspect of this transaction gives me the shivers, even when it goes smoothly. Sometimes, it doesn’t, however, which is why I’m sure I grind my teeth at night. On the bad occasions, I dissolve into a pool of sweat and decide my would-be deposit would be better spent on whisky.
The manger, who seems to be a sincere man, replies to my question when I ask him about the virtue of virtual tellers. “Do they save the bank money?” No, apparently, because Citigroup and American Express have nixed the idea of using them. ( “Lights! Camera! Mortgage!,” by Gabrielle Coppola and Stephen Morris, Bloomberg Businessweek. June 13-26, pg. 51.) According to the manager, virtual tellers provide a personal service over great distances without having to open branches.
I walk away feeling smug because not having to open new branches is about money. That’s before I read the article on virtual tellers in Bloomberg Businessweek:
…the service should be used to make customers feel personally valued. Video tellers can act as a human support system for consumers opening an account, transferring money or researching a loan. ( Ibid, pg. 51.)
Surprised, I read on and learn the new system has a cost. Virtual tellers, who are real people, have to be trained in the new technology, and there’s the added expense of consultants to work with lighting, make-up and hair so the human tellers, once transformed into virtual images, continue to look human. No money has been set aside, apparently, for customer training and cosmetics. (Ibid pg. 51.)
Perhaps that unfairness lies at the bottom of my discontent. How can I feel valued if I look like a train wreck in the “other” world? And how would I know? Come to think of it, all those bells and whistles I hear when I deposit my money sometimes sound like giggles.