When processes go wrong

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In the world today, withdrawing money from the ATM is a very routine thing. It is as routine as getting up in the morning and going through your daily chores and then to have your breakfast and so on. Very routine, everyday and almost mechanical activities that one gets involved in.

So is withdrawing money from the ATM.

Basically, its a very simple 5 step process:

  1. You wait for your turn in front of an ATM machine if there is a queue.
  2. You insert your money card and follow the instructions as given by the machine. With a little tweak of steps, each bank pretends to be different to this highly banal process.
  3. You ignore all the advertisements in the duration.
  4. The ATM checks the following 4 things for a successful transaction –
    • Checks the card and PIN integrity
    • Checks whether the money in the account is more than the amount entered to be withdrawn
    • Checks whether the amount desired is not exceeding the permissible limits of daily withdrawal
    • Checks if enough money is there in the ATM to serve the need
  5. And finally delivers the money through the cash window

What could possibly go wrong in such an activity as long as –

  • The card and PIN integrity is true
  • The money in the account is more than the money desired in withdrawal
  • The permissible daily limit of withdrawal is not breached
  • And the ATM is capable of dispensing the required cash

However, if you are ICICI Bank, you could have additional possibilities despite all these checks –

  1. You could be subject to ‘suspicious activity’ in the account
  2. You could be subject to multiple robocalls from the bank claiming that they are not able to confirm the transaction. So either you accept the transaction or get your account ‘blocked’.

I faced this situation yesterday when a simple transaction went horribly wrong.

On its own, ICICI Bank decided to block my card for over 1 hr just because as I had a failed attempt to withdraw cash from their bank’s ATM. This was despite the fact that there was nothing unusual from my side in the transaction. There was enough money in my account to withdraw. The PIN was correct and this was my first transaction of the day with the bank.

As soon as I got out from the ATM with the failed transaction, I got relentless calls from their robocalling system to either confirm the transaction or reject and block the card.

Finally, I called their call center and asked them if I have been cursed by them today as I made an attempt to withdraw my own money from their ATM. The call center associate profusely apologised but kept referring to ‘the team’ that can tell why it has been blocked.

Anyway, the ordeal lasted for a couple of hours and by then the purpose of going to the ATM and withdrawing cash had been fulfilled by some other mechanisms.

The entire episode made me wonder what could have potentially gone wrong in a rather straight forward transaction.

Here are some of the things –

  1. Was it the poorly written fraud detection algorithm that threw a false alarm from the system?
  2. Was it the wrong rules setup by the people who defined this system?
  3. The process of the bank itself was flawed. There was absolutely no synch between the call center conversation and the robocalling queue. During the 5 minute conversation with the call center executive, I got 3 calls from the robocalling queue.
  4. The process is poorly written. The only options that the robocalling mechanism gave me were either to accept that the transaction was through or to get the card blocked. The card got blocked irrespective so that option was redundant.
  5. The call center executive told me that the block will go away in 30-40 minutes. However, the relentless robocalling continued even after the discussion. The robocalling queue seemed like a bullet that couldnt be stopped once your name gets added there.
  6. And finally, the call center executive didnt have enough details of the problem. He kept apologising but didnt know the reason why. I still dont know.

With more and more digitalisation coming into play, understanding the user experience is becoming more and more important. Flaw in the fraud detection process or logic is a thing that would surface again in the future. However, its the lack of clarity of the reasons and then relentless calling through robocalling left the whole episode in a very bad taste.

Perhaps the product managers can take a few notes from this experience of mine.

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