Over the last three days, I have had an interesting customer experience with Barclays Bank. I have had similar experiences with other organisations that must be concerned with security and have strict regulations. Here is the basic situation. Barclays call me. When I answer they “identify” themselves as Barclays and then say that in order to proceed they have to ask me a question for security purposes… “What are the last 2 digits of my year of birth?”

My feeling is split at this point. On the one hand I am glad they have the security in place. On the other, I am only x% sure that this is in fact Barclays. I rationally decide to go with protecting myself. I say “Well, I am not 100% sure that you are in fact Barclays. I am not comfortable giving away my birth year to a stranger”. After all, I don’t list it on social media. Even my friends don’t necessarily know what year I was born.

Barclays, clearly has a script for the expected first part of the conversation because when I tell them this, four separate agents each responded something to the tune of “I understand this might not be the best time but if you can just give me the last two digits of your year of birth I can explain who I am and what this call is about”. I again explained my point. This exact start of the call is repeated in four calls over the course of two days – Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon.

The first (Tues morning) caller eventually said, OK, We’ll call back”. The second caller (Tues afternoon) had the same script but on hearing my argument for the second time responded that “I could call in to Barclays as well”. I said “Yes, OK”. I did not immediately call however. The third caller (Wednesday morning) goes through the same exchange except this time I explain that “we are in a deadlock; you need to confirm who I am and I need to confirm who you are, so we are in a deadlock”. Again, the Barclays representative tries to explain that if I would just give my birth year information they would be able to confirm who they are and what they are calling about and waylay my fears. I respond “do you understand what I am saying; the solution you propose requires me to take the first step. I am not comfortable doing that”. Finally she suggested that Barclays could mail me the information/enquiry or whatever in the post. I was fine with that. The fourth caller (Wednesday afternoon) once again goes through the same exchange with me telling them that I have been through this 3 times already. I am thinking they must be able to see that I am non-cooperative and the basics of the previous exchanges. As we go through the initial conversation that I have by now memorised, he gets a little heated (in a controlled fashion) and tells me “that obviously I did not call and this whole situation could be resolved if I just gave my birth year”. I simply said we are at a deadlock. That call ended and I fully expected to receive calls for the foreseeable future.

I finally did call Barclays on Thursday morning. This time I fully expected to and cooperated with the security measures because I called them. When we got past all that, I learned that the main reason for the call was a “Courtesy to see if another benefits option might be better for me on my banking”. In the end, I did change an option that saved me a few quid each month. I thought here is a customer experience that Barclays wasted. I would have deposited a few positive emotional experience coins in my Barclays account were it not for these “courtesy calls”.

I do not think my response is the norm as I assume most people have no trouble giving their birth year up front. The issue for me is that Barclays (and other organisations) should think through the client’s position a little more thoroughly. That security check question makes sense when you call me because Barclays needs to know it is actually me that just answered the phone, but likewise they should have thought through the customer’s position. I believe they can say more than just ask that security question. I travel extensively internationally and have had on a couple of occasions a call from Barclays verifying my whereabouts. As far as I remember, they give you a hint that this is a fraud protection call right up front.

I do not expect Barclays to have a script for the specific situation I presented but I do expect them to have thought through the position they put me in (see figure). The emotional experience is just as important as the rational one. I clearly understand the rationale for their actions but the script their agents had to follow or the training they received, clearly did not allow for them to see my point of view.

This is a classic approach-avoidance conflict they put me in. I wanted to know what’s behind the call (approach) but I didn’t want to take the risk of giving any personal information to potential phishing fraudsters (avoidance).

Qaalfa Dibeehi is Chief Operating and Consulting Officer at of Beyond Philosophy one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experienceQaalfa is an international co-author of Customer Experience: Future Trends and Insights. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

Follow Qaalfa Dibeehi on Twitter @Qaalfa_BeyondP