No Ifs, Ands Or Bots

Over at The Daily Dot there was a truly jaw-dropping story about Bank of America and its efforts to get on top of its reputation challenges with a strong customer-relations ground game. The bank, like many other marketers, has taken to intervening in Twitter conversations that have expressed disenchantment.

For example:  Bank of America. “We'd be happy to review your account with you to discuss any concerns. Please let us know if you need assistance.”@BofA_Help

Maybe we should applaud the bank for trying to regain trust one disaffected customer at a time. After all, it isn't easy when you are the embodiment of all corporate evil to win the hearts and minds of the public.

But there are two aspects of this initiative that are troubling. One is that customer-relations sweet talk, no matter how thoughtfully applied, does nothing to address the malign essence that has tarred a brand’s reputation in the first place. Relying on CRM to repair BofA is like treating melanoma with Clinique.



The second thing -- and this is what was jaw-dropping about The Daily Dot article -- is that Bank of America’s efforts have not been thoughtfully applied.

Oh, my. On the contrary. It is as if there were a meeting of top managers who addressed the question “How do we absolutely cement for all time our image as a soulless engine of unreconstructed aloofness and greed?" The answer:

To reach out to complainers not with live human beings, but bots.

No lie. Perhaps there were no live human beings available to resolve problems because they were busy earning cash bonuses by foreclosing on mortgages that were actually eligible for modification. Why divert precious human capital to greasing squeaky Twitter wheels when you can boost profits putting people out of their homes? The problem, however, is that bots -- like the company they work for -- are tone deaf.

Although sentiment analysis algorithms are improving, we are still a long way from a truly semantic Web that can actually interpret meaning. -- and the BofA Twitter crawler seems particularly obtuse. It sent out robotic offers of help not to customers who were griping about a faulty ATM or a loan-app denial, but rather about Bank of America’s greedy contempt for the 99%. That is correct: after Tweeting about the bank’s venal conduct, the Occupy Wall Street crowd got robo-solicited by their nemesis..

PetroniusTA. Yeah, Bo of A, stop stealing ppl’s homes, telling ur employees to lie about it and taking bailout $

Bank of America @PetroniusTA. We are here to help, listen and learn from our customers and assist with any account related inquiries.


What makes this all the more comical is how the episode goes right to the hypocrisy of the bank’s other fatuous attempt at image repair. Namely: advertising. With much fanfare and a whole lot of transparently dishonest protests of newfound humility, the bank last spring launched its new slogan:

“Life’s better when we’re connected.”

Hahahahahahaha. Life is better when we’re connected to other people. When we are connected to mere automatons, life -- and Bank of America’s prospects for redemption -- is significantly worse.

4 comments about "No Ifs, Ands Or Bots".
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  1. Kenneth Mays from Mays & Associates, July 15, 2013 at 12:11 p.m.

    Which only goes to prove that in the hands of the wrong people, technology doesn't improve our lives. It just dehumanizes us and connects us to stupid mathematical algorithms that can't feel, think or respond intelligently. Well said, Bob.

  2. Gary Throckmorton from IAA, July 15, 2013 at 1:27 p.m.

    BofA embodies the disengaged, heartless, clueless American corporation. Instead of making real changes to improve their reputations, these corporations instead focus their limited customer efforts on manipulating their already over-manipulated platitudes.

    I applaud Mr. Garfield for eloquently pointing out their hapless attempt to improve their company and client service. Your truthful and raw summary of BofA's marketing is the antithesis of their disingenuous and hollow-hearted effort. Bravo Mr. Garfield, Bravo.

  3. George Parker from Parker Consultants, July 15, 2013 at 10 p.m.

    Bob... Never forget that there are, right now, bots making burgers in San Francisco and bots making noodles in China. Soon there will be bots making bots everywhere. Then, where you bank will no longer be a problem. You won't have any money.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  4. Paula Sykes from Sykes Research Consulting, July 23, 2013 at 12:22 p.m.

    Talk about two steps forward, three steps back. I tweeted about BofA customer service a while back and received this same canned bot response. It only infuriated me all the more! How silly of them to think consumers don't realize when a response is canned? How disingenuous! And, do they really think a 140 character format is the best place to address complicated issues?? So ridiculous. They would have been better off not doing anything than doing this.

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