Automated customer service lines

Today I phoned my mortgage company’s customer service line and got an automated system that asked for my Social Security number to look up my information. I punched it in and got a human operator, who immediately asked me for – you guessed it – my Social Security number. This sort of thing happens all the time with customer service lines. Does anyone here know why they ask for information once via the automated system and then again by voice?

To verify that it is correct and that you’re legit. People make a lot of mistakes punching things in. It also could be that you had a computer doing it and you don’t know the number (unlikely) or the system messed it up (quite possible). But the key is to double verify the number is correct in order to limit down the number of errors.


This is obviously a viable hypothesis, but another perfectly viable hypothesis (and the one that seems more likely to me) is just that most systems are poorly implemented, being made up of disparate pieces developed independently. Entering information in the automated system might get you to the right agent, but it’s a whole different thing to have that input appear in a separate computer system that might be a decade old, even if both systems were accessing some of the same database servers. One look at the DOS-based, dot-matrix-printer-laden points of sale at airports and car rental counters reveals how resilient legacy systems are, even as new layers are slapped on top.

Systems that are more obviously built in the modern era from the ground up actually do successfully carry input through to the agent.

I was tangentially involved in the implementation of the IVR system in our office (I was responsible for the underlying hardware, but not the application), and it was explained to us thusly:

Customers would call in, enter their information into the automated system, which would then put the caller in a queue. When a Customer Service rep picked up the call, the system would look up the customer and pop up all of the relevant information pulled from the database. If the system could not locate the customer’s information, then the CSR would need to ask the customer to repeat themselves, and pull up the information manually.

So, basically, the answer to the OP’s question is most likely “poorly implemented system” (as it was in our case).

A couple of years working in the field and being told that even if it comes up on the screen, you have to ask for it to verify that what came up is correct and you’re actually speaking to that person.

My power company and one of my banks do this with my account number before I speak to a human, but they’re never asked me to repeat it. Quite useful actually.

If the phone number from CID matches the data derived from punching in, that should be verification enough, especially for non-critical apps like a utility trouble report. I vote for poorly-implemented systems as the cause.

I work for a bank and I can’t see anything a client does with the IVR before they get to me. Usually an account does pop up on my screen as soon as they come on the line, but I still need to ask for the last 4 of the acc# to double check that I’m looking at account they’re talking about.

When I call the cable company and put my phone number and account number into the automated system, the operator still seems to have no clue who they’re talking to and ask for the same information, which I can hear them typing in. You can get your balance and do other things with the automated system, but apparently with them, the info isn’t forwarded once you get an operator.