Dear Etrade Bank,

First, I apologize for not inserting the asterisk in your name.  I just can’t bring myself to do it, though I’ve considered adding brackets to the spelling of my own name.  Forgive me.  I’m old.

My primary purpose in writing, though, is to make you aware that the “customer service” game you’ve created isn’t challenging enough.  I won in only 40 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong:  it’s good.  I had a lot of fun playing it, but I would think in this day and age of week-end long or at least two bags of Doritos long games with multiple levels, easter eggs, cool graphics and the like, your customers deserve more.  We like games that are winnable, but difficult.  It’s the only way we stay engaged and  learn.

I know you’ve created many different games, so let me be clear:  I am referring to the “I need a replacement debit card” game.  Maybe some of your others are better.

This one starts out well.  Getting through the first level requires attention and provides some interesting twists and turns.  The lack of a site-wide search box on the main page got my mind in mystery-solving mode right away.   I decided to go to the “customer service” link (since that is the name of the game) and search there.  Ha, the search brings up weird articles about nothing at all related to replacing a debit card due to fraud.  Bravo.

I tried the FAQs.  Another clever deception.  Still, I read carefully anything related to debit cards in case you planted a clue there.  This directed me to a link titled “Request Debit Card.”  Could it be that easy?  If it were, I would be really complaining about the game.  I was only a few minutes in at that point.

As you know, the link allowed me only to request a card for an account without a debit card, not to request a replacement for a current card.  Nice.  Back to the drawing board.  Here you had me really thinking.  Was the website customer service for a bank that exists almost entirely online really the place to look for answers?  Of course not.  How could I have been so stupid? 

I decided to check the card itself for a possible clue.  At this point I was really starting to get excited and drawn into the action of the game.  You really packed a lot of mystery into the first section.  It engaged my mind and senses.  Yes, I wasn’t just driven to solve the riddle; I was also noticeably frustrated. Fantastic.

I called the number on the back of the card.  Now I had it.  Oh, and good move displaying the phone number as an alphanumeric.  That made me work a little harder trying to find a picture of an old phone that had the letters along with the numbers on the buttons.  Again, clever.

Finding that number and calling it clearly opened up level two.  I cheered for myself for figuring out how to contact you.  I must admit, though, that I cheated a bit on level two by using knowledge I had gained from other games about how to crack the automated question code and bypass it to a human.  Sure, I let the first few rounds of questions start to trap me.  I answered them the best I could, though there was clearly no option for “replace debit card.”  Some people probably think that there is, though, and continue punching numbers and going through menus all day.  Suckers.  I used the old trick of yelling customer service and hitting “0” repeatedly to get out of the endless loop.

Overall, I’d give level two a 4 out of five.  The dead ends motivate the player to think harder and reach the ultimate goal.  If one were able to get help right away, that would make it as much fun as playing a game of War with a four year old.  That game’s only memorable if someone poops their pants while playing.

Level three:  the first customer service guy.  This was a pretty good one, since he really fooled me.  I patiently answered all sorts of questions about my email and address and mother and then explained my situation.  Though he didn’t seem to understand how a card could be cancelled by the Visa fraud people for a $1 charge in Georgia, nor did he seem to understand that Etrade (sorry again about the asterisk even had debit cards, I believed him when he said I didn’t have to order a new card.  He told me I needed to call the fraud hotline back again and tell them to turn it back on.  It was a gas station mistake, not fraud, he said.  They just turn them back on.  I told him they didn’t, but he was so convincing.  I don’t know how you program these machines, but you do an amazing job.  I really felt like I was talking to a human.  I  was being hypnotized.  Maybe it was the strange organ music played during the first five minutes of the call when I was waiting for the “next available representative” that prepared my mind for “his” power of suggestion.  Whatever it is, keep that part up.  Very effective.

I’m not sure if the call to India for the Visa fraud prevention hotline was a continuation of level three, a new level, or an add-on challenge game.  It was pretty tough, though, since I wasn’t able to score any points.

The first hurdle was trying to understand “Gary.”  Even when he had spot-on pronunciation of English, he mixed me up with unusual syllable stress and a series of ascending and descending pitches when saying words.  The way he said “first and last name” almost made me give up the game.  I thought I was stumped.  “Bert Atlanteum” was all I could hear. 

I’m thinking now it must have been one of those extra challenge games.  It didn’t advance me to the next level; it just sent me back to a different version of level three.  Of course after I had translated his questions and given him my address, email, and last four digits of my Social Security Number, he said I needed to call 1-800-Etrade-1.  He couldn’t help me.  The fraud hotline just cancels things.  It doesn’t fix them.  Ha.

Excited about being right earlier in level 3, and less disappointed in myself that I had fallen for the hypnotic advice,  I was really looking forward to calling that number back.  First, though, I wanted to savor my minor victory a bit and have fun with Visa fraud.  After all, that bot had had fun with me.  So, when he asked “can I help you with anything else today?” I was quick to point out that he hadn’t yet helped with anything.  It is impossible to do “anything else” without first doing “anything.”  Your programming of the Indiabot is pretty good, but it needs some work with syntax.

So, my second attempt at level three ended in my success.  The “representative” sounded exactly like the previous representative, but did a great job of pretending never to have heard of me, my problem, or any sort of problem, for that matter.  That programming makes the bot seem so human it’s almost spooky.  After a few lame attempts at creating some tension by asking repeatedly if I had lost my card, I was told one would be in the mail in a couple days, and that I might get my pin to use it a couple days after that.  Boring.  The bonus level of just waiting around leaves a lot to be desired.

I mean, I appreciate the effort, but I think you have to add another level or two to the game.  Have the guy in level three transfer me to a different department which has a really bad telephone connection, and then, after that one, a guy comes on and accuses me of fraud.  Something like that would stretch the game out a bit and add a little more tension.

Yours forever,


P.S. Oh, and I get that you have to try to sell me more lives or extra points or whatever like the Candy Crush crew, but the $25 for expedited shipment you offered wasn’t even the least bit tempting.  I don’t want to tell you how to upsell game users, but I’m thinking you need to work on that ploy.