Trust two handsTwo experiences with service providers on the same night reminded me of a key tenet of value creation: mutual trust between your enterprise and your clients, customers, donors or partners.

Before leaving for a recent vacation, I had forgotten to call my Big Bank credit card company to tell them I would be out of the country. No problem, right? A quick call on Skype, a considerate credit card company representative, a confirming email, and I would be off to dine at a great restaurant. NOT.

When it came time to pay, my card was denied and an accompanying note appeared to call the fraud department. The genial waiter handed me a phone and after 30 minutes on a call to Big Bank from the wine cellar (the only quiet place in the restaurant), I was beyond frustrated.  Although I had supplied a secret password and other identifying information, Big Bank would not release my card because the phone number I had called them on was not my usual, recognizable number. Skype had relayed the call through California.  And even though I explained that I was calling with a Skype number because I couldn’t get cell service, Big Bank refused to remove the fraud alert.

Picture me in the wine cellar, going round and round (literally and figuratively) with Big Bank and now so agitated that the waiter offered me a free glass of wine to help calm me down. I’d already supplied enough information to demonstrate that no unauthorized person had my wallet and cell phone. A clever hacker might have been able to access my account, but I, the cardholder, could not.  Then, while waiting for a Big Bank supervisor to help, the call dropped.

The restaurateurs told me not to worry. This happens often, they noted, especially because we happened to be calling from a tax haven country. (Who knew?)  They asked for my hotel info, took my card number, and calmly said they’d run it again in a few days. They trusted I wasn’t trying to cheat them. Why couldn’t Big Bank do the same?

Eventually, through a highly convoluted effort where Big Bank called my cell phone and then my husband Skyped my phone from his phone to pull the access code, I was able to have the fraud alert lifted. But what a difference between the two vendors!  At the restaurant, people were empowered to make decisions; they sized me up and trusted me. Big Bank, on the other hand, used an algorithm and the technology branded me.

To be sure, there is a monumental global problem with hacking and credit card fraud.  I do appreciate Big Bank’s efforts to protect me and their own liability. But why have a secret password? Why make me jump through hoops with identifying info that just isn’t good enough?  Big Bank has since sent me a survey inquiring about my interaction.  I reamed them.

To my surprise, I got a call the next day where the representative sincerely asked for details so they might look at ways to make adjustments.  My anger dissipated, because someone—an actual person, not a robo-caller and not a computerized checklist—had invested in understanding what went wrong. The power of the human touch triumphed, in this case, over automation and technological efficiency.

We can’t dispute that technology can help defeat the bad guys who would steal our numbers, our passwords, and our identities. But, as I learned from both sides of the international border, we must be even more diligent to protect the earned trust that is one of our most precious corporate and organizational commodities.