John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?  Competitive Web & SEO
November 26th, 2011 by john andrews

Robotic Work Force

Today I visited the local bank to get some Canadian currency in advance of my next trip over the border. It’s much better to have Canadian currency while in Canada: it’s easier and cheaper than credit cards.

I am sick and tired of the “system” nickel and dime-ing me to death every time I’m up north.  Every hockey game, lacrosse game, etc. takes me over the border, and I find myself taking out cash from an ATM for coffee, snacks, admission fees, raffle tickets. I end up paying a Canadian bank ATM fee, an American bank ATM fee, and a currency conversion fee, every time.

Our Canadian neighbors don’t like American Express. Small businesses don’t take it at all, and only American-based or multi-national corporate stores take it. Starbucks will take it, but can’t do so at the regular register (a manager type has to swipe it behind the counter somewhere). Ditto for VISA. For some reason, the lower British Columbia mainland doesn’t take VISA. They like MasterCard. Stop for Tim Horton’s coffee or donuts? You’ll need cash or a Mastercard. No VISA, no Amex, and no American dollars.

Of course I don’t have a Mastercard. Every one of my cards is a VISA.I’m not at all sure why.

My local bank branch is “the one closest to the border” in Washington state. At a branch in Seattle, I was unable to buy any Canadian currency at all. I was told all about how this local branch up here actually stocks Canadian currency as a service to customers, and I was urged to stop by and buy some, before heading north. The guy was excited telling me about it, like it was a banking feature or something cool. Imagine… in a state that borders Canada, in the city that is closest to the border, our nation’s second largest bank (or something like that) actually has Canadian currency available for it’s cusrtomers to buy.

So I stopped by, and they were out.

I honestly wonder: we border Canada, and these nations passed a “North America Free Trade” agreement,  so why is it so hard to change money? We are FLOODED with Canadians every weekend. They fill our parking lots, and buy out our Wal Marts and Costco buying clubs. For some reason they have no trouble coming down here and spending. It’s obviously a good deal for them. So why all the hassles doing business the other way?

Any this story is really about robotic workers, not my gripes about border policies.  I went back to the bank branch today, because they were supposed to have some Canadian currency “in stock”. I asked to change $400 into Canadian colored money. Mind you I’ve been a bank customer for like 15 years, and have a tad bit more than like a trillion times that much money in the bank’s accounts, at any given time. It’s not like they don’t know me.

“I’ll have to create a profile for you, and then we can make a trade on the exchange”, he told me.

What? A profile? Trade? Exchange? Puhleeeeeze…. I’m a bank customer at the teller window, asking for currency, after having been told they did indeed have some.

“Not sure what that means”, I said,”I’ve been a pretty good customer of this branch for a long time, so you should have a pretty solid profile of me. How about you use my account as a profile and we move forward? Oh, and what will all this trading stuff cost me?”

He told me it won’t cost me anything. Cool. That is SO RARE.

So while I dreamed of the fresh Vancouver sushi I’d be buying (with cash) later, I didn’t listen to him as he explained some details about profiles and  stuff, as if it was important and official. Eventually I heard him ask me to swipe my card, which I did. He mumbled some more as he did some stuff.. explained some more about trading exchanges, buying currency, etc. It seemed very important to him, and important that he tell me, and I understand it all. Whatever Dude… just change my money.

As I almost ran out of patience waiting, when he stopped suddenly, looking at his terminal. It was like he was ACCESS DENIED or something. I imagined an FBI warning must have popped onto his terminal, with my face on it. He seemed so serious. “How. Much. Canadian. Money. Would. You. Like.”, he asked sternly.

Now I had already placed $400 in front of him, and had initially asked him to change that into Canadian magic rainbow paper (using less colorful bank terminology, of course). “I’d like to change this”, I re-iterated, pointing to the money.

Then he robotically pushed my 4 crisp $100 bills back towards me, and started to explain to me that the system requires him to state how much Canadian money the customer would like, in whole dollars only. The system doesn’t allow him to buy less than a dollar (no coins). The system doesn’t allow him to enter $400 American dollars. The customer must state how much Canadian currency they would like, to the nearest whole CANADIAN dollar, so that he can buy it for them, on the currency exchange. His “them”, in this case, appeared to be me.

Hmm…. this is odd. At that point I wanted to go all Jed Clampett on his ass, but I stayed civil.

“Okay”, I started. “I have an idea. How about you figure out how much Canadian money I can buy with $400 AMERICAN dollars, using that fancy computer you have there, and that advanced currency trading system you just created a profile for, and then we’ll buy THAT much, using this $400 of American money right here?”. I slid the $400 back towards him, nice and gentle-like, being careful not to make any false moves. I knew the cameras were watching.

At first I thought “hey, he liked that idea” because he quickly came back with a suggestion that I can buy $400 Canadian for something like $398.37 (something.. I forget).I was about to say “bravo.. you did it!” when it dawned on me that this braniac, out of frustration, had probably just typed in $400 into the Canadian box to “see what would happen” and he lucked out. Based on today’s exchange rates, I could buy that for less than the $400 I had tendered.

So much for clever or even basically competent. Forget about the fact that I could have bought like $401 or $402 or something, had he bothered to do a wee bit of currency conversion math. It’s not like he’s expected to be able to do math or anything. He’s just a banker, after all.

A robot worker at a bank. No brains required. Push everything back at the customer, with no thought to what it might mean for the customer.

All that crap about creating a profile did nothing but show me he was not competent, and that the bank didn’t care about me. The talk about exchanges and buying and trading… whatever dude. It means NOTHING to the customer. Whatever happens in the split seconds behind your terminal is inconsequential. Whatever comes out.. that’s what I would get. The only thing the customer needs is customer service, which should be HIM creating whatever profiles HE needs,  and HIM buying whatever HE needs to buy, with my money, so I can get my $400 changed into Canadian foil.

His attitude was a bonus. If it were up tome, the guy would be fired today. And tomorrow, some other less cognitively challenged “banker” would run the customer event this way:

Imaginary Banker: “Good afternoon. How can I help today?”

Me: “Good afternoon. I need some Canadian coin. Funny colored money. Four hundred smackers worth. Can you do it?”

Imaginary Banker: “I can buy you some, it’ll just take a sec. Swipe your card for me if you don’t mind”

Me: “Soytenly” (swipe)

Pause..clickclickclick…whirr… banking stuff happening. I feel important,  like Jed Clampett. I have money, the bank’s working for me, I’m gonna get some colored foil-filled Canadian paper, and sushi!

Imaginary Banker: “Looks like I can get you $400 Canadian for $398.37, or I could spend a few more minutes trying to get you even closer to your $400 spend, if you like.”

Me: “No worries, thanks.. that’d be great.  Plenty close enough for me.”

Imaginary Banker: “Done. Here you are… (count count count). Anything else I can do you for today?”

Now THAT is banking…doing the currency thing so the customer can move forward with his plans. But today, in our world of messed up, broken banking systems, disconnected bank executives, loser bank robots and completely failed econo-politics,  we have robotic workers in stupid bank branches, NOT getting the job done for customers and NOT EVEN AWARE that the job could be done well.

Rant over. The sushi was not only good and fresh, but cheap and easy, and I was treated like a local.

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November 23rd, 2011 by john andrews

for the impatient


john andrews says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
November 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm
Thanks for the thoughtful blog post. I completely appreciate it. I wish more people would do such work, and help establish their personal brands

I suspect however you may have a bias. A “blindness” created by your white hat work for big brands. The most pressing issues for you (as an SEO) in that environment are not the same “most pressing issues” for independent SEOs.

When you boil it down to a profession, SEO is about strategy and execution. You admit yourself, that your “organization” lacks those very things… you push hard to get them to accept and engage in strategic thinking, and you push hard to get them to execute. But those are things they don’t do well. At least not natively, and often even with your best efforts.

And then you suggest the system (web marketing) is unfair (biased away from those entities you work with) and use that as a leverage point to counter Aaron’s representation of the Google brand bias.

I suggest you step away from the work environment with all of its pressures and priorities, and spend a solid month on an independent SEO project (perhaps an affiliate deal with one of those brands?). I think you’ll change your tune, but I also think you’ll come out a better SEO (even though I have no bearing on how good your SEO is… not intending to judge you here).

The web was not “created” for brands. It creates brands, but I think that’s a side effect. It’s a communications tool. If your organizational teams adopt it as a communications medium, instead of a marketing channel, they might realize that:

1. their current methods of marketing to the Internet are sub-optimal
2. their operational organizational structure is sub-optimal (for that work)
3. their expectations are not optimally aligned with the way the Internet is being used by the people (business or consumer)
4. You personally are worth a lot more than they are currently paying you

Thanks again for the conversation. I hope it continues, because it adds value for all of us. And please don’t take anything I said too personally… I don’t work inside big organizations, so I am not all that sensitive to the way people like you (people who navigate group meetings and internal politics) hear the sort of direct-speak I’m used to using with my independent SEO colleagues.

john andrews
independent full time web strategist and SEO consultant
SEO since 1997, full time since 2003

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November 22nd, 2011 by john andrews

I bought a Mac; Still no Good Designs

I bought an expensive new Macbook Pro. I’ve been clicking on it for two days now. Still no good designs coming out of it.

At what point do I give up and take it in for repair?

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John




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