“Time to get back online” said the letter that my Mum received from Lloyds Bank this morning. It’s been a while since I last had any post addressed to my Mum, after all, it is over three years since she died. I opened it assuming it was going to be some innocuous marketing thing from somewhere. But no, it was a letter signed (digitally obviously, not personally) from Barry Jones, Director of Digital Operations for Lloyds Bank. The first paragraph says

To keep your security information safe, we’ve had to temporarily suspend your access to Internet Banking. This is because your password and/or your memorable information have been entered incorrectly several times. When this happens, we automatically ask you to update your security details before you can access your accounts online again.

I phoned the number on the letter to ask them what I had to do. The lady who answered was very courteous and apologised for any upset caused. She also said

You’re not the first person I’ve heard this from

She would have been able to help more if I had Mum’s account details to hand. But all her paperwork has been archived to the loft - it’s over two years since I last had to do anything with any of it. Her advice was to go into my local branch and get them to check the account.

So, I went into the loft, found the appropriate folder, checked that the death certificate and probate certificate were in there. I picked up my passport in case I needed to prove who I was. And off I went to the local branch. I stood in a queue for five or so minutes, before speaking to an advisor who firstly apologised and then checked the account for me. The account is closed. It has been closed since February 2015. That was reassuring to know.

So why am I getting a letter advising me that it’s ‘Time to get back online’? What triggered the sending of a letter about internet security to the closed account of somebody who has died? Why are other people also getting this kind of letter?

I’ve written before about Mother’s Day and about badly thought out marketing campaigns. But this is so much worse. This letter wasn’t marketing. This letter very specifically told me that

your password and/or your memorable information have been entered incorrectly several times.

These words made me feel anxious, concerned, and worried. And made me feel all of those enough that I changed my plans for today to deal with it immediately.

I’m with Carl W. Buehner on this

They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Lloyds Bank has left me feeling anxious, worried and mildly concerned about their competence. But mainly really sad.

Grief is a strange thing. Anniversaries of significant dates are always sad, but they’re also expected. I can build up to them. I know they’re around the corner and I can make sure that I have plans in places to cope - a plan for the day itself, and then making sure I have what I need in the run-up and afterwards as well. When things like this arise it’s different. There is no preparation. It’s just a total side-swipe. I usually let these things settle for a few days before writing up how I feel about it. By then I’ve typically made a joke out of it and can make people laugh with the retelling - I’m sure by the end of the week that will be the case with this as well. But I decided to post immediately this time, while it’s still raw. This kind of thing hurts. It hurts the person getting the letter. And it also hurts the brand.

So please, when designing systems, or writing marketing letters, give a bit of consideration to how your wording comes across in different human scenarios. Design for Real Life explores this in more detail. I’d recommend reading it. But even if you don’t have time to do that at least have a bit of compassion for those people whose life experiences aren’t the same as yours. Don’t leave them hurting.