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Opinion | Mike Ross

Be my banker, not my buddy

Some say that corporations are people. But last time I checked, they weren’t my buddies. Or so I thought. But it turns out that becoming friends is exactly what they are trying to do. And not just befriending you as in, sending friend requests over social media, which is also occurring; but really, truly, getting to know you better. The way I see it, it was bad enough when I started getting status updates from my Uncle Marty on Facebook, but this just crosses a whole new line altogether.

In an attempt to keep up with changing consumer behavior and rapidly evolving technology, large corporations are reworking their business models and taking to social media to “meet customers where they are.”

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Want to do banking with someone who really gets you? Look no further than the new Capital One 360 Café in the Back Bay, and three other locations opening throughout the Boston area. There you’ll find comfy retro-striped furniture, funky overhead pendant lights, free Wi-Fi, and fresh-brewed coffee waiting for you to sip. “Let’s chat over a cup of hand-roasted Peet’s Coffee,” they beckon from their website. “Let’s teach each other how to save time and money using today’s technology. Let’s bank in a space that is way too comfortable to be called a bank.”

And we’ve only just begun. These pseudo-cafes are only the latest banking profiles you’ll be seeing in nearby neighborhoods, but more will follow. In an attempt to draw a growing online customer base back into brick-and-mortar offices, banks are trying just about everything. Last September, The Boston Globe’s Deirdre Fernandes reported that one West Coast bank offered both yoga classes and free beer. Because, after all, nothing says “namaste” like opening a checking account.

And it’s not just banks. Corporate buddies are everywhere. Consider customer service. In the past, you waited endlessly on the phone just like every other schmo, listening to recorded music until someone finally answered your call. Today, why should you call when you can chat or tweet? A recent perusal of the Verizon Support Twitter-feed found this little exchange:

“Isabel: If my wifi doesn’t start working correctly in the next few days I will strangle all of the Verizon Fios employees in their sleep

“Verizon Support: Please don’t hurt us!! Let us help! What’s wrong with the wifi?”

Suddenly, because it’s social media, customer service responses have to be cheeky with plenty of punctuation. Comments that once might have risen to the level of criminal complaints are now charmingly full of humor. You can just picture, somewhere in a call center in Mumbai, an employee sits with a list of popular conversational jargon and churns out responses like, “That’s a real bummer dude, no worries, we’ll get you squared away in no time.”

Let’s get something straight. Corporations are not here to feed you chocolate or brew you a macchiato. They aren’t here to chit-chat about weather trends and current events. They are here to sell you things. And I’m okay with that. Just as I am okay from buying a cup of coffee from an actual coffee store. But I have no more interest in freestyling beatnik poetry with my banker than I do getting a back massage from my pest exterminator.

The added convenience of direct messaging and other technology access points with customer service representatives for immediate responses to everyday inconveniences is a quantum leap in service from what we’ve been accustomed too. But it needn’t be wrapped in some faux conversationalist informality. Of that, we have plenty with our friends and family. I say leave the chit-chat to them.

Mike Ross writes regularly for the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @mikeforboston.
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