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Jeff Ward: Yes! I Know Where My Red Tent Is!

Why is calling customer service such a pain?

Despite my previous prosaic efforts, it’s getting worse. Much worse! In fact, it’s gotten so bad that I’ve come to fear this proposition even more than a Palin-Bachmann presidency.

We’ll start with my call to the “What’s in your wallet?” people. Of course, if they really wanted an answer to that question, considering the proximity of my billfold, the response would be, “a real pain in the butt.”

This particular problem started in October when Capital One, claiming a third party security breach, cancelled our credit card and sent us a new one.

Though I certainly admire their proactive proclivities, having to edit all that online and recurring payment data was a real—well—pain in the butt. But we dutifully did it and thought all was well until one of those recurring payments went through on the old number.

Of course, when you call C1, they want you to either say or enter your credit card number, and if you’re foolish enough to fall for their “voice recognition” process, the “conversation” quickly descends into a one-side, four-letter-word tirade.

Because when you say “I want to talk to a representative,” that cloying automated voice will typically respond, “Did you say, ‘You want to know where your red tent is?” With my blood pressure already through the roof, I start screaming and pressing #0 so fast the phone started smoking.

What I didn’t realize is, despite our aluminum card status, if you don’t enter the 16-digit card number, they put you in the peasant queue that terminates in Asia. Don’t get me wrong, everyone on the planet deserves a job, but let’s just say my warped sense of humor doesn’t translate very well on that vast subcontinent.

After insisting upon listening to the whole [expletive] story, the first employee sent me to an account specialist. After the account specialist listened to the whole [expletive] story, he insisted this was a disputed charge and not a C1 error.

Then it was back to the states, where supervisor Nathan agreed with my “it’s C1’s fault” contention, but could do nothing about it. He swore he’d call me back in two hours.

Three days later I called them back, entered the number, and got Keisha, one of the best customer service reps I’ve ever encountered. But despite my threats to cancel the card and take them to small claims court, her boss wouldn’t budge.

Apparently there’s one person who makes all the decisions at C1, because they’re all really bad.

Keisha told me C1’s policy was to let recurring charges go through regardless of a card change. I’m sure the hackers would never be able to exploit that loophole.

But get this. After I told them to cancel the card, they said they’d upgrade it to magnesium, waive any future annual fee, make the airline miles exchange rate more beneficial to us, and give us more miles per dollar.

So instead of simply refunding my 70 bucks and getting rid of, well—a real pain in the butt—two employee worked on this for over two hours and finally gave me far more than I asked for in the first place.

Don't ya just love corporate America?

Two days later it was Comcast. That audible collective Patchland gasp can only mean you know exactly how terrifying that prospect really is. I’d rather be appointed as Lindsay Lohan’s probation officer than have to deal with the cable company.

Given the absurd cost and dearth of decent programming, we’ve cut back to the basic broadcast channels. Not only that, but for a mere $8 a month, Hulu provides an astounding array of programs with no ridiculous equipment charges.

So when Hulu added HBO programming (Real Time is the only panel show with liberals and conservatives), I called Comcast for details.

But first, you have to endure a litany of advertisements before they warn you not to press any buttons, because their menu has recently changed. Then they have the nerve to tell you you’d be far better off if you went to the Web.

To make a long story short, when I finally got a person and complained about their utter waste of my time, they gave me three free months of HBO, which means I can watch Real Time in High Def through Hulu with no obnoxious surcharge.

Then it was onto Dominick’s, the grocery store chain that Safeway is running directly into the ground. And this simplest question of all—“Are you open on Easter?”—took 10 minutes of my time.

When I called the local store, I tried pressing zero, but they’ve caught on to that one. Now it just puts you back to the beginning. Then I tried 2 for the bakery, but no one picked up. Then I listened to the whole blanking message and pressed 8 for customer service, only to have it ring endlessly.

Undaunted, I called back again, pressed 8 again, and after 10 rings someone finally picked up and answered my question. And if your Dominick's is anything like mine, they’re never terribly busy.

To unabashedly rip off a Real Time bit, please allow me to offer these new customer service rules!

1. If a person does not pick up the phone, then my call is not “really important to you.”

2. If I could avoid dealing with your surly and disinterested support staff by going to the Internet, believe me, I certainly would. There’s really no need to remind me of what I’m up against.

3. My time is every bit as valuable as yours. Just because I’m a captive audience, that doesn’t mean you can bombard me with endless advertisements.

4. Don’t assume you can placate me by providing my balance and all manner of useless data. Please see No. 2.

5. In the words of Todd Rundgren, “I don’t wanna work.” I’ll gladly read my account number to a speech recognition program that works—or a real person. But since you’ve never once sent me a paycheck, I’m not going to enter the text of Moby Dick through my telephone keypad just to make your life easier.

My favorite part is when they ask for your account number, even though you just entered it.

6. I refuse to repeat my story more than once. Isn’t the entire point of an automated system to get me to the right person right away?

I’ve said it before! When did customer service become an oxymoron? You want our business so badly that you’re willing to spend millions of dollars on marketing, but when you finally have a chance to build a real relationship, you can’t be bothered.

As that Guiness Stout commercial used to go, “Brilliant!”

Rudy April 13, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Ward are you off your rocker again Bill Mahr is fair and balanced? He is the Rush Limbaugh of the Libs how can we take you seriously with comments like that? Rudy Oldham
Mr.Ethics April 13, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Thanks Jeff, A good read column without political views.
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Rudy, I did not say that! I said he runs the only show that has guests from both sides! Jeff
Colin C. April 13, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Jeff, Funny you should mention the "what's in your wallet" company. I just got off the phone with them. Fact is, we just got one of their cards a couple of months ago and I have called their Customer Service a couple of times, mostly getting to know their system and sorting out a few things about transfers. I have found them to be unfailingly cheerful, competent, and probably the best reps I have ever had to work with. They have always done more for me than I have asked. BTW, when you call, of course you have to type in the card number. no one's voice recognition software is up to getting much over the phone. When you get to the main menu I have always just broken into the litany and said "customer representative" and I get a live person in seconds. I know the problem----I don't even HAVE a red tent!
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Colin, I've found with C1 it's about 50 - 50. But this one was particularly egregious! How can you put a charge through on a defunct card number? Jeff
Mark Wituk April 13, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Jeff, I think you need a little more nap time before you make these calls to calm yourself and build up your patience. I've found it works for me with all the wonderful bicycle people that use the rules of the road as a seat cushion and the equally generous dog owners that love to leave gifts in peoples yards as a courtesy.
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Mark, As a road biker myself, you oughtta hear me when I run up against a group of cycling idiots. All it does is make the rest of us look bad. In my defense, if I had too much patience, I probably wouldn't be a very good columnist! Jeff
MILTON PD April 13, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Obama doesn't like big corporations so hes trying to make them smaller, meaning some of you need to get laid off.
Mike Tillmans April 13, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Jeff, We ask for lower prices from our cable company, grocery, etc., and they find a way to cut costs. Did you expect to get something for nothing? I guess we need to make up our minds: cost vs service level, and seek the appropriate provider. In the meantime, there are classes on modern business economics or on anger management, and many are free.
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Mike, An interesting point, but cable - especially compared to HULU - isn't low cost. And why not take some of that marketing money they so eagerly spend and apply it to customer service. Now, that would be good marketing! Jeff
Colin C. April 13, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Just a tip for all who are frustrated by trying to get through the automated phone system to a human; try these sites for info on how to do that. http://gethuman.com/ http://dialahuman.com/
Jack April 13, 2012 at 05:05 PM
How can we trust the truthfulness of Patch when it has multiple Obama ads on each page? I suppose "non-partisan" is an adjective that doesn't apply to very many news outlets today, so at least Patch is up-front about the hand that feeds it.
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Jack, So you can't trust broadcast TV and most certainly Fox News for running campaign ads either? Jeff
Kent Frederick April 13, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Jeff, In the past 3 years, Citibank has changed my card number 3 times. It's always the same situation. A retailer's system was breached, and Citi is being proactive. But, Citi won't tell me whose system was hacked. If it's the same retailer, then perhaps I should think about using cash. Here's another Citi story that should make you laugh. I once got called by Citi, because of some suspicious charges. It was 3 round-trip tickets on American Airlines between O'Hare and Miami. Nope, they were mine. First, the credit card is tied to my wife's AA frequent flyer account. Now, if the tickets had been booked on Delta , United, or Southwest, that may have been a bit curious. Second, since we live in Downers Grove, a trip starting at O'Hare shouldn't have been suspicious, especially since a few weeks earlier, we had booked a cruise departing from Miami using the Citi card. Who's running security at Cit, Chicken Little?
robert poznanski April 13, 2012 at 05:46 PM
And just how, is "he" doing that?? Using this blog for a political post, when the story, has no political " bent" to it, is strange, but I guess,is to be expected! Get a life Milton! The rest of us will weigh the pros and cons of electing, who we think is best, with out preconceived influences, or needling,from political party members!!
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Kent, And remember, we bailed Citi out! This is what I'm talkin' about people! Jeff
Kent Frederick April 13, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Ironically, the phone call about the suspicious plane tickets happened before the '08 market collapse and the bail-out. But the repeated changes in card numbers really bugs me. When PNC was still Mid-America in the Chicago area, my debit card was one of many that was part of a retailer's security breach. Did Mid-Am change my debit card number? No. They said they would monitor activity for any suspicious activity and contact me of any unusual charges. Considering that I generally use the debit card for groceries, dinners at local restaurants, smaller purchases at local retailers, and cash withdrawls, Mid Am never called.
Tony Pronenko April 13, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Customer service has been on the decline over the last few years. I have come to the realization a long time ago that we, the consumers, must be proactive and make sure that we get what we pay for (in product AND service) and if we don't then we should demand it. Let your wallet dictate who runs a better business.
Lisa April 13, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Jeff I love reading your column! Thanks for the good laugh today- you are spot on.
Jeff Ward April 13, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Lisa, Thanks! If I can make one person laugh it makes my day! Jeff
Colin C. April 14, 2012 at 12:29 AM
The irony that nobody seems to get is all the politicos who want to "run the government like a business" !! The minute that a candidate claims that he/she was in business and knows how to run things I think of Lehman Bros. Citi Bank, and all the local businesses that fail and run the other way.
Tabb April 14, 2012 at 04:21 AM
That's a suitably low bar for your skill set
Jack April 25, 2012 at 03:02 AM
That's right, though I wonder why you pretend that Fox News is somehow different? Maybe "trust" isn't really the point. Like I said, at least Patch is up-front about the hand that feeds it. I do prefer that over the alternative. If we are looking for someone to trust, we're asking for trouble if we look much beyond the edges of the mirror.

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