Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why People Have to Pay Attention: A Story of a Customer Service Nightmare

I want to relate an experience that I had yesterday with very poor customer service from a large multi-national credit card company and the lessons any business can learn from it. I am currently in Uganda on business and I received a voice mail at my office to contact my credit card company's security office "by 11:00 pm". Well, the message didn't say what was going to happen at 11:00 and didn't indicate which time zone they were referring to. The gentleman left me an 800 number to call but no other information. I had always thought that such calls could be the telephone equivalent of phishing and would probably work well. Since I had dealt with this type of call before, I had the number in my organizer and confirmed that it was indeed from the credit card company.
I used my mobile phone and called the 800 number which, thankfully, seemed to be working but I was warned that the call was not toll-free from my location. It wouldn't connect. I tried twice more with no success. I had to use a landline and eventually make a series of calls to get through to their 800 number at a cost to me of about $5.80 per minute by the time it was all tallied up. I was greeted by a message telling me they were closed and that their hours were from 8:00 am until 11:00 pm Eastern time. Why couldn't the caller have said that in his message?
I waited and tried again when it was a little after 9:00 am EDT. The call was answered and I was asked to give the card number I was calling about. I replied that I had three cards with the company. She said we would have to go through them one-by-one as she had no other way to look up the reason for the call. I shared with her that I was calling from Uganda in Africa and it was costing me almost $6.00 per minute. I then gave her the first card number and was asked for some confirming information. That wasn't the card. I gave her the second number and was asked for the exact same confirming information. No dice here either and I reminded her I was calling from Uganda, in east Africa. As Murphy's Law would have it, it was the third card and I gave her the number and the same confirming information again.
Now, for the meat of the story. It seems there was a $3,000 charge from Japan on my card and their security scans caught it. That makes me feel pretty good about them being vigilant. She marked it as a bad charge and gave me the speech about checking my statement and such. Then she told me she had cancelled my card number and I would receive a new one in 2-4 weeks.

I responded, "I'm in Africa now. What am I supposed to do without my business credit card?".
Her response was, "Oh, you're in Africa?".
I took a deep breath and replied, "Yes, I mentioned that more than once. In addition, there are a few services I use that are automatically charged directly to that card each month and I'll be unable to address them while on travel in Africa. What will happen to those charges? Can I give you an approved list?"
"No, we don't do that here. Hold on sir and I'll transfer you to our card replacement department."
Another deep breath. Why do I pay so much to have this card then? "Will this be long, I am calling long distance at almost $6.00 a minute."
"Oh, I didn't realize that sir. It will just be a moment".
Well, about five minutes later she came back on the line and told me that it would just be a few more minutes. I will say that the connection was good and we could both hear each other very well. Ten more minutes went by and finally returned and said "I have them on the line sir, thank you for calling XXXX".
I said "Hello" and waited.
About 15 seconds later I heard, "Good morning sir, this is the XXXX card replacement line. How can I help you?"
I explained, in short, what I needed and was greeted by a long silence.
Finally, I heard "Hello? Hello? Sir, are you there?".
We played a few more minutes with this delay issue. I have to assume they had VoIP going and the latency was horrible. I hadn't experienced this since the first alternative long distance companies came to market in the early 1980's. Finally, I said I couldn't deal with this poor connection as I was in Africa and paying almost $6.00 per minute for the call, and can I have a direct number to call them back since I was in Uganda and toll free numbers don't work. She gave me an 800 number. I told her, again, that 800 numbers aren't much good in Africa and she finally gave me a direct dial number.
I haven't called back yet as I was too frustrated to deal with it. But there are several lessons here that any business can learn.
  1. The bogus charge was in Japan and my voice mail announcement specifically says that I am traveling out of the country on business. Why would the caller not leave an alternative direct dial number along with the 800 number? Not to mention the 11:00 issue; what happens at 11:00 and based on which time zone?
  2. The woman I first spoke with was reading from a script, and obviously mentally discarding any information not relative to her script. I told her multiple times that I was calling from Africa and it was expensive, but she did not pay any attention to that information. Now this was a $3,000 charge, but if this were a $100 charge I would have spent as much, if not more, on the phone call!
  3. A service oriented company would have found a way to work with me on the recurring charges from some of my service vendors. At least through the current billing period since I am traveling and unable to adequately address it from the road.
  4. The quality of their telecomm system involved in the transfer was atrocious. I would be ashamed and embarrassed to put any of my own clients through that. When it was obvious that there was a problem with the voice connection after the transfer, the customer service person in the card replacement department should have offered to call me back. Not only because of the connection problem, but the amount of time I had already spent, at some expense, with them on the phone. I specifically asked the card replacement person for a direct dial number because toll free numbers were useless to me in Uganda, and she procedded to give me an 800 number anyway.
  5. Now, except for the technical issue that arose after I was transferred, most of the problems were simply related to LISTENING. The original caller didn't listen to my message nor did it occur to him that, if it was a legitimate charge, that I might be in Japan at the time and not able to use an 800 number to reach them. The other telephone representatives were even worse as they were given information multiple times and just plain ignored it.
  6. Last, there is the bigger issue of servicing the good paying customer who puts many thousands of dollars in charges each month on their credit card. A good loyal customer with three credit cards from them. They left me hanging in the breeze. I am in Uganda without my main business credit card, I have several vendors that will try and charge services to my card and they won't be able to, which means I will probably get hit with fees for each and every one.

Well, thankfully I have a personal card from "another issuer" that I can use for my travel here. When I return home, I think I am going to look into taking my business to a company that can do better - if such a company really exists.

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