Whenever you called the toll-free number printed on the back of your credit card, I was the voice that greeted you. Well, it greeted you eventually, after an automated robot-lady voice prompted you to press 1, then 4, then 9, then 1 again, then 0…you catch my drift. And I’ll have to admit, when you heard my voice, it was hardly a greeting at all. “Card Services, this is ____. May I have your name please?” My so-called greeting was hardly less robotic than the automated system you were just forced to navigate.
Your suspicions are correct: this process was hardly accidental. Robot-Lady was even less costly to the mega bank than my paltry hourly salary. And a big part of my job as a customer service representative (CSR) was to handle as many calls a possible during my shift. In fact, a good performance review required that I kept you on the phone for as little time as possible–less than a minute even. So much for customer service.
After working there for a few months and handling thousands of calls, I could almost tell by the tone of customers’ voices what the issue would be. If I detected a bit of anger, I got ready to address an over-the-limit or late fee. If I sensed impatience, I knew you were likely at a checkout counter where your credit card was being rejected. If you sounded confused, your interest rate just went up unexpectedly. Really confused? You finally noticed that foreign transaction fee for purchases you made during your last trip to Europe. And finally (my favorite), indifference. You just want to check your account balance and review your last ten transactions. I had to be ready; the clock was ticking.
I share all of this because I feel that I need to make amends for a job I continued to do despite feeling morally conflicted over bank policies. When one customer became angry because I would not remove a penalty fee, he declared, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” And I was. So, to make up for it, I offer you tips on how to effectively deal with credit card customer service for banks whose mission it is to minimize costs and maximize profits. After all, mega banks aren’t non-profit organizations.
1. If you would like a penalty fee removed, just say so. Policy at the mega bank I worked for dictated that we were not permitted to remove fees unless the customer explicitly asked. You could fuss and complain about it all you want, but if I didn’t hear “Please remove the fee,” I couldn’t do it. For a CSR, those words were music to my ears, especially when I felt I couldn’t take being cussed out one more time.
2. For some customers, I wasn’t allowed to remove a fee even if the customer asked. Each customer was assigned a dollar amount that I was permitted to remove based on the customer’s profitability. This calculation was a mystery to me; it was a number that was displayed in the customer’s account information on my computer screen. But that doesn’t mean fee removal was impossible. For these customers, it was possible if they escalated the call to a supervisor–again, you’d have to ask to speak with a supervisor.
3. And when speaking to a supervisor didn’t result in fee removal, you could always request that the account be closed. It is a bluff that often works..but only if you call during regular business hours. That was when the “account specialists” were working at the call center. Account specialists handled account closures specifically. The mega bank didn’t like to close accounts, so before that happened, an account specialist would try to convince the customer to keep their account open. And when the customer continues to insist that the account be closed, that’s when the account specialist would start making offers: fee removal, interest rate reductions, airline miles, other rewards. Just remember to call during regular business hours.
4. Interest rates were a thorn in my side. I cannot count how many customers called asking me why their interest rates were arbitrarily raised despite their clean account history. Even though you may have been a customer for over a decade and never paid your bill late, the mega bank still might choose to raise your interest rate. I knew when I would be getting these calls because the bank would post an alert informing us they had done their periodic witch hunt, er, account reviews. Based on a recent credit history review, the bank might raise interest rates because of a late payment on a bill for a different creditor, a lowered credit score because you opened other various credit accounts, a full moon…who really knew? Here again, ask for exactly what you want. Usually, if someone asked for a lower interest rate, I could oblige. And if not, it’s time to escalate and pay a call to a supervisor or account specialist.
5. Remember that flimsy little folded up booklet that was sent to you with your new credit card? Yes, that’s the Cardholder Agreement in all of its fine print glory. I know, it’s dry reading for which you may need to pull out a magnifying glass, but it’s also the place where the mega bank puts all of its crazy (and profitable) policies. Before you do anything with your credit card that’s outside of the norm such as taking cash advances, making purchases outside of the country, adding an authorized user–anything beyond making basic credit card purchases, take a look at that Cardholder Agreement. In fact, before you even use your credit card, you definitely want to read that Cardholder Agreement. That is where you’ll find out all the gory details surrounding ways in which the mega bank will make its money whether you like it or not. And then you can decide if it’s worth it to you to use the card at all. Plus it may save you time dealing with Robo-Lady…and guilty CSRs like me.
What is most impressive to me during my time as a customer service rep, is that I learned to never utter the word “money”. Even though my very job was to talk about money, it is a word that would set people off. Instead, I used gentler, albeit more vague terms: “funds”, “the amount”, “the balance”. I did whatever it took to avoid confrontation and to get the customer off of the phone as soon as possible. It was a technique that was indicative of the manner in which this mega bank kept their customers while doing as little as possible to actually offer them the customer service they deserved. After a miserable year of working as a credit card customer service representative, I finally quit. And I’m not ashamed to tell you all about it.