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Two Experiences with Customer Service

I recently had two experiences with customer service. Both were over situations that had the potential to severely inconvenience me. One ended well. The other….. not so much.

Last month, I went on a downloading spree on my cell phone. Thinking that I had the unlimited data plan that I was pretty sure I’d asked for when I upgraded my service, I downloaded audiobooks from my account, I About two weeks ago, I logged into Cingular to check something unrelated, and discovered that someone had moved the decimal point in my Balance Due over a space. What was usually an $88 bill was suddenly $880.

At first, I really did think this was a clerical error (right there at the top of my login page, Cingular also welcomed “STEPHAMIE” to the website, so it wasn’t exactly an unreasonable assumption). Then, I decided to go take a look at the bill and see. My paper bill doesn’t usually arrive in the mail until about five days before it’s due, and I don’t have auto-pay enabled because this bill gets paid with my business account, and I have to be very careful with those finances.

Was I ever glad for not signing up for convenience. I looked into it, and found over $700 in data fees. At $1 a megabyte (over 5 MB), and having downloaded hundreds of MBs in my quest for audio material, I was, in a word, hosed.

I called Cingular. I spoke to a wonderful customer service rep (also named “Stephanie”– she corrected the typo, perceiving it as a personal affront). She was able to refund $250 on the spot, and referred the case to the next level up for review. Apparently, Cingular did make at least one mistake when upgrading me– they didn’t put a service ticket note into the file explaining what they were doing.

I understood that it could take up to two weeks for the review to be complete, and then they would email me to let me know. As I was out on a dog walk the next day, a call came in at the most inopportune moment, hand in a plastic baggie, reaching for “the business.” I almost told the guy to shove off, because I was in the middle of something, but he quickly explained that he’d reviewed the account and refunded all but my normal monthly service charges. Less than 24 hours after I’d found the problem, they had taken care of it.

Now, I realize that not all Cingular experiences will be like this, and that not everyone has good experiences with Cingular. I must be either blessed or really good at dealing with cell phone customer service, because I always had good luck with Verizon, too.

Anyway, now we come to customer service experience #2.

Last night on my way home, I stopped at the ATM for Bank of the West to deposit a check, withdraw some money, and check balances. It was 9:30 at night, and I had to wait for a moment for the ATM to be available. I went up to the machine, put my card in, deposited my check, took my card. I then put in my other card (I have two accounts), withdrew money, and took the card and cash. Finally, I put my card in a third time, this time because I decided after taking my card back that I should check my balances. The card went in, and suddenly the light above the ATM went dark, and the screen read “TEMPORARILY OUT OF SERVICE.”

Um…. what? How can you be temporarily out of service? You have my card! It’s 9:30 on a Friday night before a 3 day weekend, and I’m leaving on a business trip on Monday. You cannot POSSIBLY be out of service!

I called the 1-800 customer service number that is printed on the ATM. I eventually spoke with a customer service rep. She asked for my account number. I explained that I didn’t have it handy, because I was at an ATM that had just eaten my card. “Oh, dear,” she says. She can verify my account using my social security number.

Does anyone else have a problem announcing their social security number out loud in public, at night, after they’ve just had one trust violation happen to them? Or is it just me?

I gave her my social. She said that they wouldn’t be able to do anything until the branch opens in the morning. “What branch? This is an ATM out in a parking lot.”

The long and the short of it is that they couldn’t do anything for me, not at 9:30 PM on a Friday night, and she had no way of knowing when someone might be out to service the machine. All I can think is that she should be able to know this because she should be calling, right now, a service guy to come out and fix the machine and give me back my card!

I don’t know. Maybe it’s unreasonable to expect that when a bank’s ATM (same bank as my account, there’s no mis-match here) steals your ATM card, that you have some recourse.

I explain that leaving my ATM card is a security risk. She says she can cancel the card. At this point, I’m ready to throw my cell phone, even though it’s not its fault that this has happened. It’s like some random cosmic lightning strike hit me last night, and I was looking for rhyme or reason to explain why.

We cancel the card. My new one will arrive in 5-7 business days (no, she didn’t even offer to expedite its delivery). This means, by the way, that it probably won’t even be there by the time I return from my trip. How fucked up is that?

I don’t really know what to say at this point. “Thank you” seems inappropriate, because she has done absolutely nothing to make the situation better. Her tone, while apologetic, hasn’t made me feel any better. I want to scream and shout and rant, but I also know it’s not her fault and, frankly, she doesn’t need to bear the brunt of my anger. Most people would probably have just let loose, but I have enough control to tell her “Okay, I’m going to hang up and go curse for a while.” She said something at that point, but I just couldn’t stay on the phone, I was so frustrated and upset.

Why were these two experiences different? I think it’s because of the amount of power I felt in each case, both my own and the company representative’s. In the first, the customer service rep was authorized immediately to give me a sizeable refund, on the spot, and to request a further review. I felt as though someone was able to do something about it.

Now, granted, in the second case there was no refund to be had, though certainly if I bounce any automated payments in the next week, I’d like to think Bank of the West would cover them– I suppose we will see, won’t we? But also in the second case, the rep was not empowered to do anything. She could not: call a machine technician out to fix the machine (something I felt, at least, should be done so the next sucker doesn’t encounter the same problem), send a new card faster than I can fly to and from Michigan, link my three accounts onto the one card (so at least I would have ATM access), or otherwise in any way do anything that could affect my life in a positive way and restore my faith in the Bank of the West ATMs.

Update: January 20, 2007:

My original customer service rep, Stephanie, from Cingular called me, as scheduled, on Wednesday afternoon at about 3 PM to check up and make sure everything went smoothly. I told her about the very fast turnaround time on the request, as well as the very good news about it, and thanked her profusely for her help. I also told her about this blog post, because I think she’d be happy to know that she’s made Cingular famous in a good way this week.

My Bank of the West replacement card (and, I am sure, separately-mailed PIN)? Still not here.

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2 thoughts on “Two Experiences with Customer Service”

  1. I don’t like giving out my ssn in general. Yesterday I was in the car and got a call from a number i didn’t recognise. I answered and a recording said, “this is kohl’s dept store, if this is Lis, press 1” so i did. I wsa asked to hold, then another recording came on and said, “Please enter the last 4 digits of your SSN and press pound”. I was like, um, NO. I waited, and it told me that again. NO. third time. No F-in way. I waited for a rep to come on and explain what was going on (i do have a kohl’s charge card) and a recording asked me to call a number back. I was like WTF? Do people really fall for that? There’s no way I was giving my SSN out to anyone who calls me. I just don’t get it.

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