Tuesday, December 11, 2007

No Fruitcake, Please

I cancelled a credit card with Capital One yesterday. It was like tunneling out of a labor camp with a spoon.

Here's a brief timeline. On October 23, the fraud department at Capital One called me and said that an online vendor (whom they didn't identify) had notified them that their online database had been compromised. So Capital One said they needed to cancel my existing card and issue me a new one.

No problem. I keep a detailed list of all my recurring payments, and--oh, wait. No, I don't.

So this was a gigantic pain in the ass for me. Gigantic. And Capital One happily told me that it would be two weeks, at a minimum, before I got the new card. That was a remarkable bit of indifference for something that wasn't my fault.

I asked to speak to a supervisor, and not only did he readily agree that their service sucked, but that sucking was built into the machine, so to speak. He did promise, though, that he would expedite the new card, and that I'd have it in a week.

After three weeks, I tried calling them to find out what happened to the card. After winding through a labyrinth of phone menus and being on hold for almost half an hour, I gave up.

Fast forward to yesterday. I called in again, and this time, after talking to three different people, being transferred, and being on hold over and over again, I realized that this was like going to get a haircut and being told that six different barbers need to be involved.

As it was explained to me, the reason the card hadn't been sent was because on December 7, Microsoft tried to renew by Xbox Live membership for another year using my old credit card number. That caused a fraud block to be put on my account.

And what happened between October 23 and December 6, I asked? That was one of life's little mysteries, it seemed.

The fifth person I talked to, at last, was able to cancel the credit card, after reading a disclaimer in a dispirited monotone that would have made Lurch proud.

So why am I telling you this story? Because I listened to an episode of "This American Life" as I was swimming today, and it was a story from 2003 about an MCI customer service nightmare that had gone on for over six months. In the end, the fix was ingenious: Ira Glass called in with the customer, told the service rep that he was being taped for a national radio broadcast, and miraculously, they were immediately transferred to corporate customer relations, where the problem was completely resolved within a week (and they wound up speaking to a vice president of customer service, who sent a lovely gift basket as well).

That's when it hit me--media coverage is the magic bullet when it comes to customer service in the U.S. these days. And I highly recommend "adapting" National Public Radio's techique for your own ends. Believe me, the next time I'm faced with the worst customer service this side of the old Soviet Union, Gloria is going to get on the other line and identify herself as a producer for National Public Radio and say that the call is being taped for possible national broadcast.

And I've cleared a spot on the counter for my gift basket.

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