Customer retention is a fickle thing. I’ve had a premium credit card for at least 30 years. The points I accumulated there allowed me to travel freely, and freely, in Canada for most of those 30 years. For most of that time, I had no problem booking flights, hotels, and rental cars.
The card also provided collision insurance when I rented a car, as well as insurance for medical emergencies and trip cancellation while traveling.
But it took something as minor as an automated voicemail system to lose my loyalty. Permanently.
I will not name the credit card company. They have more lawyers than me.
Here is the story. My friend heard of a two week canoe trip on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The adventure company had two open spaces. The price was reasonable.
We signed up.
I booked our return flights to Whitehorse using my credit card. But I made a typo in the preferred schedule. I needed to fix it.
I called the number given to me on my confirmation email. I have an automated voice that is supposed to understand my speech. He asked me for my credit card number, expiration date and the magic numbers on the back. He also checked my date of birth and asked me the reason for my call.
I said it. He assured me that he would put me in touch with the appropriate department.
This was not the case. Instead, it routed me to another automated voice that demanded my credit card number – again – after which it told me my points, current charges, and credit limit.
That’s not why I called.
There was no way to return to the starting point. So I pressed random buttons. The line is dead.
I recalled. Same question. Same promises. This time, I waited for 11 assurances that my call was very important — spaced out by an endless 60-second loop of repetitive guitar riffs designed, I suppose, to irritate callers into hanging up.
I was told the company was experiencing an unusual volume of calls. My estimated wait time was three hours and 17 minutes.
I had other priorities in my life.
I tried again, several times, four days in a row. My estimated wait times ranged between one and five hours.
In desperation, my travel companion and I phoned. We put our phones on speakerphone. We answered the necessary blanks.
After an hour of waiting, one of us came to a human voice. A nice young man, who spent another hour trying to make the requested changes. And ended up telling us that he had no right to make them.
I also needed trip cancellation insurance and emergency medical insurance. I checked the bank’s webpage. As I am over 65, my automatic coverage only lasts three days.
But I can recharge it – it doesn’t tell me how. The bank’s web page offered no options. I needed to speak directly to a
qualified customer service representative.
Same automated voice. Same routine. Wrong department. Call redirected. After 25 minutes of waiting, the endless guitar music turned into a busy signal.
I did – yes, I did! – finally reaching a real living human being.
After listening to my laments, he said, “I see by your phone number that you are in British Columbia, I can’t help you. I only have a license for Ontario. I will have an agent from British Columbia call you.
The call from the BC agent came two days later while I was away. Another recorded voice. He repeatedly said to my answering machine, “Press one now if you’re ready to speak to an insurance agent.”
Did you get that? One recording, tell another recording to press a button?
I called my local credit union. A real human answered the phone. She gave me a quote for medical insurance and trip cancellation insurance within 10 minutes.
This is how I prefer to do business in the future.
I don’t care if it’s one of the most respected banks in the world. I don’t care that its assets exceed many members of the United Nations.
I will cut their premium card into small pieces and send it back to what used to be my bank.
Watch out, big banks. When you set up systems for your business so that you don’t have to deal directly with your customers, you may find that you no longer have to deal with them. Certainly not with this one.
Jim Taylor is a freelance writer and journalist from the Okanagan Centre. Email: [email protected]