It was Friday at about 5: 30 p.m. when I decided to look over some of my outstanding credit card balances. I don't particularly enjoy paying the interest rates that credit card companies charge, so I try to keep my balances at a minimum. That doesn't mean that from time to time I don't splurge, but usually I've been able to keep things under control. Then suddenly Christmas comes along and you know what happens. You charge a little here and a little there, and before you know it you've got some hefty charges posted on one or two of your cards.
Anyway, that's when I noticed a few items on my bill that I didn't remember charging. I decided to call the customer service number listed on the itemized bill.
I dialed the customer service number and was greeted with the usual verbiage: "Your call is very important to us, but all of our representatives are busy with other clients. As soon as a service representative is available we will answer your inquiries. Your call may be monitored by one of our supervisors for quality control." Those may not be the exact words, but you know the drill.
The worst part of this process, aside from waiting what seems to be forever, is having to listen to either a commercial of some sort or obnoxious music.
Knowing what was about to transpire, I endured the usual greeting and was told that for better service I should enter my credit card number followed by the pound sign. From there I was transferred to someplace else. I was subjected to more ringing and was asked "for security reasons" to enter the last four digits of my Social Security number. I heard a couple of beeps and received another request for my mother's maiden name. More beeping ensued before a real live person came on the phone and told me that my Social Security number did not match the number on record for my account.
I was confused. The customer representative I spoke with was courteous and patient. I repeated the last four digits of my Social Security number and she advised me that the last digit was different.
I have been a client of this credit card company for many years and thus was mystified by what was happening. I wondered if I was about to enter into a nightmare where someone had stolen my identity. I asked the lady how we could resolve this matter. She asked me to hold for a minute while she talked to her supervisor. In a short time, she came back on the line and told me her supervisor told her to tell me to "send in his Social Security number."
All I could think of was my Social Security number rattling around an old warehouse in who knows where. I told her I didn't think that was a very good idea. She agreed and said, "I understand." She told me that my records probably were not transferred properly. This added to my frustration and because I didn't know what else to say I asked her where she was, as I had noticed that some of her verbal expressions sounded familiar.
She told me she was in Vancouver, British Columbia. I told her that I had lived in Hamilton, Ontario, for a time, hoping this common thread somehow would be helpful in getting this mess straightened out.
In the nicest voice I could manage, I asked her to let me speak to her supervisor. She graciously agreed to do so. I was put on hold and waited. And waited.
The process was taking so long that I decided to go home and start all over again. My mind was conjuring up all sorts of scenarios and by the time I reached my house, I was wired. My dog greeted me at the door, but I headed straight for the phone and dialed customer service. After enduring all the preliminaries again, I spoke to a gentleman with a clipped British accent. He sounded pleasant enough, as well as competent, and I told him my story. He asked me some additional questions and then offered me hope by saying, "I can fix this for you."
He proceeded to do so to some extent. During our conversation, I asked him where he was and he told me, "New Delhi, India." This was even more disconcerting to me and I told the gentleman how puzzled I was that I was talking to someone in New Delhi about a problem with my credit card. He was very polite and with a note of pride in his voice told me, "We are a global company with branches all over the world to better serve our customers." I was impressed. Then he told me he could only go so far in helping me and gave me another number to call to resolve my predicament.
I dialed the number and was greeted by a gentleman with a decidedly Southern accent. He asked me what he could do for me and again I told my story. He told me to hold on and then I heard him typing on his computer. He asked me my Social Security number and my mother's maiden name, and after about five minutes said he had corrected my account information and that "everything was in order." Out of curiosity, I asked the man where he was and he said, "Greensboro, N.C."
Everybody I talked with at the credit card company was courteous and competent, but the inconvenience and worrying about how someone had screwed up my personal information made the experience less than stellar. However, I did get a chance to talk to someone in Canada, then New Delhi and, finally, Greensboro, N.C. This certainly has become a global economy, but for someone like me who still cannot understand how jet planes get off the ground, it can be a little befuddling.
Globalization is here,
Editors note: Charles Lauer is on vacation. This letter originally ran in the Jan. 27, 2003 issue of Modern Healthcare.