FUNNY BUSINESS: Customer service may be modern-day fairytale

Mike Redmond
July 17, 2006
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Gather 'round, kids. Let me tell you a little story about how things work nowadays. Or maybe how they don't.

Once upon a time, there was a customer named Mike. He had two accounts with a credit card company known as-well, let's just say it's the card you don't want to leave home without, according to the TV commercials.

Mike had recently closed one of the accounts, with a balance due of about $100. However, he left the other account open and, in fact, devoted a month to spending with abandon, just to show the card people he still liked them even though he had one less piece of their plastic in his wallet. Mike is thoughtful that way.

So there he was, looking at a rather small bill for an account that was closed, and a rather large bill for the other. He wrote two checks and sent them in.

Uh-oh! Mike forgot to put the account numbers on the checks. You can probably guess what happened. The geniuses at the card company put the big amount on the small debt, and the small amount on the big debt. Oops!

Mike now had a whopping credit on an account that was closed, and a whopping balance due on an account he had intended to be at zero.

"I know!" he said, as a little light bulb appeared over his head. "I'll call customer service!"

The next thing Mike knew, he was talking to "Trudy." We put the quote marks around the name because the last time Mike called this number he got a guy who sounded like Mohandas K. Gandhi who just INSISTED his name was "Clint."

"No, really; what's your name?" said Mike.

"Clint," said "Clint."

"And let me guess. You're in Texas, right?"

"Uh ... Wyoming," said "Clint."

"I see," said Mike. "Well, I'm calling from Bangalore and my real name is Jawaharlal." Whereupon "Clint" made a noise like he was choking on something.

Anyway, back to the credit cards. Mike explained the situation to "Trudy," and told her he would like to take the money that was piled up in the closed account to pay off the debt in the open account.

"Please hold," said "Trudy," speaking with the musical, lilting tones of someone from India-or Wyoming.

Two minutes later, she was back. Good thing, too, because the on-hold music was just about to get on Mike's nerves. It was not, however, the worst onhold music he ever heard. That prize goes to the Internal Revenue Service. Mike had to call that agency last year and the on-hold music was "The Nutcracker." Really.

So Trudy came back to the line. "To do what you want would take six to eight weeks," she musically and liltingly reported.

"I'm sorry. Did you say six to eight WEEKS?"

"Yes. Six to eight weeks."

"You can't just transfer money from one account to another?" Mike asked.

"Yes, but that would take six to eight weeks," said musical and lilting Trudy. "What we can do is send you a check for the amount of the credit on your closed account, which would get to you in four or five days. You could then send it back to us to apply to your remaining account."

Now it was Mike's turn to sound like he was choking on something.

"Trudy," Mike said, not musically and certainly not liltingly, "that ... is ... LUDICROUS." This was a surprise. He usually says other words when he is red in the face.

"Please hold again," said musical, lilting Trudy. A minute later, she was back.

"Hello? The money will be transferred within 48 hours," said Trudy, still musical, still lilting. "Now, because you have been a customer for more than 25 years, we have a card we would like to send you at no obligation, absolutely free for the first year, which can ..."

"Trudy," said Mike, "the idea was to get rid of cards, not get more of them. We're trying to simplify here."

"But you see, for the first year it is very simple because it is free AND you get bonus points," said Trudy.

"Oh," said Mike. "Go on."

No, he didn't get the card. He just let her give the entire sales pitch. And then, when she finally ran out of gas, he said, "No, thank you" and figured he had gotten even as best he could.

Then he made a note to write his account numbers on the checks from now on so everyone can live happily ever after.

The end.

I hope.

Mike Redmond is an author, columnist and speaker, and a consultant on business writing and workplace issues. His column appears monthly.You can reach him at mredmond@ibj.com.

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