A World View in Three Stages

Mauree Miller

I have developed a “World View in 3 Stages.” This way of living applies to many areas, especially vacations. I start with Anticipation/Planning. Months beforehand, there was excitement. Every time I heard “April in Paris” on the radio (yes, I listen to the Standards station), I would smile. Then, there is “Here and Now”—we were on vacation and appreciating every moment. Finally, there is “This Time Last Week, We Were...” (Fill in the blank with a location: ‘in a museum’, ‘at a café,’ etc.). That last one is brutal. The best way to cure it is to plan another vacation. Now, within the context of the “This Time Last Week…” stage, I was working on fixing a problem that happened on that precious last day of our vacation.

In the Anticipation/Planning Stage, it is important to call credit card companies to put a foreign travel notice on the card. This should allow seamless use of the card when the notice is on record. It should work but on that last day, when we decided to shop, it didn’t.

We went to a beautiful and historic department store in Paris for our final hurrah. Prior to this trek, we had been using one credit card for daily purchases with no problem. After switching cards for the department store purchases, we made our first purchase, which went smoothly. However, when we made a more costly purchase, the credit card was declined. We correctly assumed this was a security issue because of the dollar amount and two purchases in a short time at the same store. My husband called the out of country number on the back of the credit card to identify himself, thinking he could resolve it easily. Not so fast. My husband answered all of the security questions, but the representative kept putting him on hold to consult with a supervisor, finally saying that she needed one at the highest level. This took a whopping half hour out of our last day of vacation. Yes, whopping—when you’re on vacation, every minute counts. (Remember, we were in my “Here and Now” stage.) Finally, they released the card. Although the store was very understanding, it was embarrassing. The salesperson even offered us a glass of champagne while we were waiting. (It wasn’t THAT big a purchase; the French are just very civilized in the retail area.)
          Why was this decline unacceptable?

  1. It should have been sufficient for my husband to answer the security questions and return to completing the purchase.
  2. If a high level supervisor was necessary, he/she should have been readily available. After all, this is a Fraud/Security unit, and if there is a protocol on that end, it should be seamless for the consumer.
  3. While the credit card company provides a collect call number for out of country calls, they forget that most people use cell phones and those foreign minutes add up to significant cost.
  4. The credit card company took precious and excessive time on that last vacation day. I have no problem with being protected from fraud, but this interaction should have taken 5 minutes.

I was still fuming when I returned home. Although it worked for the other card and our ATM card, all of my pre-trip preparation didn’t prevent problems with this card. And my “This Time Last Week” stage was worse than usual (Sidebar—this isn’t a good stage. It makes me feel mostly wistful and bummed out. I’m working on finding a happier stage).

        Of course, I needed to address the problem. Why?

  1. We deserved to be compensated for our lost time, embarrassment, and expensive phone call. I didn’t think a credit of few hundred dollars was unreasonable.
  2. More importantly, I needed to make sure the credit card company  recognized the issue and took steps to address their system problem and employee problem so this wouldn’t happen again.

Using my escalation protocol, I started through standard channels. When I spoke to a Customer Service representative and explained the problem, all he offered was an additional 5000 reward points. I wasn’t going to waste time arguing with this first line person, so I went up the ladder to a supervisor. I explained why there should be a credit on my card as compensation for our issue. The supervisor initially hedged, but I insisted. She placed me on hold to speak with someone above her and offered to add $100 to the 5,000 points. I told her that this was nice, but still inadequate compensation. She made excuses for the problem, which told me that she didn’t see the big picture so I just asked her to add the $100 credit and the points. There was no point in going further. I had already spent too much time just to get this far. If a supervisor doesn’t “get it” in a larger way, it’s not worth wasting your time by arguing. Make sure to get his/her name (as always in any interaction) and continue to go up the ladder. You don’t need an intermediary—the person on the phone doesn’t need to act on your behalf. No one is more qualified to express your problem to the person in charge than you are.

How did I get to the right person? As usual, I Googled the credit card company’s corporate headquarters. Because the card was issued by a bank with many business subsidiaries, it wasn’t easy to find the escalation area. So, I played a little more online, changing the search words that I used—Executive, Headquarters, Corporate, etc. Finally, I saw someone else’s complaint online, in which she identified the Executive Vice President’s name and phone number. I reached the EVP’s assistant and told her I had a problem that wasn’t resolved through normal channels and, before I cancelled the card, I wanted to see if I could reach someone who could assure that the company would stand behind their customer. I laid out the problem, and pointed to the consequence of lack of resolution. She got me to the Executive Inquiry Department pronto.

The Executive Inquiry contact understood the problem and immediately offered $250 credit in addition to the original 5,000 points and $100 credit. Most importantly, he took all the names of the people we dealt with, from the contacts in fraud/security while we were away to the customer service contacts on that last call when we returned. I was also clear to identify the call center locations where problems occurred. Armed with this information, he could trace the problem to the guilty parties and defective call centers. A week later he called and told me the algorithm for our card had been adjusted so this shouldn’t happen again, though he still made sure to keep us protected. He also addressed all of the individuals involved, using training and development staff to work on the customer service problem and create consumer friendly changes to the security system. I saved his contact information just in case I need it in the future. Always keep information for good contacts and keep this information with you if you travel. The win for me was resolution and compensation; the win for the company was that this excellent service kept me from cancelling the card.

          I think I need another vacation!!