To serve you better, we are changing the terms of this blog. From now on, all entries will be written in Esperanto, and upside down. This will help you learn a second language, and improve your brain’s ability to process spatial relationships. We trust you’ll continue to enjoy the blog as we continue to improve service to you …
Now, if I really did that, would you continue to read this blog or would you tune out? (That’s a rhetorical question.) Yet many businesses pull that sort of shenanigan all the time. I always cringe when I get a letter from a bank with the dreaded phrase “to serve you better” because that inevitably means “raise your fees,” or “discontinue a service you’ve been using.” I have yet to get a letter from a financial institution with the phrase “to serve you better” that didn’t have some very significant asterisks attached to it.
The latest in a long line of bonehead customer service maneuvers comes from Discover Card. Over the past year Discover seems to have been trying as hard as possible to drive us away as customers, and they’ve finally succeeded.
The first “improvement” in service to us was last year, when Discover announced that they were discontinuing e-billing. For people who are busy, who travel a lot, or who use their computers a lot (and all three of those apply to us), e-billing is a godsend. It means that instead of waiting for paper to catch up with us in the mail, we can use online bill pay service to receive our bills and click-click-click pay them.
Everyone offers e-billing these days. We only have one routine business relationship that doesn’t offer e-bills (the City of Tucson, for water/sewer bills). We get e-bills for our mobile phones, utilities, mortgage, insurance, credit cards, and all sorts of other things. But for some unexplained reason, after providing us with convenient e-bills for years, Discover suspended the service. It was, as they explained at the time, an opportunity for them to improve service to us.
We rewarded that bit of customer dis-service by suspending use of the card. I suggested closing the account at that point, but Eleanor kept it for an emergency.
Now, several months later, they have taken further steps to improve service to us, by changing our account number without prior notice. We received the following blather via snail mail and email today:
We’re now able to offer you enhanced features and benefits as part of a systems upgrade. As a result, your account number has changed and we’ve mailed you a new card that replaces the card you currently carry. If you haven’t received it already, your new Discover Card will arrive soon.
To understand our frustration, you need to appreciate a little bit of how we (and millions of other people) manage their finances. We routinely ask vendors who send us small monthly bills (like Sprint, and Verizon) to bill the charges automatically to our credit cards. This consolidates the bills into one convenient statement, which we pay in full monthly. When the credit card number changes, all of those billing relationships break.
I do this on the business side too. For example, if Bank of America spontaneously changed my business VISA card number, I would have to contact over twenty vendors to update their billing records — or watch all those invoices go unpaid, with the ensuing mayhem. Have you ever tried to contact twenty businesses to update your billing information? I did it in March and it took almost two full days to reach them all. I logged a lot of time listening to Muzak on hold, let me tell you.
(Discover’s letter to us says “we’ll attempt to update your account information with those merchants.” [emphasis mine] Will they guarantee we won’t pay late fees if their attempts fail?)
If Eleanor had trusted Discover in the last six months, we might have been facing that exact scenario as a result of this “systems upgrade.” Fortunately, Discover already showed us the color of their stripes last year. We had entrusted them with nothing, thus our loss in this case is zero — and Discover’s loss will be a customer.
I rant about this because there are implications here for those who travel a lot. Traveling means a more complicated life in some ways, and so you need to look for other ways to simplify the routine stuff. In other words, if you are going to be busy enjoying your travel experience, it helps to eliminate the mundane things (like writing checks and fighting with banks). So you need to find relationships with companies you can trust, ones that manage their systems with your interests in mind, not just their own.
By the way, if you’re wondering what improved services we may be missing out on by canceling our Discover Card, here’s another quote from the letter:
Enhanced security monitoring will help detect fraud earlier on your account. And with personal concierge services, you can get reservations to your favorite restaurants, score tickets to exclusive events and more “â€ all at no cost to you.
Oh joy, just what I wanted … more services I won’t use. And enhanced security monitoring is mostly to their benefit, since by Federal law my liability for unauthorized misuse is limited to $50. But wait, there’s more!
Finally, start managing your account online.
“¢ View your current account balance, rewards account balance, and past 12 months
of transactions by date, amount or category.
“¢ Make online payments, set e-mail reminders, and more.
Uh, Discover … just one question. With all these great new services, will you finally resume providing the one service I really needed — e-bills — again?