And Do Customer Still Want Them?

I do as much purchasing locally as I can.  But sometimes I can’t.  Can you relate?


I have a locally owned bank I love.  Great owners, great employees – over 150 years of being in business.  I keep a credit card through them and have been able to solve problems after banking hours when traveling by calling my bankers’ cell phones.  Awesome service.

I’m reading some business material online one day and see the article comparing cash-back programs on cards.  The author, (probably a planted shill), is gushing all over Citibank’s unlimited 2% back card.

I use a card as cash, meaning I pay it off each month.  I did the math and 2% would be a big reward.  Hmmm…..  So about six months ago I applied and received the above card made famous in TV commercials.

A few weeks in, I quickly max it out (didn’t start me off with much) so I call and participate in a relatively painless and efficient verbal application.  A day or two later, the limit gave me more space to float monthly purchases for short-term 2% gain.

All goes well for a few more months.  Their website works well enough for logging in and paying off the statement, so great.  But I got to the limit again as I have used it to float larger purchases like annual insurance premiums.  2% off already increasing premiums is attractive.

I call to request another increase… dang it.  Should have known that doing business with nameless, faceless agents would eventually come back to haunt.

First call went thousands of miles to the West of California.  They took the verbal application as before.  The next day, I received a “letter”.  They don’t spend on postage, they post the “letter” online and you log into your account to see it.  (Well, it is faster than cruddy U.S. Postal service and saves postage so that they can offer 2% cash back, so I’m OK with this.)

The letter declined me.  The reason: I can only ask for a credit limit increase once every six months (or about four weeks from now in the present circumstance).

It’s a Citibank company rule, apparently, that is more arbitrary IMO than Shrek’s dining choices.

So I call customer service again.  The typical off-continent straining to understand and be understood led me to ask for domestic customer service.  Unlike other companies, this one happily and quickly complied – damage control which began to rebuild my confidence.

Talked to a very nice agent at first and made him laugh a few times with my sardonic humor about the big corporate monster and its self-created paper sack that it restricts its employees from thinking outside of.  Of course, he isn’t really empowered to do anything other than answer the phone, verify identity, and tell you things you already know.  He kindly went to speak to a supervisor who, get this, tried to claim that U.S. law prevents consumers from asking for credit increases more than once every six months.

At the point a CS agent takes the risk that I am a moron, I work to keep the company from saving the time it attempted to save by getting me off of the phone.

I ask for, wait and speak to a manager who admitted that excuse was bunk.  She also openly admitted in better terms her utter incapacity to actually solve this customer’s felt need without risking her job.  How about that?  An employer that positions its customer service managers to feel like they risk their jobs to solve their customers’ reasonable requests!  All too common today.

Alas, despite helping her understand that she risks losing a customer (and so what?  We’re a dime-a-dozen to big companies,) she could not explain how I would be a better credit risk, more qualified, or a customer more worthy of serving in about 28 days as opposed to today.

So there you have it, folks.  If you own or manage in business, this is a lesson warning against putting process above people.

Processes are fine when they increase efficiency for the sake of customers, but what was more efficient for them about sending me around the globe to tell me ‘no’ to something that in a month they would just say ‘yes’ to anyway?

Small business owners, don’t imitate your big brother competitors.  One of your unique value propositions is in doing for your customers what big brother won’t – which is treating them like individuals, listening, and solving their problems.  Too often, I ask small business clients: if you don’t solve your customer’s felt need, how likely is it that the customer will bring you his or her next need?

Today’s shame-on-you is awarded to Citibank.  It joins the ranks of Columbia Sportswear, Nelson sprinklers, Sony, Sprint, Wayfair.com and others that continue to reinforce my notion that, whatever ills we as consumers may ever have experienced at the hands of small, local businesses, the lack of face-to-face accountability under the new technology world order offers no improvement.  It is usually worse.

And shame on me for trying to save (or make) extra money spending with someone outside of my local community.  As always, I get what I pay for.

Jeff Koenig

© Jeff Koenig and Open 4 Business (www.openfour.com) 2008-2016.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jeff Koenig and www.openfour.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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