3 Rules of Business Derived from Two Frozen Credit Cards

January 27, 2009

"Charge declined," the sales agent at Dick's Sporting Goods told me last night.

My inner-voice: "Card balance? Fine. Funds frozen because I once protested something? No, Barack is in office now. Identity? Stolen!" Not so fast.

This debacle of customer service all started around Christmas at an inquisitive gas pump. All I wanted was gas. So I swiped my Bank of America Check Card at the pump to pre-pay. The 90s era LED asked me, "What is your zip code?" After living in Rhode Island, Washington, and North Carolina in the prior 8 months I didn't know the answer. After each attempt the pump refused to accept my ignorance and continued the interrogation. After swiping twice and depleting 6 plausible zip codes (with permutations on digits where I had uncertainty) the pump demanded I "Please see Cashier."

"No!" I retorted back at the gas pump. I jumped in my car and drove to the Amoco station across the street. The card was denied immediately. "Great, I triggered fraud protection against myself." So I gave the pump a different Bank of America Credit Card and the pump gave me gas. No questions asked.

First rule of business: when customers want to give you their money make the process at least as painless as your competitors do.

I tried using the BofA check card a few times after and it was always denied. I procrastinated facing BofA phone-support to fix the problem and hadn't thought twice about it until standing in front of an ATM. I needed cash. I hesitated to hand over my card to the ATM. "My bank thinks I'm the thief who stole my own identity, I'm in their sights at an ATM, how will they catch me? Giant net above my head? No. Terry Tate in the bushes? Nope." I slid the card in. I entered my pin. I took my money, my card, and I fled the area.

Due to my own suspicious activity the bank card continued being denied at points of sale. Yet it continued being accepted at the ATM. For three months. This inconsistent disconnect between systems is absurd. Bank of America could assume two possible scenarios here: either someone stole my card or no one did. Yet Bank of America behaved as if someone stole my card and no one did.

Second rule of business: be consistent in your service to customers. Automated systems should enhance consistency, not introduce inconsistencies.

So there I was yesterday in the check-out line at Dick's and now my credit card was being declined too. Fortunately I had $11 in cash to cover the $10 pair of soccer socks but I knew I would finally have to face the fire and call Bank of America's customer service to release the holds.

Facing a long drive to the indoor soccer arena I bit the bullet and called. After 6 transfers between customer service agents, including an erroneous transfer to a "child emergency clinic" requiring me to call back and start-over, and 26 minutes of being asked the same security questions multiple times and having to listen to a voice-recording claiming "Bank of America is proud to provide you with exceptional customer service" I had solved the problem and unfrozen both of my cards.


It turns out my credit card had been frozen because they claim to have sent me another card back in August which I had not activated. The Visa agent opened the conversation thanking me for being a cardholder since August of 2007 and later informed me that my current card, issued in August of 2007 and "valid thru 2010", was being replaced because she told me it was "too old".


So Bank of America froze one card because my own activity looked fraudulent. Then froze another card because I had been sent me a new one, without requesting it, which I failed to receive and activate.

Third rule of business: Don't create problems that require your customers to take action to solve.

Fourth rule of business: Be honest. Don't proclaim to have "exceptional customer service" when it just is not. I would have been delighted if the prerecorded please hold message said "As you know we're in the middle of a pretty big economic shit show. We value customer service but we're really focused on not going out of business right now. Thank-you for your patience we'll be with you soon."

@BankOfAmerica: It's 2009. Don't make me tell six of your operators my full name and the last four digits of my social security in order to find my way to someone who can lift holds on a credit card. Here's a suggestion: When I log into my on-line banking after having a hold placed on my card you should ask me "Hey, Kris, do you still have your check card ending in XXXX? We think someone may have stolen it." I will click a button that says "Yes, Bank of America, I am looking at it right now." You will then say "Phew, well we've lifted the holds. By the way, Kris, your zip code is 27516. Try to get that right next time." I will smile and we'll both be on our way.


 Joseph's avatar

Ok so where in this was the personal responsibility for not knowing your own zip code? And no the banks may not always provide exceptional customer service, but then again every customer that proclaims to be an exceptional customer isnt either. Just looking at both sides of the coin.

 Glenn's avatar

Haha, banks offering good customer service? That's a good one!

For most bank employees in my experience (and I've worked at a bank...) the customers are a necessary evil who need to be educated in how to comply with the bank's policies and systems. They get quite irritated and/or confused if you question them or don't use the correct jargon as well.

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