Wednesday, June 2, 2010

For Customer Service, Please say: "Frustrated"

While on a business trip in the Washington DC area, I needed to create a travel voucher over the internet via a government travel website.  Normally this would be a simple transaction, but at the hotel I’m staying at there is no free Wi-Fi, so I have to carry my laptop down to the business center (where all the businessmen apparently gather in a cramped room to share 3 desktop computers because professionals don’t own laptops in Hilton hotels’ world) and plug into the LAN there. Granted, my room is only $200 a night, so maybe my expectations are a little high. Just because the Best Western with cigarette burns in the bedspread and hair in the bathtub has free Wi-Fi, that doesn’t make it the standard. Paris has bills to pay after all. Those diamond-crusted sunglasses don’t come cheap.

But back to my travel voucher.  I was uncertain of the amount billed for the airfare, and since I was logged into a landline internet connection rather than unsecure wireless I decided to log on to the credit card website to check my credit card statement. The website said that my password had expired; I had to fill out my information to reset it. After doing this it directed me to contact the web division over the phone to reset the password, as the online option had failed. I called on my cell phone, and worked my way through several unhelpful layers of menus (can the first option be “To hear the rest of this recording in the standard, painfully slow voice-over, press 1 now. To hear someone read the options with a sense of urgency and the assumption that your brain can process more than 30 words a minute, press 2 now. To cut to the chase and hear how to talk to a real person that can answer your question, stay on the line”?)

I finally got to the good part “To speak with a technical representative, press 5 now” and punched the required number. Finally I would be having a heart to heart with someone somewhere in India. The reception on my phone had been fine until this moment, when, and I don’t mean to confuse you with technical jargon, it “crapped out”. It was like I was being jammed by an invisible, yet incredibly irritating, electromagnetic monster outside the room. I went for a walk outside the hotel, at which point the static went from so overwhelming that I was unable to hear anything but fuzz, to simply annoying in a pulsating every few seconds with a wave of static sort of way. As I was on hold for over 10 minutes, I had plenty of time to walk around trying to get out of the dead zone, or more appropriately the gravely injured zone, but to no avail, and eventually, having gotten tired enough of hearing a blast of static in my ears every 2 seconds, I placed the phone on speaker.

Finally, about 15 minutes into the call somebody picked up on the other end. I heard “Thank you for calling Citi government card services, can I have your SHOOWOOP-KHHHH”. I said, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” “Thank you for calling Citi government card services, can I have your SHOOWOOP-KHHHHH”. I’m not kidding, the static broke in at the same part of the sentence. Did they want my name or my card number? “Hold on” I said, “I’ve got you on speaker, let me take you off so I can hear you better”. I took the phone off of speaker, and nobody was there. The dude hung up on me! After listening to bad elevator music overridden by repeated discharges of static for a quarter of an hour!!

At this point I was frustrated, but unwilling to give up I returned to my hotel room to call from a land line. This time there were no reception problems, and after getting through the menus I was of course placed on hold again, with the admonishment that call traffic was heavy (at 10:00 at night? Really?) and that my wait would be around 2 minutes. I can only assume that this is the same prediction given with the first call, which I missed due to the overriding electromagnetic interference blasting over my phone at that time. 15 minutes of blessedly static-free elevator music later and I had another rep on the phone. “Thank you for calling Citi government card services, can I have your credit card number?” “Who am I speaking with?” I asked. “This is Paula”, the voice on the other end replied. “Ok, I got hung up on by the last guy, so I just wanted to have a name in case that happened again” I told her. I could actually hear Paula laughing on the other end of the line, before she came back with “How can I help you?” So we went through the whole rig-a-ma-role of my information and what I needed, with Paula demurely asking if she could put me on hold a couple of times, and got my online password reset. Paula was very polite, and I was happy to finally have internet statement viewing capability restored, an hour after first trying to log on. You have to love technology. And real customer service when you can get it.