Ain’t no cure for the credit card blues

When you call to get your credit card activated you probably have me to blame for the experience. This is because the consulting firm I was working for (which no longer exists) was hired by a major credit card company to revamp their call centre script to make it friendlier. The project landed in my lap despite the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about call centre scripts except being on the receiving end of the spiel, but come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly the expertise required.

Until then I had never caught on to the reason why they can’t just process the activation transaction automatically. Of course they can. They just want you to have the ‘experience’ of talking to a real person so they can dazzle you with their ‘customer service’ and gain your everlasting ‘loyalty’. At least that’s what they say. In reality, the objective of the call centre chat is to remind you about all the important and essential features of your credit card that will encourage you to use it frequently and up-sell you to things they can charge you for like insurance and companion cards.

Of course no consulting job is worth its salt without lots of travel. The first stop was corporate headquarters in New York City. The actual client visit was uneventful but getting into the building was a journey in and of itself. The office tower was located directly across from ground zero. Clearly expecting that lightening could strike twice in the same location (and I hope that will never happen for more than one reason), their post 9/11 security measures included the following:

• Getting on the official visitor list two weeks in advance of the visit. This was a little bit of an issue because the project was supposed to start immediately.
• Lining up at the security office so they could peruse our passports and take an official photo. Come to think of it, I don’t know what they did with the photo because it wasn’t on our visitor pass. I hope they don’t have an information exchange agreement with homeland security…
• Lining up for the airport-like security clearance, including putting our stuff on an x-ray conveyor belt.

The next stop was Salt Lake City to visit the main call centre. Yes, there are still call centres in North America and, unlike in India, the employees don’t all have names like John Green, Mary Jones and Bob Smith. Oh, but being Utah, maybe I’m wrong about the Smith part. Anyhow, SLC couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to NYC.

The call centre was in a town on the outskirts SLC, and since it was November In Utah we had arranged for a four wheel SUV. The one we were given was as big as Utah and Texas combined and luckily I didn’t have to drive. On the way we spied a Super Target and stopped for a much needed shopping break. I had never experienced quite the experience of American shopping the week before their version of Thanksgiving. To this day I still regret not scooping up the seasonal Land o’ Lakes butter carved in the shape of a turkey. If only we had that much marketing chutzpah in Canada. Or maybe not.

Anyhow, we spent the day sitting beside call centre people listening to the existing script and the interactions with the customers. My major take-away from the experience was never, ever, to resort to working in a call center, especially in greater non-metropolitan Salt Lake City. Thankfully the day finally ended and we headed back to our airport hotel, looking forward to a nice meal and a glass of wine.

As it turns out, getting an adult beverage in SLC is not the easiest of tasks. Heaven (or maybe Joseph Smith) only knows how they managed the debauchery of the Olympics. The hotel dining room had an opaque door, lest moral turpitude inadvertently occur to those more corruptible than people like me by observing alcohol in use. It was easy enough to get a table for dinner, but to get a wine menu we had to produce photo ID and our room keys. Apparently everyone staying at the hotel became automatic members of the Hilton speakeasy and were able to obtain demon drinks with impunity.

I was then left with the task of crafting the new call centre script, which entailed much agonizing about how to rephrase “do you know you can also add cards for your wife and children” to make it sing and dance. In the end, the result was summarily dismissed by the client because it wasn’t ‘creative’ enough.

So even though my efforts were for naught, I still get some pleasure whenever I have occasion to talk to this company’s call centre. If they ever try to up-sell me, I say I wrote their script and can tell them exactly what they are going to try to ‘customer service’ me with next. That usually stops them dead in their tracks. Namaste.