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If I were king for a day, I would permanently ban automated customer service systems.
OK, actually, if I really were king for a day, I'd probably buy Disneyland or the Eiffel Tower and give it to my kids as a present, or do something much more cool than pick on credit card companies, and it's true that most major businesses that deal with the mass public use some form of automated customer service system. It's definitely not just credit cards.
But having just gotten off the phone with a credit card company, and still fuming about it, I'll go with my original idea. If I were king of the world, the first thing on my list would be ridding the world of automated telephone systems. You can all thank me later.
Why am I so down on this technological advancement that arguably saves consumers time and companies money? Well, let me count the ways.
Automation is efficient for the consumer -- until it isn't
Sometimes, when I'm in full curmudgeon mode, I'm happy not to talk to a customer service representative, but there have been plenty of times when I really needed, or just wanted, to speak to a live person to answer some questions that require more than a yes or no answer.
For instance, what got me irked today was that I had to make a monthly payment to a particular credit card of mine, one that's part of a major corporation and yet is kind of an obscure card. In other words, it isn't a major company like American Express, Discover or Chase (just to get a few companies off the hook).
This smaller credit card company, as I write this, is undergoing a couple days' maintenance with their website, and so instead of making a payment online, I had to pay on the phone. Because I couldn't find my paper statement and apparently had deleted any statements sent to me over email, I didn't have my account number on hand.
I couldn't get it on the website either, of course, since it was undergoing maintenance, and, well, you know, I'd offer more details, but I don't want to bore people to tears, so let's just say that because I couldn't get a person on the line, it took me about 20 minutes to find the alternate information I needed to make a payment instead of less than two minutes.
And, yes, I tried three times to talk to a live person, each time getting recordings asking me to wait on hold until the call was ultimately dropped.
Automation is so easy, even scammers can use it
Millions of people -- including those who are on the national Do-Not-Call List -- have received automated calls from either a "Rachel" or "Kathy" at "Card Services," according to the Better Business Bureau, as numerous local television reports around the country have been reporting. The automated recordings have messages like: "This is Kathy, calling about your credit card account. I wanted to let you know about some ways to lower the interest rate you pay."
It sounds like a recording from your credit card company, but it isn't. Most or all of these calls have been coming from unethical debt consolidation companies that aren't much more than two-bit operations run by con artists who want to put you in debt, not get you out of debt.
And, of course, that's just one example. Earlier this year, as NJ.com reported, some residents were receiving automated phone calls notifying them their credit card had been "deactivated for security purposes." But if the recipient wanted to restore their card, all he or she had to do was enter the 16 digits and type in the expiration date. (Like giving candy to a baby -Ed.)
Honestly, as automation becomes more the norm, I can see how someone might fall for that.
Automated bill pay isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sure, some people swear by it, the people who always have a small fortune in their bank account, and if that's you, good for you and my sincere congratulations. But if you have highs and lows in your account, setting up automatic payments for your credit card or any other bill might sound like the responsible thing to do, but you could easily wind up destroying your bank account if you forget at a time when you're low on funds that on a certain amount of money is coming out of your account. And the more bills you put on automatic pay, the more likely you will forget.
Automated bill pay is also a convenient way to help people not think critically about their finances. If you're deep in revolving debt, for instance, and you set up automatic payments to take out a certain amount from your bank account and give it to your credit card, that is responsible to be making on-time payments, but it could end up setting you back, since some months you might feel like you can make larger payments and bring down your payment all the more sooner. I'm not saying that all automatic bill pay is a terrible scourge on the planet; I just think that people need to be careful with it.
And, you know, while I'm griping about certain credit card companies and their automated services, I'm really getting irked at these customer service surveys I'm constantly asked to take after I do talk to a live person, which either adds more time to a call, or makes me feel guilty if I don't do the survey (since if I talk to a great customer service rep, I feel lousy for not staying on the phone longer and giving them a great review).
I really think that the customer service surveys are part of a ploy to keep people from talking to customer service representatives. If a company really wants to be progressive, they should offer customer service surveys after automated phone calls. Then I'd give them an earful.