Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dear CEO of American Express:

I just sent this email to the CEO of American Express. If you have had a similarly ridiculous "customer service assistance" experience, please feel free to share with your friends. And encourage them to share with their friends. And so on, and so on, and so on....

Dear Mr. Kenneth Chenault, CEO, American Express:

I wasn't furious about Monday's attempted AmEx gift card transaction until after I called your toll-free assistance number. Now I hope to share my indignation about your "procedures," as the customer service representative put it, far and wide.

A couple of weeks ago, I was the happy recipient of an AmEx gift card. Yesterday, Cyber Monday, I decided to make an online purchase of a pair of athletic shoes. But the transaction would not process, even though the purchase price was well under the value of the card.

I called the merchant, as suggested on my screen. The merchant's rep stated my purchase was not processed because my gift card did not reflect a billing address for payment validation. She also mentioned that there would likely now be a hold on the gift card, in the purchase amount. She recommended I call AmEx to get the hold lifted, then call back to resume the ordering process.
Since there were only two pairs of the sale shoes left in my size, I called immediately.

The AmEx automated card balance system confirmed the diminished value of my card, reflecting the exact amount of my failed purchase.

The living AmEx customer service representative also confirmed the hold was in place, but would happily be lifted. The process would take 8 days.

He informed me that if I had registered my card prior to making an internet purchase, then a billing address would have been linked to the card and prevented the purchase hang-up.

I grasp the value of the process of registering and assigning ownership with a valid address to the gift card. However, there is nothing on the gift card packaging, and no mention in the enclosed Cardholder Agreement insert, regarding card registration. Nothing. Nowhere to be found. I re-read the documentation while I was parked on hold by the CSR, who was checking to see if the hold on
the card could be lifted any sooner. Writers are notoriously good readers, but still I wanted to make sure I didn't miss something in the fine print or the FAQ section. Especially in the internet purchases section.

CSR reported that the hold could not be processed any sooner than 8 days. If I had performed a retail POP transaction, the hold could be removed right away. But not for an internet purchase. So I asked him why there was no mention of registering the card on the literature accompanying the card? Why was I, in effect, being penalized for not following a procedure about which I was not
informed prior to the transaction?

The CSR said there was no further alternative. I asked to speak to a manager. He said he had spoken to a manager and nothing more could be done. I asked him if he had explained the situation to the manager in the exact same manner as I had.  He said the only procedure available had been followed.

I demanded to speak to a manager. He asked if I could wait on hold again for 2 minutes. I said yes. Twelve minutes later, still on hold, never speaking to a manager or the CSR again, I hung up. This, I assume, is exactly what the CSR hoped I would do.

I wonder, did your CSR follow the proper procedure for handling the request of an unsatisfied customer to the letter of the AmEx customer service representative procedure manual?

And how is it in the least bit sensible for a gift card holder to learn of a card registration procedure only AFTER a transaction has been refused by an online merchant? Only AFTER a hold has been applied to a card balance?

It is a disincentive to using an AmEx gift card for online purchases. Effectively, it is a restriction, and one which is not listed on the Cardholder Agreement.

And so I, the consumer, get to pay the price for your error of omission. The cost of my wasted time on the phone, and on hold, with your customer assistance staff (now, there's a misnomer). He had ample opportunity to make some good come of my phone call, and he chose to duck and hide. Exemplary customer service training.... The cost of 8 days waiting for the hold to be lifted from the gift card. The cost of my time in firing off this letter to you and the U.S. Consumer. The cost of my aggravation at tripping over your extremely sloppy online purchasing procedure - or better stated, your lack of a clearly communicated online purchasing procedure.

Communicate. Inform your customers. Train your staff. Incentivize online purchases.

How can you possibly afford to have a bumbling gift card program?

With AmEx it's been my experience that cardholders have to ask ahead if merchants accept it. Why is that?


Jane Ogle

Friday, November 11, 2011

It has been 9 calendar days since the Inaugural Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon & 1/2 Marathon race.  Yes, I could have written about it sooner but for some reason I paid attention to the instinct that said, "Sit, rest, let it ferment a little before you write much more about it." 

Sitting and resting was the order of the week following the race, just to give my tired and sore achilles tendon another healthy dose of non-vigorous function.  My brain and the rest of my musculature weren't too enchanted with all that rest.  I think I just did one Pilates routine all week and besides some stretching and the usual routine of demonstrating client exercises, that was really all.  My brain function and my sleep patterns are certainly much better in the presence of vigorous activity.

Prior to all that sitting and resting there was a spectacle beyond all imagination!  About 20,000 excited, chilled runners made it to the start line on Saturday, November 5.  The energy was high and buzzing and wonderful!  Nerves were jangling, flash bulbs popping, folks hanging out the hotel windows cheering, what a party atmosphere!  The half marathon was like that from start to finish, densely packed runners having a terrific time, dancing to the music, high-fiving folks standing streetside to cheer us on, what a super fun scene!  I am definitely wearing a boa for next year's race.

Amazingly perky, goofy, wonderful co-coach of the morning marathon CREW, Carol Ann, made up a couple of cheering pom-poms on broomstick handles for the two of us to carry so our CREW-mates could find us before the start in our designated corral.  Her pom, with a little help from our friends, made it the entire length of the marathon.  My pom made it to about the 5 mile mark, when I handed it off to a couple of little boys and their dad to enjoy.  Turns out they were spotted several times along the marathon course cheering with it... scored with that handoff!

Each and every one of our half-marathon and marathon trainees who made it to the start line made it across the finish line on race day.  What a great day for them!  And a great day for us coaches, we were absolutely bursting with pride for their efforts.  As difficult as it was for me to watch my comrades peel off at Anderson Street to head south for the full marathon route (we were having so darn much fun together!) it was beyond thrilling to watch them charging toward the finish line a couple of hours later.

Once I finished the half, had a snack, took a hot shower, and iced my feet, I had to get on my bike and head back out on the course to cheer on my CREW-mates.  My achilles would not have been happy if I stood at the finish line waiting for them, and they were all quite used to me biking along with them on their training runs, so why not do it again?  And here's what I knew ahead of time:  The Truman Parkway section of the course, being miles 21 through 24, was going to suck.  Suck is too tame a word for it, but that's as far as I'll take it in writing.  Marathons are hard, we all know that.  But honestly, putting THE WALL together with a desolate stretch of highway with no cheering friends/residents and no shade was just the stupidest idea ever.  Really, ever.  Weather, you can't control.  Highway?  At Mile 21?  That you can fix.

So across the barren highway I rode in search of glycogen-depleted CREW runners.  A runner at that point in a marathon is either riding the edge, or up to their armpits, in a blood sugar crater.  Any shred of energy, any glimmer of a hopeful, happy face will help.  So I helped.  (HINT HINT You can help, too.  Anyone can.  Just be there :-)  I cheered for all the runners, but especially the CREW-mates.

Here are the things you curse when you hit THE WALL in an endurance event at mile number (---), maybe it's 10 or 15 or 18 or 22 -- you curse the landscaping in the park you just went through.  You curse the color of the bricks on the houses you can barely see through your wavering and/or tunneled vision.  You curse the friends and family you told about the race, who are all now expecting you to finish the darn thing when they haven't the slightest notion of how much it hurts to do!  You curse yourself, "Why did I think I could do this?  This is hell, why did I want to put myself through hell?" 

Then there's the friends who are with you, who have trained with you and encouraged you all along the way, and the writers in "Runners' World" who said you could do it, they get cursed too.  And the volunteers who keep yelling, "You're almost there!"  You try not to curse them out loud, but for heavens' sakes, you can't see the finish line nor cross it at that precise moment -- so you're not almost there -- and almost isn't really good enough dammit -- you want to BE DONE NOW -- and you're not!  You see, THE WALL is a nutty, not nice place.

This is what happens when we runners tap out the body's energy stores -- we lose our minds.  Energy blocks and gels and sports drinks are supposed to prevent this but most of us get a taste of it anyway.  Then we get a second wind, or a third or fourth wind, some little sliver of hope to cling to.  Maybe the music from one of the bands gets through the evil voices in our heads long enough to cheer us up.  Hearing the finish line crowd a mile or so back... that's very energizing. 

Some struggled mightily, some walked almost as much as they ran, some sailed through the finish line all smiles and pumping arms, but they all put one foot in front of the other for either 13.1 or 26.2 miles and accomplished something very few people ever even attempt.  All the people who came out cheering in Savannah that day, especially those of you who didn't know a single runner, thank you so much for being there and sharing your energy with us!  Next time, Gordonston, please make enough bloody mary's and mimosa's to go around.

Crossing the finish line is an incomparable, ecstatic experience when you have endured so much.  Once across the finish line you say, "That was so fantastic!"  You are just a few hundred meters away from where you lost your mind and your glycogen, and harbored the most heinous thoughts ever to have crossed your mind, but it's such a different perspective from the "done" side of the finish line.  Maybe you gather with your friends after the finish and start planning the next one!  It's extraordinary how quickly you can let go of all that misery.  It has been compared to planning your next pregnancy right after having given birth.

Random observations and intrigue from race:

Sign on W. Gwinette Street: "Rock It Kelley!" Passerby overheard: "Thanks but my name is Kenny!"

Sign on Price Street: "Got Toenails?"

Sign on Anderson Street, Mile 24.5: "F**k it, It's Almost Over."

Reactions overheard regarding the aforementioned pom-poms: "Is she the pacing team?" Coach Carol Ann's standard answer: "I'm the fun team!" Trainer Jane's answer: "I'm the goofy leader!" Also overheard: "What's the pom-pom mean?" Trainer Jane's answer: "It means pom-pom! Lighten up and have a little fun, will ya?"

Overheard: "What's that smell?" Trainer Jane's answer: Welcome to Savannah, The "hostess with occasional halitosis" city.

DJ on Tatnall and W. Liberty playing Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" -- OMG, lovin me some '90's new jack swing...

While on bike at mile 22 in search of CREWbies: "Can I buy your bike? -- pant -- Oh wait, darn it, -- pant -- I don't have my wallet...."

Jon's favorites: Sign pointing to ground, "you are here." Girl holding sign:  "Don't follow Sarah, she just farted."

Lee Ann's favorite: "Just peel off the layers and push through."

Ashley's favorites:  At the traffic circle in Daffin Park: "Go Total Stranger!" and not far from that one, "Something Inspirational."  One more around mile 25: "Worst. Parade. Ever."

James' favorite: "Wet Willies opens at 11. You better hurry up." But his personal favorite held by one of his friends, "Run like you're 29!"  James turned 30 on race day....

For some, a checkmark on the bucket list.  For the marathon monsters we CREW coaches created, the first but not the last.  Savannah sure can Rock 'n' Roll with the best of 'em.

Be Well, see you at the Bridge Run.