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

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