Thursday, March 11, 2010

Please See The Attendant!

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I decided to stop off at the local gas station. With only 7 miles until empty, I figured it was a good time. As usual, I pulled out my debit card and slid it into the card reader. When prompted, I typed in my pin number.

Moments later, I received a discouraging message that read, "Please See the Attendant."

The Moment of Realization
Reluctantly, and with few options, I made the long walk to the central attendant booth. I explained to the man behind the bullet-proof window that I was encouraged to come see him. The quiet gentleman easily pointed to  the lonely card reader sitting before me.

For a third time, my card produced nothing but disappointment. Did I type my pin number in correctly? Once again, nothing.

Fed up and embarrassed, I made an executive decision to drive a few more miles to the next gas station. Like before, I went through the steps of purchasing gas. Yet again, my card failed.

Immediately, I ruled out a broken machine or a worn out debit card. No, this sounds an awful lot like a lack of funds. Curiously, I asked myself how this could have happened.

Without delay, I called Wachovia. Guess what? I have more than enough money to cover a few gallons of gas. If this is the case, why is my card not working? Was it my fault? Did I do something to deserve this embarrassing situation?

I had no answers. So, I called a customer service representative and was transferred to the "Lost Card Division." Come to find out, my card number had been compromised by a hacker.

What? So, that's why I cannot buy gas? No, the agent explains. Wachovia needed to protect me and they felt turning off my card was best.

Don't misunderstand me, I appreciate the proactive approach to avoid financial loss, but what am I supposed to do? I have no cash, five miles of gas remaining in the truck, and nearly 20 miles between me and the house.

Do you know what Wachovia recommended? After a quiet snicker, the agent suggests that I visit a closed bank branch or use a check. Isn't that what a check card is for?

The more I thought about the situation, the more upset I got. So, I asked the question, "Why didn't you guys tell me about this sooner?"

I started thinking about all the places I could have been in this situation. The, now aggravating, agent then says Wachovia sent a letter to my home explaining the details.

"When did you send it?" I ask.

"Two days ago", he replied.

"When should I have received it?" I inquired.

He then states, "In five days."

Wait, so you turn off my card, without warning, and notify me via a letter that will take five days to receive. What am I missing? How is that good customer service?

All I could do at that point was shake my head.

Do you e-mail your customers? I ask.

He replied they do NOT. He also added that they will not text messages either.

As a grown man, I shouldn't be in these crazy situations. Fortunately, I was close enough to home that I could ask for help, but I shouldn't have too.

The Take-A-Ways
So, what can I learn from this experience? Well, I thought about securing another card for "just in case" situations. This is probably the best idea, since few people accept checks anymore.

"How do I know?" you ask.

Because, I tried nearly five different establishments yesterday to only find businesses no longer accept them. I felt like a sleeze ball walking in and out of stores. What made it even worse were the people waiting in line after me. These folks started huffing and puffing. They grew so impatient about my use of a check that I felt unsafe. I just knew someone was going to crack me over the head with an empty Coca-Cola bottle.

I can't blame them because I've been in their shoes and done the very thing they did to me.

Looking over the situation, I am still upset with Wachovia for leaving me in a bad place. I have seen commercials where companies will overnight a replacement card to its customers. Did I get that option? Were there other options he could have offered? If so, why didn't he exercise them? Is it acceptable to leave a customer without a viable alternative?

At the same time, I am disappointed in myself for not being prepared. Had I owned another credit card, kept a checkbook, or walked around with cash, I might have avoided the embarrassment all together.

As one who works directly with customers, I understand what it feels like to have no apparent answers. Sometimes, there are no popular answers. As one who makes decisions that affect others, I have to keep them in mind. If I take something away from people, am I offering alternatives? If not, should I?

I would love to hear your stories, thoughts, and ideas in the comment section below. Have you ever experienced this type of situation before? What did you do? What would have done differently? As a business, what could we have done to avoid a negative experience?

Until next time...

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Damond L. Nollan, M.B.A.

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