Help me help myself!
January 14, 2010 11:24 PM   Subscribe

I am not as good as I would like to be at getting what I want in customer service situations. Could you please offer me some advice on a specific situation?

My husband has a Care Credit/GE Money account which we used once to cover some hefty and unexpected vet bills. My name is not on the account, but I log in under his username and pay the bill. I always pay the bill weeks in advance, which has never been a problem.

I have always made sure to pay the bill far in advance, because Care Credit does not charge any interest so long as you make all your payments on time. Also, our minimum payment is $15/mo, and I have always paid $50/mo.

On 11/14/09, I made the $50 payment for 12/09 with no problem. On 12/11/09, I made another $50 payment. For some reason I do not understand, they credited this to December instead of January. (The bill was due on 12/06/09 for December, so I seriously cannot understand why this was done.) If I look at the "account activity" on GE Money's site, for every month, it shows one payment a month in advance -- except for December, which was credited with 2 payments, and January, which was credited with none!

I had no idea this had happened until I logged in today to make February's payment, and saw the notice that the account was past due. I'm pretty upset about this; my husband and I are in the process of applying for a new place, and can't really afford the negative ding on his credit of a late payment, plus we do not want to be paying finance charges on the Care Credit, which we had planned on using interest-free for a long time to come.

We will be calling their customer service tomorrow (it was too late tonight) and I could use some advice about what to say to get this rectified. Hopefully this will go smoothly, but if it doesn't, what is my best chances of escalating it to someone who can fix this for me? A big hiccough in the situation is that, like I said above, my name isn't even on the account, but I pay the bill. My husband will be on the call with me, to verify his information and all that stuff, but isn't really comfortable trying to explain it to them, since he really doesn't have anything to do with it. He didn't even know the login until I gave it to him tonight so he could look at the account summary!

Thanks for any help you can provide, and sorry for asking a sort of dumb/basic question. Like I said above the fold, I've never been very good at getting a satisfactory resolution in customer service situations, even though I would really like to. Advice on this specific situation is greatly needed, but I'd appreciate advice on this in general too!

(Filed this under "human relations" because I think this really is more of a people issue than a money issue.)
posted by srrh to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Ach, I hate it when this happens. In my experience in dealing with these predicaments (and I had a similar issue myself earlier today with odd bogus charges on my check debit card ...) the best strategy is to try to be clear, firm, specific, but always pleasant.

Customer service reps apparently take a whole lot of crap from unhappy clients -- part of the job, no doubt, and often our anger is justified and understandable. But if we can manage to treat them like reasonable people whose task is to help us rather than to absorb our anger they will most often happily play that role.

So I would advise simply stating the facts as you have here - the December payment was made on date X, then the January payment on date Y. I also think it would be wise to explain how careful you are to make your payments well in advance to avoid penalty -- to enlist the person on your side. You made the payment early to avoid the very situation they are now dinging you for. Quite unfair and frustrating. Get them to share your perspective on the human level, and not have to defend the bank, and they're likely to correct the account more speedily.

I'm assuming these were electronic payments? If instead you were returning a paper bill, that should have clearly listed the billing cycle, but I'm not sure about electronic transactions.
posted by Rain Man at 11:50 PM on January 14, 2010

Best answer: This is an easy one. Repeat after me:

"I'm sorry. I understand what you're saying, but that's not acceptable to me. May I please speak to a supervisor?"

And repeat as necessary. It really is that simple. Here are a few examples of how it works.

Me: I don't deserve this late fee, for reasons x, y, and z. This is not my fault.
CS: We can't waive that. It is our policy to [blah blah blah. Seriously, doesn't matter what they say here.]
Me: I'm sorry. I understand what you're saying, but that's not acceptable to me. May I please speak to a supervisor?
CS: They'll just tell you the same thing.
Me: That's fine. I understand, but I'll wait to hear it from them.
[placed on hold. Often at this point, CS comes back and caves. But if not:]
Supervisor: What seems to be the problem?
Me: I don't deserve this late fee, for reasons x, y, and z. This is not my fault.
Supervisor: We can't waive that. It is our policy to [blah blah blah. Seriously, doesn't matter what they say here.]
Me: I'm sorry. I understand what you're saying, but that's not acceptable to me. May I please speak to a supervisor?

Eventually, one of the supervisors will cave. Worst case scenario, they may make you leave a message, and promise to call you back. If they don't, you call, repeat the loop. If all else fails, you can try the email/mail carpet bomb to the CEO and other important members of the management of the company. That's what I did when Wamu refused to refund a bogus fee. But that's definitely last resort. 9 times out of ten, the above is all you need.

The key to all of this is, you must always be polite, but firm. You are not the angry consumer. You are the immovable rock. They will tell you you can't get what you want. They will tell you that the mysterious policy dictates it. That's fine. Let me talk to the supervisor. Eventually, someone will have enough clout to break the policy.

But this is all likely moot. From hearing the problem, this looks like a clear mistake on their part, and I think it would be routine to refund the fee. Good luck!
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 12:01 AM on January 15, 2010 [26 favorites]

Not an answer to your question about what to do if it doesn't go smoothly, but to put your mind at ease, I've had this happen with my AmEx account. The reason turned out to be that I made what was supposed to be the January [using the months from your example; I don't remember the actual months] payment before the January statement was even issued, so their computer credited it to December, then said I hadn't made the January payment. If the same thing happened to you, it's because they hadn't even issued the January statement yet when you made the payment on Dec. 11. The first CSR I spoke to identified the reason, and corrected it and reversed the fee immediately. (And now I pay my AmEx bill on the 2nd of the month rather than the 1st, and it hasn't happened since.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:29 AM on January 15, 2010

Another way to do it is to get the other person on your side against "the man". If they sympathise with you, then you can probably nudge them to think "how can I solve this problem" rather than "how can I follow my procedures and get off the phone". Actually ask "what's the best way to solve this problem", if things start to get negative!

If you do your best to keep a smiley and upbeat tone throughout (actually smile!) then hopefully the customer service person will understand that you aren't angry with THEM but are just trying to work things out. If you get grumpy and frustrated with the person on the phone, that's definitely time to ask to speak to the supervisor, and then get your smiley face right back on again.
posted by emilyw at 12:39 AM on January 15, 2010

Your profile leads me to think you are in Canada. If you are then I would call the call centre, note the time, date and name of the person who palms you off ala kingjoeschmoe's advice, once, then NEVER call them again. Register with these people and get a number. From henceforth you only email and quote the number every time. Now "Customer Liaison" have your details. "Customer Service" is for lost puppies and shit, not 'complaints'.

Its a time-saver; not a problem solver. Good luck.
posted by evil_esto at 2:22 AM on January 15, 2010

What kingjoeshmoe said: "May I speak to a supervisor", repeat as necessary.
No matter what the situation, if you can go up the chain, you will get results.
Quick story - We were having trouble with our digital cable years ago, and I spent countless hours on the phone for temporary fixes. I finally kept asking for bosses until I got a phone number for a guy two time zones away. I called him at his home nestled away in the mountains late in the evening, and less than ten minutes later I had a knock at my door two thousand miles away from a professional who immediately realized all of my neighbors were leeching my bandwidth. He severed all the connections and upped my bandwidth, just in case. At least five technicians before him had taken hours to wire and rewire and kick the tires just to say I dunno and fix it for an hour at most.

Write down the names of the people you speak with, and log times. They'll take it seriously.

If you're respectful and polite, yet unwilling to listen to the level one/two/three support, they'll always be happy to pawn you off to their superiors, and the superiors are mostly appalled when you tell them what you've been through, and they most likely can/will light some fires.
posted by hypersloth at 2:40 AM on January 15, 2010

Not a general tip, but something specific to your situation. I did the EXACT same thing with my care credit account about a year ago. I called and explained the situation and had absolutely no problem getting it fixed. So don't expect the worst- they were quite reasonable to deal with.
posted by MsElaineous at 4:30 AM on January 15, 2010

Yes, be polite but firm. There is no sense in getting angry. Most service consultants are the type of people who like helping others. Otherwise they would not last long doing customer service (no job satisfaction). There is no point in getting them offside. If you are polite and clear in your communication this will get a good service person going the extra mile to resolve your problem.

By all means ask for the name of the person you're speaking to and also their employee number. Most companies have a policy where people don't have to give their last name (for privacy/security) but do have to give their employee number, so they are accountable.

In your particular case it appears you have a paper record of the mistakes made by this company. State that. Say that you have statements in writing showing an obvious mistake. State that you are sure the ombudsman for this particular industry would be very interested in this well documented mistake. (Hopefully you are living in a civilised country that has independent ombudsmen.)

Get them to tell you what they will do to fix the problem. Let them volunteer the solution. Don't demand one yourself. After they've volunteered it decide for yourself if that is acceptable (you probably already know how you wanted it resolved). If you need time to consider it, tell them that and tell them you will be calling back. Don't rush yourself. If it's not acceptable simply tell them that and explain why. This is where you can propose a solution more acceptable to you (which may include reduction of bills, free periods of service etc). The service person should be noting all this. Confirm that they are. If you're still not getting anywhere ask them what their process is for resolution. Usually this will be escalation to a supervisor, but if it is a contractual situation the supervisor may have no power and it has to go to internal dispute resolution. If you don't want to do internal dispute resolution then external resolution is your way forward (ombudsmen, etc.).

Now this is where I disagree with kingjoeshmoe. Don't continually ask to escalate up the chain. This can be really obnoxious behaviour. I only scanned your problem but it seems quite evident that the company has made a mistake. However there are people who make entirely unreasonable complaints and try this strategy - not taking no for an answer. These people make life really hard for customer service people and it burns them out and inevitably reduces the amount of empathy they feel towards customers. In other words these people make customer service worse for everybody.

Play by their processes until you feel that you are being blocked or that the processes and service times they are asking you to follow are unreasonable. If you feel that you have got a rogue consultant get their name and employee number and register a complaint against that service person to a superior. If you are not getting a reasonable outcome in a reasonable period of time then tell them you are going external. Ask them for a copy of your customer record which should have notes on the conversations that have taken place up to then. At this point when you have clearly spelt out your position they will either see the error of their ways (most likely) or it will be the case that the whole company is rogue and you will need to go to external resolution. OR (but again not in your particular case srrh) it will have been you who was being unreasonable and they have called your bluff.

Good luck. I am confident you should get easy resolution of this particular problem.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 5:39 AM on January 15, 2010

If I understand correctly.

Your December payment was due Dec 6, 2009
You paid December bill on time
and you made another payment Dec 11, 2009 (after Dec payment due date)
GE treated Dec 11 payment as part of December bill


I work in financial services, and situations like this gives us the reputation we have today.

so here's what you do.

explain the situation:

I made payment 1 for December on Nov x date, made another payment 2 for Jan on Dec y date, why did you consider payment 2 for Dec?

- if customer services gives you some crappy answer like...that's our company policy tell them let me speak to your supervisor

- if supervisor gives you the same crappy answer like the above...tell them ok this is completely ridiculous, I've been a great customer and I've done nothing wrong, I'm sorry you can't do anything for me. I believe this situation is unjustified, you leave me no choice but to escalate to our SENATORS. WRITE TO THE GOVERNMENT OR A CONSUMER ADVOCACY GROUP, COPY THEIR CEO on the complaint. THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOME LAME REASON TO JACK UP YOUR INTEREST RATE NOW BECAUSE CREDIT CARD COMPANIES CAN'T INCREASE APRs ANYMORE IN FEB 2010. EXPLAIN THIS EXACT SITUATION TO YOUR SENATORS/CONSUMER ADVOCACY GROUP/GE'S CEO.

I'd be surprised if no one takes this seriously.

God, your situation makes me mad. I would not take this sitting down. I would make sure it goes all the way to President Obama if it doesn't get resolved.

Make sure you also get your finance charges and fees credited back.
posted by frozenyogurt at 6:45 AM on January 15, 2010

oh and I actually personally would escalate to the top if I were you. It sounds like you have a pretty hefty balance on this card, and it's causing you to face difficulties paying your bills. So getting your 0% interest rate back would significantly help

you should also tell them that this new rate would likely make you miss payments/go delinquent/and probably declare bankruptcy and given that EVERY bank is suffering from losses, would GE be willing to take this chance??? let them answer that question

i've seen many people write to senators and CEOs complaining about credit card company actions that they deemed unjustified, some even escalated up to network channels and created extremely bad publicity for some companies. I'm not saying you should do the same, but your situation definitely seems even more justified than some of the ones I've seen
posted by frozenyogurt at 6:58 AM on January 15, 2010

On a credit card, there's a decent chance the CSR will have the ability to move the payment to count against the next month or at least waive any fees.

Don't freak out right away. See if they can fix it first. Be polite, emphasize your solid payment history.

CSR's frequently get graded on both time on call and "satisfactory resolution" -- so if they can solve the problem they will.
posted by bitterpants at 7:02 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

There is a lot of good advice in this thread, but I think a lot of it should wait until you've already tried once and not gotten what you want. I'm especially concerned about the statements assuming that it's obviously the company's fault and they should fix it or I'm calling the authorities. Here's why:

(quoting DevilsAdvocate:
I made what was supposed to be the January payment before the January statement was even issued

Can you log in to your account and see what the date of the January statement is, compared to the date of your payment? If indeed it is true that you paid before the statement was issued, then technically that payment should be considered part of December. Lots of financial gurus advise that people can save money if they pay off their bills by sending a payment every two weeks instead of once a month - how is this company supposed to know which way you intended this payment to be applied?

So - if this is the case, then your approach might be a little softer than "you guys are wrong you better fix it". If I were you, I would state your case exactly as you did it in your original post (here's what happened; here's what I think should have happened). At that point, the company will either:
1. Just fix it for you, no big deal
2. Explain about the payment date vs statement date
3. Refuse to help based on some policy other than case 2.

For case 2 - this is when I would do some "Oh I had no idea. Is there some way I can indicate that in the future? Since this is the first time, can you fix it this once?" and they likely will. Make sure to get the late fees AND the finances charges credited back.
For case 3 - then yeah, follow the advice above.

I guess what I am saying is that you shouldn't go in assuming that they are wrong and mean and unwilling to help you. I would be very surprised if they don't just fix it for you right on the spot.
posted by CathyG at 7:19 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had DevilsAdvocate's problem before - you'd think over-paying bills twice a month and ahead of time would help you, but it often does not.

Be sure you document all calls and emails!

Good luck.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:21 AM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: All the above answers are pretty solid, but for me, the important thing I always remember is: do not rest until your request is satisfied.

Assuming it's reasonable--waiving a fee, something like that, not adding a free $1000 to your account--keeping "no is not an acceptable answer" in the front of your mind always does the trick.

Be polite, but not nice. Be firm. My go to line is:

"Thanks for your help, but that's not an acceptable answer. Who can I speak with who can give me a different answer?"

If you must, repeat this every time they say no. Works 99% of the time for me. I actually JUST had a $35 fee waived from my HSBC account last night doing just this.
posted by jckll at 9:47 AM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I browsed the above responses, so my apologies if this was brought up but I missed it...

It's your husband's card but you paid the bill. OK, very well. But I've been in situations like this where, if it's your spouse's card and he/she is the account holder etc. the customer service people will brush you off, under the guise that you're not the account holder and they cannot talk to you about this.

You may need your husband to make the call (and just have him say 'we paid the bill' etc.).

There are some folks who will use any reason they can, to refuse to help you. In this case because you're not the 'official' person they can use that reason to ignore your claims.

Additionally I've found most legitimate organizations (but sadly not all) will at least try to be helpful if you can clearly establish they are at fault.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 9:51 AM on January 15, 2010

I had almost this exact with GE Money Bank a few years ago. I had a debt that I could pay $100/month on for ten months, and they posted two payments in a row to the same month, negating my "contract" and finance charges kicked in. A snail mail letter cleared it right up - they removed the finance charges and apologized for my hassle.

Write out a letter, saying what you did here, and have a few friends look at it for clarity. Make sure you state three things:

1. That you are a good customer with a good payment history.
2. A billing aberration caused your most recent payment to be posted to the wrong month, which caused you to incur finance charges.
3. What you'd like done; e.g. Remove my finance charges and allow me to continue to pay off this debt at your agreed-upon terms until it is paid off.

Don't bandy about words like "fault" because they don't care whose fault it was. Just state the facts - you have a very good case. Write it like a business letter. If you're not sure how, there are some examples online that can help. Be sure to include your card/account number, case number if you have one, and how you'd like to be reached. Snail-mail response is best, but that's just my opinion. I guess you can give them your phone number.

Then, mail it to:
Colin Shave, Chief Executive Officer, GE Money Bank
William H. Carey, CEO, GE Consumer Finance
Margaret Keane, CEO of Retail Consumer Finance Unit, GE Money Bank

Address for all should be the same - GE Money Bank corporate HQ:
1600 Summer St.
5th Fl.
Stamford, CT 06905

In each letter, inform them that you have had no recourse using customer service, and you know they can help you. Be sure to indicate cc:{names} at the bottom of each letter. Send the letters USPS, with delivery confirmation.
posted by juniperesque at 10:18 AM on January 15, 2010

My mom gets whatever she wants from these people. Seriously, she doens't need warranties, package deals or anything. If the world knew what she paid to DirecTV, AT&T, etc., they'd go out of business. As near as I can tell it's becuase hse doesn't give up. If someone doesn't give her what she wants she talks to their superior, then their superior, then THEIR superior until there are no more superiors and the onyl way to get rid of her is to give it to her.

Sometimes it takes hours or days, but she always does it.
posted by cmoj at 10:30 AM on January 15, 2010

Please do not ask for a supervisor right away. Make sure you give the person who answers your call a chance to do something. When I took calls, the worst people were the ones who tried to escalate right away. Some places have policies that you can't escalate immediately, and then you have started off on the wrong foot.

Btw, frozenyogurt, the responses you give are far too dramatic. You want a rep or supervisor to go the extra mile to help you? Then don't threaten them with mysterious government interference or political arguments. They don't make the policy decisions.
posted by soelo at 11:06 AM on January 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

When you start talking to someone, ask them if they can help you. Don't say;

"Hi, I have a problem and I need some help."


"Hi. Can you help me with my problem?"

Supposedly it is a little extra push and human connection to get them to do something for you. Anyway, it can't hurt.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:57 PM on January 15, 2010

Anyone answering the phone at GE Money has the authority and the ability to correct a problem of this scope, so being polite and calm will work to get them in a helpful mode. Asking for a manager will get you their standard reply, which is "I manage your account," if I recall correctly.

Tips for talking to them: have all dates and amounts in front of you. Be clear and concise. Your problem sounds simple and easy to understand at first glance, and won't involve anybody having to do any compound interest math from six months ago, so this should be an easy fix. Having your husband on hand as the account holder is great -- when he speaks to the agent, get him to "add" you as a person allowed to discuss the account, and you won't have to both be on the phone next time.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:08 PM on January 15, 2010

I agree with Sallyfur. This is a very common issue, and you should be able to have the fees waived easily - the first rep should understand once you (or your husband) explain the situation. Especially since you have always paid on time and above the minimum payment - good history goes a long way in situations like this.

Also, one late payment will not have a significant effect on your husband's credit report. Like you, I always paid on time. Through a slip-up of my own, I ended up with one late payment. I didn't ask to have anything waived because I knew it was my fault. A little while after this happened, I pulled my credit report and score - it was still as good as it had been before the late payment showed up.
posted by etoile at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2010

Response by poster: Well, here's the thrilling conclusion, if anyone checks this thread again:

My husband and I got on a conference call and called GE Money. He told the woman he was the account holder, but that since I paid the bill, I would be speaking to her. She said OK.

I explained the situation, as I did above, and asked what could be done to rectify it. She told me that it was their policy that any payments made before the 14th would be credited to the previous billing cycle (even though it ends on the 6th), so there was nothing she could do.

I took the line from kingjoeshmoe, and said, "I understand what you're telling me, but that is unacceptable. I have always paid above the minimum payment, and always once a month early in the month. The second payment in December needs to be credited to January."

She told me that she could not change the time that payment was credited to, then told me she would try to take care of the late fee for me. I told her that while I did want the late fee refunded, the more pressing issue was that I keep my interest-free payments. She put me on hold for a short while, then came back and told me that they could partially refund the late fee, and that I was still eligible for interest-free payments.

I calmly said, "I'm sorry, that's not acceptable. I want the late payment fully refunded."

And just like that, she said OK! She didn't check with a supervisor, give me a runaround, or anything. She just agreed to refund the payment. (She did give me a warning that if this happens again, no one will be able to refund the late fee, even partially, and I would lose my interest-free payments. She didn't say it in a helpful way, either. I was sort of offended that she said that, but I didn't say anything.)

Anyway, I found that the biggest thing that helped me achieve success in this situation was the fact that I had exactly the outcome I wanted in mind, and knew I would not waver from it no matter what. I didn't have to escalate up the chain of management to get it, but I would have if I needed to. My biggest problem in customer service situations is usually that I feel bad for pressing for what I want, and roll over as soon as I meet any resistance. Not this time! Thanks for all of you who offered help!

(Also, evil_esto, if you're still reading this: what about my profile suggests that I am in Canada? I actually live in the USA, but I am interested to know what gives off that vibe. Thanks! (: )
posted by srrh at 8:37 PM on January 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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