Credit card annoyance - why ask what kind?
July 2, 2004 8:23 AM   Subscribe

All Amex cards start with a 3
All Visa cards with a 4
All Mastercards with a 5.

This much is a fact, with no exceptions so why does every single customer service agent ask me to declare which card I'm paying with just as I'm about to submit my account number? Eliminating this dumb question would free up zillions of man/woman hours and help the economy. Is the age of automation really as fupped duck as it appears or is there a secret reason for wasting everyone's time this way? (See also the automated request for account number while you wait for a human to come on the line and ask you again for the same information already just submitted)
posted by Fupped Duck to Work & Money (29 answers total)
Diners Club cards also begin with a 3. And you would be amazed at how many people think their Visa is a Mastercard or vice versa. As someone who processes hundreds of credit card transactions each day, I never ask for the card type (most programs figure it out for themselves), but people INSIST on telling you what type of card they have. Especially folks who want to tell you that they are using a "Platinum" or "Gold" card.
posted by ColdChef at 8:29 AM on July 2, 2004

Ehh, I always thought the process was redundent redundent too. On the other hand, having been on the other side of the counter, the CSR sometimes needs to first fill in the blank to specify Visa, Mastercard, etc, then move on to fill in the blank with the card #, in that order.

Also, it pays to make damn sure you get the card info right, so redundent questions help:

Like for example, suppose a travel agent (formerly me) has to get off the phone, hunt down a cheap flight, then book it fast before it's gone... when s/he puts in that CC# to hold the flight, it damn well better work.
posted by Shane at 8:36 AM on July 2, 2004

Similarly, why do they ask for my city, state, and zipcode? Shouldn't address+zipcode be enough?
posted by jeb at 8:42 AM on July 2, 2004

I actually work in customer service. Call me: I never ask for it. In fact, I get annoyed by customers who volunteer that information. "I didn't ask!!"

6 is Discover, by the way. 6011, in fact are the first four. Diners may start with a 3 (I rarely ever get customers with these), but AmEx is 15 digits, not the usual 16.

As far as city+state=zip, could be that the IT teams didn't think of that. Plus, it's probably just further fraud prevention to ask for that, to make sure you know it. Same with the phone number. I can't place an order without one, but we never, ever, ever use it. It' just fraud prevention.
posted by MrAnonymous at 8:47 AM on July 2, 2004

the CSR sometimes needs to first fill in the blank to specify Visa, Mastercard, etc, then move on to fill in the blank with the card #, in that order.

That's how it is for me, but I can manage shift+tab or just select it when I hear the first digit of the CC number and then quickly tab down and type it in. Some CSRs are probably just lazy.
posted by MrAnonymous at 8:49 AM on July 2, 2004

I'm thinking redundancy.
posted by signal at 8:52 AM on July 2, 2004

See also the automated request for account number while you wait for a human to come on the line and ask you again for the same information already just submitted

We have this where I work, but the reason you get asked is either (1) the system may not have caught everything you typed in as no fault of your own (in fact, I've often picked up the call while customers are still dialing in their order number) or (2) the rep wants to verify who you are. Rather than viewing the order and asking you to verify that information (as I do) they might ask for the order number again...which I think is dumb. Some reps are trained to always ask for the order number as part of their greeting.

(Sorry for the constant posts...I should read everything first before commenting.)
posted by MrAnonymous at 8:52 AM on July 2, 2004

jeb, zip codes don't always match up to specific cities. For example, the USPS lists 55123 as being in St. Paul, Minnesota, even though many of the addresses within that zip are actually in Eagan, Minnesota.
posted by mrbula at 8:53 AM on July 2, 2004

Many, many zipcodes map to more than one city. A local example: 55113 is Roseville, St. Paul, and Lauderdale Minnesota. I imagine that mail would get to the right place eventually without the correct city, but one extra step to reduce uncertainty is worth it.
posted by Coffeemate at 8:55 AM on July 2, 2004

why do they ask for my city, state, and zipcode

Just from personal experience: Our system will automatically fill in city and state for about 95% of the zip codes, but the other 5% aren't in there (small townships and whatnot). So when those come up, we fill it in and its in the system. Tada.

And I second the point that people expect the routine. Anything out of the ordinary really throws customers, such as asking for the CID number on the back of the card. The grief we get for that is remarkable.
posted by shinynewnick at 8:58 AM on July 2, 2004

The "what credit card are you using" is almost certainly for preventing data entry errors and/or fraud. Much like the final digit on your credit card -- it's a check digit calculated from the other digits. The computer could calculate it perfectly well on its own, so there's no reason to enter it. But if you enter it, the computer can find typographical errors. If you say "Mastercard" but then enter a number starting with 4, you've made a mistake.
posted by kindall at 9:11 AM on July 2, 2004

As with dflemingdotorg, I ask what credit card they plan on using just to let them know that a credit card is required. It's a lot less immediate then "What's your credit card number?" If you've got a better suggestion, I'd love to hear it.

People often get the card type wrong, but whatever.

And for the zip code, when I type that in I often get a list of cities (townships,villages,etc) in that zip and ask the customer which it is.
posted by ODiV at 9:17 AM on July 2, 2004

Response by poster: Kindall, all CC account #s have internal check digits. There's no reason for triple redundancy...
And when the charge is submitted, it has to be attached to the right name and billing address.
So tell me how asking what type of card it is makes for any kind of safety?
posted by Fupped Duck at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2004

There's also the very simple fact that a lot of older systems just don't have the ability to reckon the card type from the account number, or look up the town by using the zip code.

Paradoxically, in my experience--having dealt with adding functionality to a lot of corporate legacy systems--the bigger companies are the ones that tend to be saddled with the older, less robust systems, especially in industries like financial services and airline travel. They all invested heavily in their infrastructure in the 60s and 70s, and many of them are still in the process of switching over from COBOL-based mainframe apps and stuff like that. Adding "look-up" features for their CSRs tends to be low on their list. (Not that it's not useful, but it's just their mindset.)
posted by LairBob at 9:25 AM on July 2, 2004

Response by poster: if 3 then Amex/DC
If 4 then Visa
If 5 then MC
If 6 then Discover

Are you telling me they couldn't handle that until the 1980s???
posted by Fupped Duck at 9:33 AM on July 2, 2004

zip codes really have zip to do with where you live, though often there is some correlation. zip codes only denote the post office which delivers your mail. people are terribly confused about how to define "where i live". township, city, and village governments, school districts, and post offices all have their own, frequently overlapping boundaries. my current address is "Comstock Park, MI", an "unincorporated place name" which has no government by that name and no official boundary, but does have a post office. Comstock Park lies within portions of Alpine Township, Plainfield Township and the City of Walker. it is simply the name of the post office which serves this area. government is one thing, place names are another, postal names are a third.
posted by quonsar at 9:37 AM on July 2, 2004

Eliminating this dumb question would free up zillions of man/woman hours and help the economy.

As a former CSR for an ISP, I can tell you than in many cases the org. thinks it's cheaper to waste your time than to invest in more IT, saving the programmer time for what's really neccessary and what will bring in more cash. I know saving a few seconds per call seems like it will save massive dough, but it doesn't really if you're still fumbling for your card. This is an extension of why you have to wait on hold to talk to a CSM in the first place, why they don't use caller ID to figure out who you are from the get-go [my pizza place used to do this and it was amazing "Hi, this is the pizza place, do you want a large pepperoni and a coke delivered to the same place as last time?"] and why they tell you when you are on hold to report a DSL outage that "many of your answers can be found online!"
posted by jessamyn at 9:55 AM on July 2, 2004

There's no reason for triple redundancy...

Oh, believe me, there are people out there who will prove you wrong. Quadruple wouldn't be enough to deal with the errors in the system induced by some people I've dealt with.

why they don't use caller ID to figure out who you are from the get-go

The mail-order retailer I worked at got that (on 800 numbers it's called ANI and cannot be blocked by the caller -- he who pays for the call gets to find out who called) but we spooked enough customers by knowing who they were the moment they called that management told us to let the customers tell us. Of course, that was ten years ago...
posted by kindall at 10:22 AM on July 2, 2004

Sometimes the Zip code database is just consistently wrong. My parents routinely get junk mail addressed "Gascoyne, ND 58653" when it should be "Scranton, ND 58653". Gascoyne lost its zip code decades ago and is no longer incorporated as even a village; it's basically a collection of houses operating under a township government and gets its mail from the Scranton post office. But for some reason about 20% of the junk mail my parents get is erroneously labelled "Gascoyne, ND". Pisses off the local post master to no end.
posted by nathan_teske at 10:24 AM on July 2, 2004

The zip code one is even easier.

Outside the US nobody knows what the hell a zip code is (ok, they know what it is, they just don't care). Since software that only works in the US is only good for 5% of the world, there's usually a city and province/state/county/division/whatever area to fill out.

Many credit card transactions don't happen directly on the POS (point of sale) inventory terminal. For example, in my store, the customer's purchase is entered into the POS inventory terminal, which requires a payment method, and it spits out a total. That's entered into the POS CC terminal, the card is swiped, and we're done.

However, since I have to select a card on the POS inventory, I ask which type. Don't tell me to switch to an integrated system. By doing it this way I get to choose whatever POS CC terminal charges my customers the lowest cost, so you're winning. Not me.

Oh. About AMEX. It's tough to find a store that will take AMEX outside the US. Partly because they charge absolutely pathetic fees (my store will be surcharging 5% on AMEX transactions, everything else is small enough it's free). Partly because it's AMERICAN express. :-D

Discover, basically, outside the US, that's totally useless. Never seen one in my entire lifetime (although, for God only knows what reason, I happen to have a Discover CC POS terminal).
posted by shepd at 10:31 AM on July 2, 2004

The reason for asking what kind of card is several fold.
  1. It's a fraud check. Even though it is reduandant and easy to circumvent, by asking a simple question they can prevent misuse by someone who has the number but not the card. The person asking for your credit card type is a vendor who is the one taking the risk and paying the cost of you using a credit card.
  2. It gives the credit card holder a moment to get their card. Yes, it is a bit of planned social engineering. Many people call without their card in front of them and don't know if it's Visa or Mastercad.
  3. In many cases, even if you are authenticated by an automated system, the computer of the CSR you are speaking with may takes some time to display your information. They may make small talk with you. One of the easiest questions is, "What kind of card will you be using today?".
  4. Many companies offer branded credit cards. This question is a lead in, especially in reatil locations, to, "Would you like 10% off of your purchase today simply by applying for our store credit card?"
  5. Some companies even have giveaways associated with the type of card you use. "Use your Visa with us today and be entered into a drawing for one million dollars."
On preview, shepd provides yet another reason why this might be asked.
posted by sequential at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2004

Interesting question, because I'm currently working on coding a commerce application and we had this very question. We could infer the type, but a pseudo-random survey of online shoppers (a dozen folks around the office), said they preferred being asked explicitly for the card type. Having a drop-down for card type on a web form seems to achieve two things: It reassures shoppers that we accept their card type, because they see it in the selection list, and, less importantly, whilst filling out the form it subsequently reminds them which card they've used (many people have more than one credit card, from alternate issuers, of course).

As for the address question, zip is asked for because that's what the card processor demands. It's possible to process a transaction with zip as the only physical location field. Asking for any more of the address is added but only optional security for many transactions.
posted by normy at 10:42 AM on July 2, 2004

Regarding caller ID, I worked with an airline once that installed a system to try and use caller ID to prioritize incoming calls--the idea was that if you were calling from a prefix with attractive demographics, you would get bumped up in the queue. (They didn't need it to recognize existing frequent fliers, since those folks just get different numbers to call right away, depending on their tier.)

In any case, reading the ID on a call is simple, and there are tons of demo packages out there that can give the average income, etc. of a given prefix. The only problem turned out to be that everyone makes calls like this from work--at least, a sizable enough chunk to make the whole idea worthless. Not only does your work location not necessarily say much useful about you demographically, but typically, those numbers come out single trunk, and everyone from the CEO to the mailboy come out as the same number on caller ID. They chucked the whole thing after a few months.
posted by LairBob at 10:50 AM on July 2, 2004

A lot of online forms don't support ZIP+4, which can be very precise. My ZIP+4 is for building on my side of the street on my block. It's really annoying to enter the full ZIP Code and be told it's not a valid format, when it's preferred by the post office. (And it's ZIP, not "zip.")
posted by kirkaracha at 10:54 AM on July 2, 2004

I've built online shopping systems that didn't ask for a credit card type, because the transaction processor doesn't require that information (because it can be deduced from the number itself.) And sure enough, the site started getting complaints from confused users, asking why they hadn't been asked what kind of credit card they used.

So now as a matter of course I build in a select box for the credit card type. It doesn't do anything, it's just there because customers expect it to be there.
posted by ook at 11:34 AM on July 2, 2004

I get the whole "zip code is an imperfect determinant of where you physically live, it only routes mail" thing, but isn't that why they're asking for your address? So you can get something in the mail? Or to verify that your quoted mailing address matches the one your CC has on file? It's not generally to feed in to the missile targetting computers.

If you call Pizza Hut in India (which is, btw, insanely expensive), they ask for your phone number and say, "Hello, Mr. Jeb" and ask you if you want your usual delivered to your usual address and billed your usual way. You can order a pizza in five seconds. It rules.
posted by jeb at 12:07 PM on July 2, 2004

If you call Pizza Hut in India ... [y]ou can order a pizza in five seconds. It rules.

Unfortunately, when it arrives, it turns out to have been made by Pizza Hut.
posted by kindall at 12:27 PM on July 2, 2004

but isn't that why they're asking for your address? So you can get something in the mail? Or to verify that your quoted mailing address matches the one your CC has on file?

Well, out here the problem is that if you enter the ZIP code and have it deduce where you live, it gets it wrong. Meaning, that I live in West Topsham Vermont. That is where the house and the post office are. This is a "village" in the larger town of Topsham which has no post office, there are only village post offices. However, for mail that comes to my ZIP, if the computer has used a lookup table -- says I live in East Orange Vermont. This is another village in my town, nearby, and mail that comes addressed to my PO box will make it to me eventually, but it's just not my address. It fails the credit card lookup which seems to need to match more than ZIP code. Delivery drivers who are not the USPS [fedex, UPS] who get an East Orange home address on packages will drive around East Orange looking for my street address [which is on a highway] and will not find it, ever. The good news is that if this ZIP code were fed into the missle targetting computers, they'd be bombing the next village over. As it is, this has been a problem all of twice, but it was a serious hassle when it happened, thanks to the incorrect ZIP = mailing address idea.
posted by jessamyn at 12:30 PM on July 2, 2004

Because different cards need different information taken? Amex has a different type of security code, and a different length of digits, for instance. So you ask, you input and your form updates with the next thing to ask.

If someone tried to pay with a British Switch card it could start with 3, 5 or 6 (ime, and there are surely more), which would no doubt do nasty things to a system that was expecting a Visa number there.

And it future-proofs. A new card could come out, and then the operator would be able to say, "Sorry, we don't take them".

Three good reasons for that two-second question. Now go make McDonald's drop the gherkin.
posted by bonaldi at 7:25 PM on July 2, 2004

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