An Exhausting Tale Of Poor Customer Service

, , , , , , , , | Working | September 17, 2020

This might be a bit long, but I hope it’s entertaining in an “awed horror” sort of way.

I love banking with my small, local bank. I like the fact that the tellers and I know each other by name, and that when my wallet was stolen and the thief tried to come in and write one of my checks for cash, the employees instantly knew she wasn’t me and called the police, instead.

However, it does have its drawbacks. For instance, my bank does not have a twenty-four-seven customer service line; they can only be reached between 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. That would be fine, except what they do have — as I found out a few months ago — is a very sensitive automatic anti-fraud system.

I was planning to be out of the country for nearly three weeks. I go out of the country fairly regularly, and I did all of the things I was supposed to: contacting my bank and advising them of my travel schedule and where I would be and when. I was all packed and ready. My flight left at 5:30 am and I was planning to leave for the airport about 2:30, since it can take close to an hour to get there and I like to have plenty of time to grab a snack, etc.

Around 2:00 am, I took care of my very last chore — paying my electric bill. I pay this bill through an automated phone service every single month the same way. However, I guess that doing so in the middle of the night triggered my bank’s anti-fraud system, and they froze my card. When I tried to call a rideshare at 2:20, it was rejected. After several tries, it was clear that something was wrong.

Slightly panicked, I walked about 100 feet to the mini-mart next door to try my luck at the ATM, thinking I could call a cab. I had $50 on me, but I knew it would cost about $75 to take a taxi that distance. The ATM would not give me cash, and that’s when I knew my card was frozen. I tried calling the number on the back of my card on my cell phone, but I just got a voice recording telling me that they opened at 8:00 am.

The overnight employee of the mini-mart, with whom I had become friendly from being a frequent customer, saw my distress and asked what was up. Near frustrated tears, I explained my situation. The worker nodded at the guy next to him, who I had assumed was another customer, and said, “He’s a taxi driver; he’s just off right now.” He looked at his buddy, who was actually just there to hang around and chat. “Hey, man, want to earn some cash?”

I was hesitant, but the guy took out his license and allowed me to take a photo of it with my phone and text it to a friend, and the employee said that they’d known each other since boot camp. He also promised that if he didn’t hear from me in two hours, he’d call the police. Feeling much better about it, I let the off-duty taxi driver take me next door to my apartment to grab my luggage and then to the airport.

Unfortunately, [Major Airline #1] had decided to start charging for the first checked bag even on international flights. This was a recent decision, and I hadn’t heard anything about it. The kiosk worker explained that I couldn’t check my bag until I paid the $30 fee. I did start to cry then, and I explained the situation. The worker tried to be comforting and said, “Let’s just see if it will go through!” It wouldn’t. I begged her to waive it. I couldn’t use my card and I had given the off-duty cab driver all of my cash. She was sympathetic but explained that only the manager could make that call, and he wouldn’t be in until 6:00 am. If he decided that they could waive the fee, he would put me on another flight to Chicago at no charge so that I could make my connection to the UK.

I sat on a bench near the kiosk for two and a half hours until the manager came over to talk to me. I explained my entire situation, but he would not be moved. I paid the $30 or I didn’t fly. In the end, I missed my flight and had to wait until 8:00 am when I could call my bank and have the block on my card lifted. I then had to purchase a $400 ticket from Oklahoma City to Chicago, though it gave me a bit of grim satisfaction that [Major Airline #2] were the only ones who had a flight that would get me on the ground in time for my connection. When their worker heard what I’d been through that morning, she bumped me up to first class, gratis.

There is a happy ending, though. When I returned home, I went into my bank branch to complain, and the manager helped me fill out a report to request reimbursement of my $400. He said it would also help encourage the bank to get a twenty-four-seven customer service line, as they were collecting such complaints for that purpose. A couple of months later, I got an email that I could now reach my bank anytime regarding “security concerns.”

Further, I’ve been fortunate through circumstances to form strong friendships with several people who are “Someone.” While I didn’t go around complaining about what happened, I did mention it to one friend, and it apparently got around. Several of them took to social media to complain about [Major Airline #1], since they hadn’t made any sort of announcement about their baggage fee change and hadn’t even updated the information on their website yet.

Apparently, this made the Powers That Be at [Major Airline #1] realize how bad they looked, and they contacted me in response to my complaint to offer me a credit for the unused portion of my original ticket. I explained that my bank had refunded the cost of my replacement ticket and I wasn’t looking to get anything for free, but the airline insisted, so I came out ahead. However, it will probably remain my most dramatic travel tale for a very long time.

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