Here’s one of those ridiculous stories of a bad, complex and closed system making a total mess of a person’s day. I went to my local Wells Fargo branch after lunch to buy a VISA gift card for $100. The teller had never sold a VISA gift card before and in the confusion about how to do it, she misheard me as saying “$400.” And then I misheard her manager when she repeated it to me. “For a hundred dollars” and “Four hundred dollars” sound pretty similar. I guess I assumed there would be something for me to sign with the amount on it. I was a bit surprised when the whole transaction happened without any action from me. Since I’d already swiped my ATM card for them to find my accounts, they just debited the amount from my account with no further authorization from me.
The teller tucked my receipt into the gift card envelope and I walked out of the bank. Only when I was down the street did I happen to open the gift card envelope and see my receipt for a $400 gift card. I turned around and headed back to the bank. The original teller had gone on break but they went to get her to handle this snafu. Once again a manager oversaw what the teller did. Because they couldn’t change the amount on the original gift card, they charged me for a new $100 gift card and told me they’d have to handle the cancellation with Card Holder Services and they’d call me when they had an update.
Back at work ten minutes later, I received a call from the manager who oversaw both transactions. She said that Card Holder Services wouldn’t do a refund for her so I would have to call. She said the usual result was that they would issue me a check for the refund. She gave me the 800 number to call and my card number.
It took me 3 calls to get a human being on the phone from Card Holder Services. When I entered my card number, it wasn’t recognized and I got dumped into that circular robot call hell where it kept asking me to re-enter it. There was no opt-out. When I finally reached a human being, she told me initially that they couldn’t issue me a refund and that to get my money, I could go make a point-of-sale purchase. I had her repeat that part because it sounded so ridiculous. I can get my money back by buying something with my money?
I explained that this wasn’t even my error but the teller’s and I already had purchased a new gift card. I just needed this $400 refunded. She checked on something and came back to say they could issue me a check but there would be a $15 charge to cancel the card.
I explained again that this was simply an error and I just wanted it to be undone. I asked if there was a manager who could circumvent the fee. She checked. They wouldn’t. But she said my bank (Wells Fargo) would probably credit me the $15. I said, let me just check on that before we do this. She noted my account and I hung up and called Wells Fargo. The manager I’d spoken to before said of course they’d refund me the $15 and this was the only way to do it.
So I called Card Holder Services again. I got a new person and caught her up with the events of the day. She took my address and right before she submitted the cancellation / refund asked, “Did they explain to you that it will take 7 to 10 days to process the request and another 2 to 3 weeks to send you a refund?”
No, they absolutely did not. I asked if that could be expedited. No, it could not. I told her that I wanted to check with my bank to make sure there is absolutely nothing they can do to get me a refund faster because 2-3 weeks sounds ridiculous.
This time I drove down to my branch to speak to the manager in person. I explained the situation. I told her I’d run out of patience. She asked if there was any way to expedite the refund. I said, no, there is not. I asked if there was any way Wells Fargo and whomever “Card Holder Services” is could work this out between the two of them. She said no. That the only thing they could do is give me a credit for the $400 which is basically just a placeholder in my account. That’s just another loose end I’d have to tie up in a month so I didn’t push for it. She asked if I needed the money which I know is a reflex question and wasn’t trying to give me attitude. But the truth is that’s a question my banker shouldn’t ask. It’s my money. It’s their error. There should be a simple way to correct this.
I left angry but quiet. I called Card Holder Services from my car and went through the refund process. Again they asked if I was aware that it would take 7 to 10 days to process and 2 to 3 weeks to get a check to me. I hadn’t caught all that before. “So it’s 2 to 3 weeks after the 7 to 10 days before I get a refund?” I questioned. When she completed the call and asked if there was anything else she could do for me, I said, “I’d sure like to get my money back sooner than a month.”
This is the problem with closed and complex systems: they make things bad by default. We need opt-outs. We need an undo button. Everyone at WellsFargo and Card Holder Services was pleasant to me. The bad, terrible, horrible, atrocious customer service I received today was not on account of any of the personnel with whom I interacted. My day was ruined because of the systems in place that aren’t open and simple. By the time I got a human being on the phone at Card Holder Services, I was already heated because I’d had to deal with one of those damn automated call services that doesn’t by default have a “Dial 0 for an Operator” option. Still, I think I kept my cool. It was only when I returned to the bank the second time that I decided to say, “I’ve run out of patience.”
We — as users — are actually a pretty patient lot. But the problem is that our tension and dissatisfaction is ratcheted up incrementally all the time by bad systems. I don’t know what to do about this frustration. But I’m taking my own advice and airing it publicly. I hope you’ll help me (and all of us who suffer through these bad systems) by sharing this on whatever social media you can. Like it, +1 it, Retweet it. I’ve linked gratuitously to Wells Fargo’s Facebook page throughout this post. In case you didn’t catch it, it’s facebook.com/wellsfargo. Their official Twitter account is twitter.com/wellsfargo. VISA’s Facebook account is: facebook.com/visa. Interestingly enough, it seems you can’t comment on Wells Fargo’s or VISA’s Facebook Wall. So you’ll just have to hijack a comment thread there to get heard or talk about them on your own wall.