Customer Service

Secret Credit Card Company Strategies or Confessions of a Customer Service Representative

When you called the number printed on your credit card’s back, I was the one that answered the phone. After an automated robot-lady voice prompt you to press 1, 4, then 9, then 1 again, then 0, it finally greeted your call. You’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t a greeting when you heard me speak. “Card Services, this card is ______. Can I have your full name? My “Greeting” was not less robotic than that of the automated system I was forced to navigate.

These suspicions are accurate: it was not accidental. Robot-Lady was cheaper for the mega bank than my meager hourly salary. As a customer service representative (CSR), a large part of my job was to answer as many calls as possible during my shift. A good performance review demanded that you keep me on the phone as short as possible, even less than one minute. Customer service is a great thing.

After working there for a few month and dealing with thousands of calls, you could tell from the tone of customer’s voices what the issue was. If there was anger I would address the over-limit or late fees. If I felt you were impatient, I suspected that you were at a counter where your credit cards were being declined. If you sound confused, it is likely that your interest rate went up unanticipatedly. Are you really confused? Finally, you noticed the foreign transaction fee that was charged for purchases made in Europe during your last trip. The final option is indifference. It is enough to review the transactions and check your account balance. The clock was ticking and I needed to be prepared.

All of this is because I feel the need to make amends for a job that I did despite being morally conflicted by bank policies. One customer was furious that I refused to remove a penalty fee and declared, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” I was. To make up for it, here are some tips for dealing with customers who have credit cards. These banks have a mission to reduce costs and maximize profits. Mega banks aren’t for-profit entities.

1. You can request the removal of a penalty fee by stating so. The policy at the mega bank where I worked was that fees could not be removed unless asked for by the customer. It doesn’t matter how much you fuss or whine about it, I can’t remove fees unless the customer asks. These words were music to me as a CSR, especially when I felt that I couldn’t bear being teased out another time.

2. Some customers didn’t allow me to remove fees, even though they asked. Based on the customer’s profitability, each customer was given a dollar amount. I was allowed to remove it. I was not able to understand the calculation. It was simply a number that was shown in my computer’s customer information. It doesn’t mean that fee elimination was impossible. These customers could remove their fees if they escalated their call and asked for a supervisor.

3. If speaking with a supervisor doesn’t result in the removal of fees, you can request that your account be closed. This is a common tactic that works, but only if you call during normal business hours. This was the time that the “account specialist” worked at the call centre. Account specialists were responsible for closing accounts. The bank wasn’t keen to close accounts. An account specialist would then try to persuade customers to keep their accounts open. When the customer persists in insisting that the account is closed, the account specialist might make offers such as fee removal, interest rate cuts, airline miles, and other rewards. Please call the number during regular business hours.

4. Interest rates were a constant problem. Customers called me countless times asking me why their interest rate was arbitrarily increased despite their impeccable account histories. The mega bank may raise your interest rates even though you’ve been a customer over a decade but have not paid your bill on time. I knew I would start getting these calls when the bank posted an alert informing me that they had completed their annual witch hunt, err, account reviews. A recent credit history review has shown that the bank may raise interest rates due to late payments on bills for other creditors, lower credit scores from opening different credit accounts, or a full moon…who knows? Again, you should ask for exactly the things that you want. I will usually agree to a lower rate of interest if asked. If not, it is time to escalate and call a supervisor/account specialist.

5. Do you remember the little folded booklet that came with your new card? This is the Cardholder Agreement in all its fine print glory. Although it may seem dry reading, you will still need to take out a magnifying glasses to see the details. However, this is where the bank has all its insane (and profitable!) policies. You should read the Cardholder Agreement before you do anything that isn’t allowed by the bank, such as cash advances, purchases made outside the country, or adding an authorized user. You should read the Cardholder Agreement before you use your credit card. This is where you will find all the details about how the bank makes its money, whether you want it or not. You can then decide if the card is worth your time. It may also save you time dealing directly with Robo-Lady…and other guilty CSRs, like me.

My greatest accomplishment as a customer service representative was my ability to learn to not use the word “money.” Although my job was to speak about money, it can be a word that could cause confusion. I instead used more subtle, though still vague, terms such as “funds”, “the amount”, and “the balance”. I did my best to avoid confrontation, and get the customer to the line as soon as possible. It was a tactic that was representative of the way this mega bank treated their customers. However, it did little to provide them with the quality customer service they were entitled to. After one miserable year as a customer service representative for credit cards, I decided to quit. I don’t shame to tell you about it.

We are a team of professionals with each having two decades of experience in start-ups, sales, marketing, finance, HR, large scale project and profit centre management and running mature cross functional operations. At we are big believers that knowledge transfer is critical to our industry’s evolution. We love to share our experiences and learnings through our online resources.

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