2008-09-11 / Sam Bari

The web scam customer service caper

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

Most conspiracy theorists, as far as I can tell, are fundamentally crazy. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect that customer service departments in large corporations are designed by an underground society of computers that want to drive us nuts so they can take over the world.

I did not make this up. My imagination is not that good. Probably using the real name of the company in question is not the best idea. I fear answering a knock on my door and being confronted by a computer and several of his henchmen wanting to have a word with me.

Okay. Let's just say I had a small issue with a company that offered an incentive program. You know the ones I'm talking about. After you buy a gazillion dollars worth of their products you build up hundreds of thousands of points. Each point was valued at one tenth of a Mexican peso when the peso was on par with the dollar.

I thought spending the points now, when one tenth of a peso is worth more than a U. S. dollar, would be a good thing.

The problem was, I forgot my password, which I thought could be easily retrieved. The only alternative to retrieving the password was to open a new incentive account. If I did that, I would lose my hundreds of thousands of points. Then I would have to wait another five years to be eligible for the do-it-yourself frontal lobotomy kit I had been looking forward to using for so many years.

The "contact us" heading on their website only gave an e-mail address. A telephone number was not listed. So I called the 1-800 number they advertised on television. The lady who answered was nice enough. She said, "My name is Agnes. I'm here to assist you in opening a new account. Please give me your credit card number now."

I asked if she could please connect me to customer service. She said, and very politely I might add, "My name is Agnes. I'm here to assist you in opening a new account. Please give me your credit card number now." So I explained that I needed to retrieve my lost password. She said, "I'm sorry, I do not recognize that number. Please enter your credit card number on your telephone keypad now."

I could tell that Agnes was a telemarketer probably reading from a script. So I asked if I could speak to her supervisor. She didn't say anything for about ten seconds. I thought I was waiting for her supervisor when she came back on the line. "I'm sorry. I didn't get that number. Please stay on the line and someone will be with you shortly."

Shortly was about seven minutes. A man came on the line. "Good morning. You seem to be having trouble with our automated service. Could I please have your name and credit card number." I said, "I'm trying to retrieve my password. Are you in customer service?" The man seemed puzzled. "I'm sorry. We don't have a customer service department. This is a fulfillment house. We only take orders."

I explained that I was trying to retrieve my password so I could cash in the points on my incentive plan. He asked what company I was trying to call. I told him the name of the company, and I could tell that he was covering the phone with his hand, but I distinctly heard him ask someone, "This man wants to retrieve his password for some company I never heard of. What do I tell him?"

The voice said, "Tell him to call this number. Maybe they can help him." Then he gave me a number and hung up. So I called the number and a man answered. He didn't say "Hello," or "Good morning," or anything like that. He said, "Shipping." So I told him that I wanted to retrieve my password. I was obviously connected to the wrong department."

He said, "You don't need a password, you need a shipping number. Let me connect you with customer service. Give them your name and address and they'll look up your order." I didn't argue. I was finally going to get someone in customer service.

The person who answered had a very heavy accent I did not recognize. And she sounded as if she were speaking from another planet. I think she said, "May I have your name and address." I gave it to her and she said, "Just a minute while I pull up your account." I waited and when she came back on the line, she said that I had no shipments listed. I explained that I needed to retrieve my password.

She said, "We will never ask for your password. That is highly confidential." I said, "I'm not trying to give you my password. I want my password." She told me that she does not have this customer's password because she is not given that information. I admit I was starting to get frustrated. So I said, I don't think you understand English very well, and again asked her how I could retrieve my password.

She got very huffy and gave me a number to call where someone could help me. It was an 888 number. I thought I was fi- nally getting somewhere when this voice answered. "My name is Agnes. I'm here to assist you in opening a new account. Please give me your credit card number now."

Agnes has a boss. It is a computer. It is the chairman of a company that hires people in countries all over the world who are not aware that they are working for a system they don't understand.

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