Recently, I’ve been tapped by my employer to help create the training module for our credit card customer service division. Specifically, I have to come up with questions for a roleplaying activity that will simulate fielding live calls; the “customer” will ask the questions and the rep-in-training will access the information and answer them. I’ve created a solid base of questions that cover the basic stuff – “What’s my balance”, “When’s my payment due”, “I need to update my address”, etc. – but for those bizarre queries that are the very roots of the Dreaded Difficult Call, my creativity is officially maxed out.
So once again, I turn to you, the people of the Straight Dope. If anybody has come up with some off-the-wall questions while grilling customer support, it’s this bunch. Have you ever called your card issuer? Why? Don’t just tell me what the trouble ended up being, tell me what questions you originally called and asked…your rep had to figure it out from there; ours should too. If you’ve never called, make something up. What might prompt you to call, and what would you want to know? It doesn’t necessarily have to be “weird”; if you’ve got something, let me have it!
As thanks for your help, I’ll gladly answer any questions anyone may have about the general use and operations of credit cards. Thanks in advance for any replies!
I actually called my company yesterday with the following scenario. Say there’s a bill I can’t pay with my card, rent for example. But I want to get my rewards points (1 point for every dollar spent) so if I took a cash advance for $500 on Monday, but also made a $500 payment on Monday, how long would I be charged the extremely high interest rate on cash advances? My normal interest rate is 10%, and for cash advances it is 23.9%.
The service rep seemed to have a hard time understanding the question. She repeated info about my interest rate and my account, but she had to put me on hold and find a supervisor to answer my question, which turned out to be I’d be charged 23% on $500 for however long it took the payment to clear.
I had called Amex after I first used the card. I charged some computer software on it and went to pay it a couple days later. The online system wouldn’t let me pay off the balance for some reason and called them up to find out why. (It turns out that the first month that the card is in use, I have to wait for a bill to be produced before I can pay any amount online).
I have called to ask about charges I didn’t recognize and how to deal with a stolen credit card, but that’s probably pretty basic for you guys.
When I go to my credit card’s website they have a Frequently Asked Questions page that has a lot of info on it. That might be a way for you to get other ideas about what to train for - by checking out other companies’ websites and seeing what people ask them about.
Once I used my card at a store and 3 months went by and I never saw the charge, I called the card to find out if there was a limit on how long it could take for a charge to appear.
I have called my card company several times to ask if I can get a “payment holiday” - I was about to be late with the payment, and since I had not missed any payments that year they gave me a payment holiday, meaning I didn’t have to pay that month…or I was allowed to be late w/o penalty. I forget which it was.
I also routinely call to ask if i can get a lower APR when I see that my APR has creeped up (they usually give it to me).
I have called to ask about getting a card that offered points.
I have called to ask about using points, but was told I needed to call a different # (pretty sure it was a 3rd party that handled points, and they transferred my call).
I have called to ask about using my card to get cash at the ATM.
I have called to cancel several store credit cards.
Since I use my card’s online services about once a week, I’ve never needed to call to use any of the options they present at the beginning of the call…hear your balance, pay your bill, change your address, etc.
I called yesterday to see if they had a system some other cards do of providing a “fake” or anonymous (I don’t know the proper termonology) credit card number for ordering online. That number when going back to the card company can be changed to the correct one.
It took two representatives to get the answer (“no”), and the 2nd one had to put me on hold to find the answer. But they were very pleasant about it, and assured me their systems were very good for detecting fraudulant use.
I don’t know if banks typically offer rewards points for cash advances so this might not be something you’d want to do.
Re the OP:
Can you put a flag on my account so that if you see I’m making lots of purchases overseas, it doesn’t raise alarms? I’m travelling to X country and don’t want my credit card to get stuck! (I read about this hint once, have never actually needed to worry about it!).
Why was my card declined even though it’s in good standing? And can you PLEASE let me know when you take such an action? This actually happened to me a few years back - I’d purchased some items from some overseas vendors, as gifts for people who lived in that country (and in one case, something that I had shipped to a family member here in the US from a French vendor). The CC company shut down my account for that sort of thing - twice - causing local purchases to be rejected (rather embarassing!). When we called and found out why the stuff was declined, I could see why red flags were raised, but whyinhell did they mung up the local purchases rather than the overseas ones??? I asked them if they could just notify me when they were doing this sort of thing so I wouldn’t be blindsided by it (as I had several additional overseas purchases to make) and they said nope. I closed the account a month or so later as a direct result of this.
“Can you switch my payment date?” or “Why did you switch my payment date”?
Not so much a “customer calling in” thing, but “bank calling out” - A couple of times, when I paid my cc by sending a payment from my bank (as opposed to mailing a check, or using the cc company’s website), this raised some flags and I got phone calls from the credit card company, making sure I was still satisfied with their service. Annoyed me and confused the hell out of meIt wasn’t until the third time this happened that I realized - they thought I was preparing to close the account. Had I not been otherwise quite satisified with the account, I’d have closed it just because they’d really, really annoyed me. So a caveat (may not be germane to your OP): Don’t go out of the way to annoy a perfectly happy customer, sometimes it’s possible to be too proactive!!
I’ve called to get a lower interest rate. I have a couple of cards I use on a regular basis - one I pay off every month and another that I use for big-ticket items. The latter card had a higher interest rate that I wanted so, after seeing a flier from a competitor with a lower rate, I called my card’s company and told them that I’d be interested in switching to their competitor if they couldn’t provide the same rate or lower. They provided me with a far lower rate than their competitor and gave me a bunch of extra points. All in all, it worked out very well.
A good hint is that when someone calls in with a lost card, that is not the time to treat them as a sales opportunity and hit them up with their usual scripted sales plea to sign up for payment protection.
How do ‘holds’ work - e.g. when I am travelling and the hotel takes a swipe of my card when I check in. It seems to make some of my credit unavailable and I’d like to understand what is going on in terms of how much gets put on hold and how long is it on hold for? I once had a situation where by the time the rental car company and two hotels had put holds on my credit card, I had very little available credit left!
What happens when you give your credit card details to a merchant rather than swiping your card - i.e. if I order online versus if I use the EFTPOS machine at the local supermarket?
If I am keen to reduce the balance owing on my card, can you set it up so that my credit limit automatically reduces by a set amount each month?
How can I work out whether I would be better with a low-interest card (that charges higher annual fees)?
We don’t, and I don’t know of any issuers that do (which doesn’t mean they don’t exist).
When you make a purchase using your card, an authorization is given, which supplies the merchant with an authorization code and sales draft redeemable at your bank for that amount (similar to a check). The merchant then has to submit the sales draft to the bank for payment. It’s when this is done that the bank considers the transaction “received”, pays the money to the merchant, and posts the item to your account. You can generally, as you’ve noticed, see the amount of the transaction deducted from your available credit from the moment you swipe the card. The reason for this is the hold that you mention. When the authorization is given, the bank places a (most often) two business day hold on your account for that amount, which causes it to be deducted from your available credit.
In a situation (such as a hotel or car rental reservation) where you have an authorization placed for an amount that the merchant never intends to actually send through as a charge, it’s a very simple matter to get the hold released. Simply have the merchant contact the bank – make sure you’re available to speak with for verification if they need it – and request the hold removed. It’s important to note that this does not render the authorization invalid; if the merchant submits the charge, it WILL still be paid and post to your account. But if all they’re doing is making sure the card is valid, they’ll almost always be happy to have the hold released for you.
In addition, if anyone ever places a double hold on your account – the most common way that this happens is if the merchant swipes your card, makes a mistake, hits cancel, and swipes the card again; this deletes the authorization on their end but doesn’t get rid of the two-day hold – just give your bank a call. Most banks don’t require merchant authorization to reverse the hold in this situation; as long as they can see that the charges are from the same merchant for the same amount, and were done within seconds of each other, they’ll release the funds (while also letting you know that, if the merchant sends two charges through, both of them will hit your account).
Same basic thing. The merchant runs the credit info through a merchant bank processing service, which performs much the same function as the little card swipe machine (called a ZON in bankland). It submits the info to the Interbank (Visa International, MasterCard, etc.), which directs it to the card issuer, who says “approved” or “declined” and sends it back through the same process to the merchant. The online vendor now has an authorization code and sales draft.
The only significant difference, to the customer, between a signature-based transaction and a MOTO or online purchase (done with your numerical info) is that it’s much more of a pain in the neck for the bank to conduct research on the latter should you need to dispute it, which translates to a longer wait for you to get your money back.
At the moment, we, meaning my employer, cannot do this. We can, however, decrease your credit limit at your request to any amount you like (with a $500 minimum). Two caveats if you decide to do this: we can only do it once every six months, and if you decide you want your credit limit raised back, you must go through the same qualification process as you’d never had the higher limit at all. Note that this is only for my employer; I honestly don’t know too much about other issuers’ policies with regard to this.
If you keep anything resembling a regular balance on your card, this one’s easy. There is one figure and one figure alone that will determine the answer, and that is your Average Daily Balance. What is the ADB? Well, the long version is that it’s the sum of your closing balances for each billing day in the cycle, multiplied each day or month by your periodic rate (which will be your APR divided by 365 if applied daily, or 12 if applied monthly; it varies by issuer) and added back, minus any payments, merchant credits and fees, divided by the number of days in the cycle.
The short version is that it’s the number printed on your statement next to the words “Average Daily Balance”. Or you can call your bank directly and ask them to give it to you. You (or the bank) then split this up into two figures: your ADB for purchases, and your ADB for cash.
Once you have those ADBs, multiply each by your APR. Remember that cash and purchases are usually charged significantly different interest rates (real-world example: 7.99% for purchases, 16.99% for cash), so make sure you apply the correct rate to each balance. Add the two resulting numbers. Call that Figure A; that figure is what you can expect to pay in interest yearly under your current plan.
Now multiply those same two ADBs by the two lower rates the other company is offering. Add those two results. Call that Figure B; that’s the interest you could expect to pay each year under their plan.
Is [Figure A plus your current annual fee] less than [Figure B plus the higher fee]? Switch. Is it higher? Stay.
If your balance tends to fluctuate significantly, or if the other company is offering some sort of promotion (such as 0% for six months on balance transfers), it gets a bit more complicated. If anybody wants me to, I’ll be more than happy to post the detailed procedure for figuring this out, but I’m not going to make you slog through it if the short answer is all you need.
Heh. No worries. We don’t currently offer one (shocking, but true for the moment), and when we do, it’s going to be the sales reps’ job to pimp it. In a lost/stolen situation, you’d call our Customer Service line, and you’d never talk to a sales rep at all. Cap One we ain’t.
Well, first of all, if the total balance you want to transfer is over your actual credit limit, you’re in an even worse situation than you think, because a balance transfer goes toward your cash balance, the limit for which is typically about 50% of the total credit limit. If you’ve got a $5k credit limit, you can probably use about $2,500 of that for balance transfers. Ergo, in this situation, I would offer to see if you qualify for a limit increase, which, if you do, can be made effective immediately. If you don’t qualify, but you still want to take us up on our amazing introductory rate (:D), you can do a partial balance transfer if you like. Otherwise…sorry, but no dice.
Thanks to everybody for the great responses, and keep 'em coming! And if anyone has any more questions you’d actually like me to answer, by all means, ask away!
I thought of two other possibly unusual questions, or at least ones that don’t fit on the phone tree:
My account is managed by a credit counseling agency. How do I make extra payments–through them or directly to you? And since the payments are “outside the system,” so to speak, can I direct the extra payments to the cash advances, or do they always just apply to the entire balance?
Since my account is managed by an agency, can I use a balance transfer from another card (that has 0% interest for the life of the balance) to pay off this card, or is that considered “cheating” somehow?
“I bought a set of speakers bigpimpindaddyspeakers.com, when they arrived and i tried my favorite britney spears cd on them only one of them worked! The guy at bigpimpindaddyspeakers.com said that they worked when they shipped them and refused to give me a refund! Is there anything I can do?”
“I bought a karyoke maching off craigslist so I can sing along to “Stripped” parts 1 AND 2 by Christina Aguilera (she’s so hot). Anyway, after I sent the guy a paypal payment all I received in the mail was this brick! Is there anything I can do?”