This morning I received a recorded message: This is blah need to call blah blah about your order blah blah issue blah blah blah immediately.
Fortunately, the 1-800 number was intelligible. I dialed it. Another recording said I would be transferred to a human in the order in which my call had been received. Music played in the background. In seconds, the human answered and said her name was Natalie.
Our conversation went something like this:
Natalie: What is your name, please?
Me: Kathy Waller
Natalie: Thank you. Now would you please read the number at the bottom of your check.
Me: (Long pause) The number where?
Natalie: At the bottom of your check.
Me: Why do you need the number from my check?
Natalie: So I can look up your account and find your order.
Me: What did I order?
Natalie: I don’t know. We represent a lot of businesses. So I need your number to find what you ordered.
Me: What is the name of the business you’re calling from?
Natalie: Blah blah. And we can’t clear up this issue and send your checks if we don’t have that number.
Me: Well, what financial institution are these checks ordered for?
Natalie: That depends, because we represent a lot of businesses, so I have to have your account number.
Me: Let me understand this. You want me to give you my bank account number.
Me: My checks are ordered through my bank. So why don’t you call my bank for this information?
Natalie: Well, that’s the thing. I don’t know what your bank is. Because we represent a lot of financial institutions.
Me: (Getting down to the brass tacks) But I haven’t ordered any checks.
Natalie: (Hurriedly) Oh. It must have been a mistake. Goodbye. (Click)
I hung up, thought for half a moment, googled the 1-800 number, and hit on a website dedicated to reporting conversations such as the one I had with Natalie. I reported it. Then I clicked on the link to the Federal Communications Commission.
Natalie isn’t the first questionable customer service rep I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with. I used to get calls from a company offering to lower the interest rate on my credit card. The first couple of calls distressed me. I was so obviously intended to become a victim. The third time, however, I realized I didn’t have to cede control to a stranger. Over the course of the next several calls, I developed a system.
That company doesn’t call any more, but here’s how our conversations used to go:
Caller: Good morning. I’m calling to say you have the opportunity to lower the interest rate on your credit card. Does that sound good?
Me: Oh, mercy me, yes. I would love to have a lower interest rate.
Caller: That’s good. Okay. Would you please give me your account number.
Me: What account number?
Caller: Your credit card account. The number on your credit card.
Me: Oh. Don’t you have my number?
Caller: No, ma’am. You need to give that to me.
Me: Why don’t you have it? You said you would get me a lower interest rate. How can you do that if you don’t know my account number?
Caller: Ma’am, if you’ll give me the number, I’ll look it up.
Me: But if you don’t already know my account number, how do you know my current rate? You can’t promise to get me a lower one if you don’t know what it is now. Can you?
Caller: Ma’am, if you’ll just give me your credit card number, I can look it up and see what your rate is and then I can get a better one.
Me: Wait a minute. You called me, so you should know the number of the account you want to talk to me about.
Caller: Ma’am, that is confidential information. I don’t have it. You’ll have to give it to me.
Me: But I can’t give you confidential information over the phone. I mean, if you don’t already know what the account number is, and you don’t know the current rate, I just don’t see how you can get the rate lowered.
Caller: (Sounding a little testy) Ma’am, I’m not going to argue with you…
Me: Oh, good, because I don’t want to argue either. Now if you’ll just tell me what my new interest rate is going to be…
Caller: Look, ma’am…
Me: I’m sure it’s all there if you just look for it. Because you called me, so you must have all the information right there in your computer. So you read me my account number, and I’ll tell you if you have it right. Then we can talk about my new interest rate.
I always hung up smiling.
Because–to quote my mother, the word maven, the person who cringed in physical pain upon hearing the phrase for he and I, the person who rode herd on my grammar even before I began to speak—I hadn’t had so much fun since the hogs ate my brother.