Demand Good Customer Service When You Get Ignored

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A few weeks back I wrote about how it is each consumer's responsibility to give constructive feedback to companies. It is also each customer's responsibility to demand good customer service from those companies. As an example, I give you a story in which I clawed my way to good customer service.

My purse, along with my wallet, were stolen in August 2008. Both my Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual credit cards were used fraudulently. After I canceled both and filed a claim with both banks, I waited. Wells Fargo (my darling) reimbursed me the money within two weeks. I waited on Washington Mutual...

Then I faxed in an affidavit, a copy of my police report and other supporting documents to Washington Mutual and waited...

Nothing. I faxed it in again. Waited. Nothing. I faxed in again. Waited. Nothing.

In December, I decided to call their customer service. They told me they did not receive my documents, so I faxed them in again. Nothing. The fax machine was not broken, by the way. And so then I started calling them bi-weekly. Great fun. After a few such frequent calls, when they would tell me different things each time (i.e. they do not have my affidavit, they do not have my police report) or just blatantly disconnecting me from the call, I had had enough.

So one evening I was at work at 8 p.m. and I was already pissed off about being there late. And I had spent half an hour waiting for a customer service representative (with annoying not-even-advertisement music playing in the background...I mean, if you are going to make your customers wait, why would you not give them the quiet to work on something else?!!) only to hear that they do not have my document and that I should call back when I send it in. I was fuming, so I finally mustered the courage and desperation to launch an executive email carpet bomb (EECB).

The basic idea of an EECB is to send an email with a plea for help to all the top executives of the company. By this time, Washington Mutual had become Chase. So I went to my favorite consumer blog The Consumerist, looked up Chase's executives email addresses and typed out the angry email. And then I went to Chase's SEC filings and found the names of all VP's and non-executive Directors and typed their email addresses into my Gmail address line.

Now, I am not completely unreasonable and I understand that Chase executives are important. So I took the time to address my letter to each individually (thank God for cut and paste). I wrote an angry email in which I told each man that I had had a very bad customer service experience with his bank, that Wells Fargo is awesome and that I would like Jamie Dimon and gang to "please read over carefully and see to it so that [my issue] gets resolved." I typed out the subject line of "PLEASE HELP" in all Caps, attached a PDF of all supporting documents and went home satisfied.

The next day, three women called me back from Chase Executive Customer Service, gave me their direct extensions and promised to personally follow up on this matter. They were all very nice. Two weeks later, my money was refunded. I am pretty sure that my email never got to any of the executives, but I did get what I want. But even though my money was refunded thanks to the work of very nice women, the bank wasted a lot of my time, so I will be canceling my credit card.


  1. When companies do not listen to you, which they will most likely not in our bad economy, you have to creatively take matter into your own hands.
  2. No one (really – no one) will take care of you. You have to take care of yourself.
  3. You have to act. I sat around doing nothing for half a year because I was too lazy or afraid to act and demand good customer service from a company. Once I acted, I got it.
  4. Vote on companies with your money. I will be canceling my WaMu/Chase card and transferring those purchases to my Wells Fargo card.
  5. EECB's are just awesome.

Next up – LabCorp. CEO David King got paid $8.2 million in 2008 (well, a lot of it is in out-of-the money options...but still), so surely they can afford to refund me the money that they grossly overcharged me. But that is a story for another time.

Everyone Run and Open a Roth IRA Right Now

Friday, March 20, 2009

Being a huge nerd, I have been reading many personal finance blogs lately. I cruised through college with my parents paying for my credit cards, so being on my own financially is both terrifyingly confusing and extremely exciting. It also does not hurt that my job is all about making crazy dynamic Excel spreadsheets of money moving around, so I feel very empowered to take charge of my finances. I can understand and track where everything is going.

My favorite personal finance blogs are Get Rich Slowly, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Tough Money Love (this one is superbly feisty) and, most recently, No Debt Plan.

In fact, learning about personal finance is one of my new obsessions, which is kind of ironic, given how my iPhone was just stolen 2 days ago and now I have to pay $541.42 to replace it at the early upgrade price. But that is a whole different (and myself) story where I hate on AT&T and Apple and low life thiefs. Back to personal finance.

I started following No Debt Plan a few weeks ago and today stumbled upon a post on how to retire easily on $1,000,000. Now, given my inability to trust calculations unless I do them myself and my mastery of Excel spreadsheets, I decided to test Kevin's conclusions, as well as play around with some sensitivity analyses by altering assumptions about the annual return, compounding, etc.

Kevin basically says that if you start contributing $5,000 annually to a Roth IRA account at 24, STICK WITH IT, retire at 66 and assume a "conservative" annual return of 7%, you will have amassed $1.2 million of untaxable (!) income by the time you retire.

Astounding, but true. I seriously have to open a Roth IRA account:

Omg I Need to Open a Roth IRA Omg I Need to Open a Roth IRA irina.issakova6516

Get this. If I start at 23 and retired at 64 and stick to this plan, I would contribute a total of $205,000 and earn a total of $1,018,036 (!!!) in interest. OMG! You never believe it until you make your own dynamic spreadsheet.

I am now keeping this spreadsheet as a shameful reminder of the fact that I currently do not have a Roth IRA. But all of you out there. Run. Open one tomorrow. I know I will be (well, at least by the end of 2009).

Next step: figure out asset allocation based on my retirement profile. I'm guessing somewhat aggressive during these crazy stock market times.

Always Tell Companies Whether They Are Good or They Suck

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Two weeks ago, my office mate was telling me that he was going to call his gym and cancel his membership. He was going to switch over to a competitor who offered a better deal and had newer equipment. "I think I'll just tell them that I am moving to another state."

Wait a second! What?! I suddenly started paying close attention to what he was saying. I asked him why on earth he would lie about the real reason, especially since he was not going to be charged any fee for the cancellation (no matter the reason). He said he did not want to be confrontational and he knew that they were going to offer him better rates and convince him to stay and he just did not want to deal with all the mess.

Hold on! I tried to convince him that he absolutely had to do the opposite in the following way:

  1. Tell a customer service representative ("rep") that he would like to cancel his current membership because he is switching to a competitor who: (a) is offering him a better deal on his monthly payment and (b) has better equipment and a more pleasant general ambiance.
  2. When the rep would come up with all sorts of ways to retain him, just be stern and show her that he was going to cancel no matter what.

In fact, even if the rep would not have asked for the reason, he should have still offered it. Because telling the real reason would have been a great service to the gym company. The business would have learned exactly why it is losing at least one customer and could have taken the appropriate steps to improve and become more competitive.

It is your right as a consumer to decide that you want to stop your consumption of a certain product. But it should also be your duty to spend a little bit of time giving feedback on how that product can be improved. By telling a company the real reason its product sucks or rules, the consumer is actually increasing competition and watching out for herself.

Urgh, of course my office mate bailed on that and came up with some b.s. excuse.  Whatever.

One of my favorite blogs is The Consumerist, whose mission is to make consumers more aware of the companies that they are supporting with their consumption choices and empower consumers to fight back when those companies screw them over. In the last few months, it has made me both very aware of my rights as a consumer to demand good customer service from everyone to whom I give my money and give all sorts of feedback to both good and bad companies.

Here are a few quick examples:

  1. Wells Fargo:  I greatly respect and am very grateful to this bank. When my purse was stolen in August 2008, the thief charged a total of $1,000 to my credit and debit cards. Wells Fargo reimbursed me within two weeks. They also removed an overdraft fee I had last month within 30 seconds by seeing that I do not have a history of overdrafts and it was just an accident. And they are just really nice and knowledgeable on the phone.
  2. WaMu/Chase:  absolutely horrible customer service. I HATE this bank with a passion. I have spent probably a total of 20 hours on the phone with them trying to resolve a claim for fraudulent unauthorized transactions made on my credit card in August 2008 (!!!). They keep transferring me from one department to the next, mysteriously "not getting" my faxes with my affidavit and police report and generally just being horrible to me. Once I get my money back, I am closing my credit card with this bank. And I am also telling everyone I know to never ever deal with this bank.
  3. Overstock:  I recently shipped back two items to the website, but my account was not being credited for them. This morning, I chatted online with a rep called Wes. The chat took about 10-15 minutes and Wes's average response time was 5 seconds. Turns out, Overstock did receive the packages, but for some reason the returns were not processed. So he sent a note to the department to speed up the processing and two hours later, I got an email alerting me of the completion of returns. Needless to say, when a feedback form popped up at the end of our chat, I left nothing short of a raving review.
  4. ING Direct:  Do I love them or what? They give me great rates on savings, do not bother me with needless emails, answer my solicited questions by email within 24 hours, have awesome billboard ads and promote financial responsibility through The Declaration of Financial Independence. Needless to say, when I received a SurveyMonkey survey from them this evening, I spent 10 minutes giving honest and detailed feedback. They are serving me well, so I want them to succeed.

So that is that, my friends. Help the companies that are serving you well. And do not be afraid to tell those that are not that they you are not happy with their service and are therefore switching to their competitor. It is for their own good and for yours, too.

Daughter Trump Rocks My World

Monday, March 9, 2009

The social media junkie that I am, I came across the following video of an excerpt interview with Ivanka Trump in my Google Reader last week:

I have subconsciously admired Ivanka Trump ever since I learned of her existence a several years ago during an episode of The Apprentice. Ever since then, I have looked her up on Wikipedia to follow her extraordinary professional growth and admire her from afar. Why is she so awesome, then?
  1. Beauty. There is no reason to deny that the first thing you will notice about her is her undeniable beauty. It is hard to take your eyes off her gorgeous face. During the 3 minutes that she speaks in this bit of the interview, I spent 2 minutes staring at her fact and another 5 minutes rewinding and listening to what she had to say. Absolutely gorgeous can't-take-my-eyes-off full lips, deep eyes, clear skin, perfect young Katherine Heigl blond hair. Yum.
  2. Smart. Wait, what?! I am confused. What she is saying is making sense. And she does not sound that dumb. Wait, she does not sound dumb at all. Because she is probably smarter than you. The woman went to a great college, people. She has a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (yes, that is number 1 in the nation).
  3. Daring and feisty. This girl knows she is smart. The first giveaway is her confident and deeper-than-an-average-blond's voice. The second is that she is not afraid to interrupt those guys! She is showing that she has something to say and she is not afraid to say it live on CNBC.
  4. Speaks her mind. Controls the situation. Ha! Oh those interviewers. I do not even know who they are, but man did they try to steer the conversation in one direction and it did not work out. Because Ivanka switched it around saying that it is ridiculous that CEOs of companies who are getting bailout money should not take advantage of the corporate jet. And so the two guys had to reluctantly agree (2:05), lose their train of thought (2:40), ask an unintelligible question (3:20), have her answer with aplomb (3:30) and then start yelling something that has nothing to do with anything (4:40 and what on earth are you talking about???).
  5. Her first name - Ivanka. Just because it is way cool. And because "Ivan" is a male name in Russian and can in no way be interpreted into a female name. So her name sounds very funnily male to me, which makes it an irresistible name for a female (see also: Mischa). I might not really know what I am talking about in this bullet point, but I can definitely feel it with my gut. What a great name!
Ivanka is currently the Vice President of Real Estate Development and Acquisitions at the Trump Organization at age 27. She has also been known to model as a teenager and yet is not a stupid party monster . She is engaged to Jared Kushner, the 28-year-old owner of The New York Observer. They are such a hot and admirable power couple that I cannot even be jealous.

Finally, I leave you with a quote of Ivanka: "I’ve never had a sense of entitlement. I saw how hard my father worked for his money and it was always made very clear to me that things wouldn’t just be given to me."

The woman is baller.