Saturday, July 18, 2009

Can we trust customer service?

I recently did some business with a British publisher who offered me a choice of £50 ($80) or a book up to £150 in value as compensation. I don’t often buy books that cost more than $80, so I figured I should take the cash. But just in case, I contacted my bank (Wachovia) to see what the service fee would be to deposit a check in pounds. They told me that as long as the currency of the bank matched its nationality (both are British), then there is no extra fee. I knew they would hit me on the conversion rate, but cash still gave me the best deal. So I took the cash.

This morning, I went to the bank to deposit the check (first time I used a human teller in years!!). The teller told me that because it was a foreign check, it had to go to collections. This has a $75 fee and a week or two delay. And given the conversion rate hit of 7 cents/pound, I would only get $3. Needless to say, I was a bit angry. For $3, I would taken the book. Or I would not have done the work in the first place.

Given enough complaining, any major company will waive a fee like this, so I got to keep the $78. But I have now lost faith that contacting customer service to check on fees in advance works. If people want to sign up for a credit card, get a loan, or whatever, how can you make good decisions if you can’t trust the information they give you? Do I need to get official letters on company letterhead signed by the “VP of whatever” every time I want to engage in some kind of transaction? Just the frictional costs of this requirement could add up to a real pain.

Has anyone else experienced something like this, or is it rare?

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