CI 11/30/97 -- It's Everywhere You Want to Be
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 26 Nov 97 11:42:50 -0800
Subject: CI 11/30/97 -- It's Everywhere You Want to Be
CERTIFIABLY INANE November 30, 1997
(c) Patrick C. Ross
It's Everywhere You Want To Be
Speaking of The Osmonds, we all know that today's financial service
corporations know everything there is to know about us, right down to when
we last had an irregular bowel movement. Yet I was recently reminded of
PR's Rule # 306: The omniscience of banks is rarely on display when dealing
with their customer service personnel. Let me relay a case in point.
I received a credit card solicitation, one of a couple dozen my wife
and I are inundated with daily in what must be a grand conspiracy to create
a nation of struggling debtors. I almost threw it away before I noticed
that (1) it had a credit card already in it, and (2) it was from my Visa
issuer. It turned out that because I was one of this bank's "elite
customers" (which surely means I'm charging too much on my card) they were
upgrading me from a gold card to a platinum one. It encouraged me to
activate the new card and enjoy "all of the marvelous benefits" of platinum
ownership, yet the details of those benefits could only be obtained by
dialing a toll-free number. Without thinking, I dialed it.
It turned out the number was not for my bank, but for Visa
International, the "mother of all Visas," as a creative copy writer might
put it. The chipper customer service representative ("I'm here to meet your
needs," she sang) began rattling off all of the great benefits of platinum
membership, including car rental insurance, travel insurance and warranty
"That sounds like the benefits on my gold card," I asked, recalling
that when I got this card "gold" status was the base model, if you will, of
"Well, yes," the operator admitted, "the benefits are basically the
same. To get a detailed difference you'd have to call the issuer of your
"Well, the issuer put your number on the flier," I grumbled, but I
called the bank. "How may I help you?" a chipper male voice asked just
following the taped message that this call might be recorded "for customer
care quality assurance purposes."
"You guys sent me a platinum Visa, and I'm just trying to figure
out why I should switch to this one and cut up my gold card," which was
exactly what their mailing recommended.
"Oh," this Donny Osmond sound-alike cooed. "That gold card really
comes with almost no benefits. Here's what you get with the platinum card."
He began reading me the same list that the Visa International rep had read.
As he did so, I pulled out my gold card benefits list. I was reading along
line by line with Donny.
"This is exactly what the gold card offers," I said. "How exactly
does the platinum card differ?"
He huffed, "If you want details, you'll have to call this number,"
and read aloud Visa International's toll-free line.
"Been there, done that," I responded. "I'd like a supervisor,
please." After three minutes of listening to a Musak version of Billy
Idol's "White Wedding," Marie Osmond's stunt double came on the line.
"You're right, sir," she warbled, "the benefits are basically the same.
But if you'll notice, we've included a customer convenience check for you
that expires December 31st."
So they had. It was a check payable to me in the amount of $3,000.
"You're giving me three grand to switch cards?"
"You bet!" she chirped. Then, sotto voce, she said "It will show
up on your next statement as a purchase."
Oh joy, I thought. I have until the end of the year to jack up my
credit card debt. "Is that all you've got?" I asked.
"Of course not," she replied. "You also get the prestige of
carrying a platinum card, letting the world know you're special."
Marie sounded an awful lot like that lovable dinosaur Barney, but
I put that thought out of my mind. "Yeah," I said, "I really want to
impress those teenage minimum wage clerks at the Wal-Mart. But frankly, it
looks less impressive than my gold card. It looks, well, silver."
"Yes," she acknowledged, "our design team couldn't get around what
platinum actually looks like. But trust me, platinum is much more expensive
That did it. "I'm not signing up for a credit card," I told her,
"that costs more than one I've got now."
When I got off the phone I cut up the platinum card and stuck the
gold one back in my wallet. I told myself that I was strong enough to
suffer the embarrassment the next time I whipped out that gold card to buy
a jumbo-pack of diapers at Costco.
© 1997 Peter Langston