Credit card companies are much in the news these days. The administration is trying to talk them into redressing some of the most blatant consumer abuses, but I suspect that the cudgel of legislation will be needed in the end. Over the last few days we have had our own little experience with one of them. American Express, it seems, is interested in customer service only if there is some profit in it for them. Otherwise it is impossible to get through to anyone who can do something other than read from a script. That script, always written in helpful tones, has only one purpose, and that is to justify and defend whatever it is that American Express chooses to do. In our case it was not a very serious matter, but it illuminated for us what it must mean for those whose lives are seriously impacted by a corporate ethos that, regardless of what the ads say, cares very little about ordinary consumers. I will readily acknowledge that I have had extraordinarily fine customer service from other credit card companies, notably Bank of America Visa, so I don’t want to paint an entire industry with one brush.
At the same time, I’ve done a little Internet probing on the websites of companies whose products or services we have in our home and have found several fairly common threads. One is that locating how to contact customer service is not always easy. It’s always there but sometimes buried in places requiring some diligent searching. Likewise the ‘contact us’ tabs frequently lead to a large variety of FAQ dead ends through which one has to wend one’s way in order to get to phone numbers or e-mail addresses that may or may not provide an avenue for satisfying contact. The point is that many consmer product and service corporate sites are deliberately set up to give the illusion of customer care while well contrived to repel and defend against the consumer, who seems to be treated more like the enemy at the gate. In fact, it is all but impossible to use a corporate website to find out who the top executives are or how to contact them.
I wonder if the current economic environment combined with public unrest at he level of ordinary citizen will force any change. As it is, some part of the far right hysteria aimed at protecting American free enterprise against the onslaught of Socialism appears to be a well crafted and coporate backed strategy to block any change they are not willing to ‘voluntarily’ adopt as vaugue promises of some future corrective action. Oddly enough, they have been quite succesful in recruiting entusiastic pawns from among the ranks of those most abused by their power. Go figure!