Don't make the Dr. Evil error of assuming
Back in July, I missed a payment on one of my credit cards. I only missed it by 12 hours, but still, I missed it. This was a big problem, because I had heavily loaded this particular card under an excellent promotional balance transfer rate of 3.99% for the life of the balance. Give a credit card company a reason, and they’ll rip those promotional rates right out from under you – and missing a payment certainly qualifies as a good reason, from their perspective.
I was facing a 12% increase in my APR, plus a $39 late fee. That’s enough to seriously compromise my debt reduction plan, so I knew I had to do something. I called the company, reiterated that I had never missed a payment before, apologized, and asked them to put my rates back to where they were (I also had a small balance on a 7.99% promotional rate). I expected they would counter with a middle-ground offer, but to my surprise, they agreed with almost no discussion! Thrilled, and proud of myself for saving that 12% in a short call, I put it out of my mind and went back to my life.
This is when I committed the “Dr. Evil Error”. In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, just as Dr. Evil begins the motion of the trap that will put an end to hero Austin Powers, he orders the door closed, blocking his view.
Scott Evil: Wait, aren’t you even going to watch them? They could get away!
Dr. Evil: No no no, I’m going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I’m just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?
The Customer Service Representative had told me that they would send a letter confirming my reinstated rate within seven days. It took longer than seven days to arrive, but even when it did I didn’t open it for a few days. I just assumed everything “went to plan.”
After I finally opened it, I found that they had done nothing to honor my request. The rate for the full balance was reset to 15.99%. I had to read it 4 times before I convinced myself that I had not missed anything. By this point, we were approaching my next due date and I was a bit steamed.
I called back to Customer Service and politely and calmly, but firmly, told the rep the situation and asked if she could help me get our initial agreement upheld. She put me on hold, and when she came back, transferred me to an Account Manager. I went through it again, calmly, with the Account Manager. He also put me on hold. I looked at my wife and said, “they’re gonna try to burn us” and prepared for a battle.
When the Account Manager came back, he had me re-explain the situation one more time. We went back a forth a bit until I was sure he understood, but then he shocked me. He not only agreed to reinstate my original promotional rate of 3.99%, he also said he would include the smaller balance (previously at 7.99%) down in the 3.99% balance, and credit me for both the late fee and the last month’s extra finance charges! The only conceit I had to make was that the Purchase rate had to sit at 13.99% (that was fine with me as I don’t use this card for purchases). I had him go through that again, got his name, and thanked him sincerely for his help.
I checked my balance online the next day, and the credits appeared exactly as he said they would. All I had to do was wait until my next statement to ensure the rate changed.
I just checked as I was writing this. The 3.99% rate is actually reinstated. The smaller balance wasn’t added in to the lower rate balance, though, which bugs me. The cost won’t be significant given the size of that balance, however, so I’m considering letting that drop. All-in-all, I’m happy with where we’ve landed.
So what did I do right, and what did I do wrong?
What I did wrong:
- Obviously, I missed a payment to begin with. That was just dumb.
- I didn’t get the name of the CSR I talked to the first time I called, nor did I note the time I called.
- I didn’t follow-up after the first call to ensure the agreement was honored. That almost cost me a bundle.
What I did right:
- I called. That basic step is the most important one. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get anything.
- I was a good customer, and I told them so. I always paid at least the minimum balance, on time, with this one exception.
- I was polite. I didn’t lose my cool and start yelling at anyone, but treated them with respect.
- I was precise. I told them exactly what I wanted them to do (reinstate my previous rates). I didn’t just ask them for a vague rate reduction.
- I was persistent. I restated my case to each individual in almost the same way each time. My story didn’t change, nor did I give up when placed on hold for the third time. I also called back when I realized it had all gone wrong.
- I apologized, and made concessions. In the first call, I agreed to pay the late fee. In the second, I agreed to the higher Purchase APR. After all, it was my screw-up, and I was asking them for a favor which they were within their rights to refuse.
- I was willing to pull all my money off the card. I had a backup plan to move the full balance to a 9.9% card if I had to, though thankfully I didn’t even have to threaten them with that. If I had, I would have stated it matter-of-factly, and regretfully, and thanked them for their time (giving them one final chance to sweeten their deal).
They did some things right and wrong as well. The worst thing they did was lie to me in the first call, which pretty much negates the positives of that call, but in both calls they kept it short, listened, repeated what I said to ensure understanding, and gave me, in the end, more than I expected. And despite the bad, I ended up feeling pretty positive about the experience.
The lesson to take from this? Basically, do what I did right, and the opposite of what I did wrong. At a bare minimum, make the call. You’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.