This is one of the clearest examples I have ever run across for how to alienate consumers, courtesy of Macy's Department Store.
Here's how to go about torpedoing your own brand:
- give false information when selling the card idea to the consumer in your store (untrained staff)
- don't provide world-standard payment methods online in your 'customer service portal' - no PayPal, no bank transfer, no payment via another card that can handle the exchange portion of the transaction
- have a customer service center that requires having a Social Security Number to get out of the automated system (in Canada we have Social Insurance Number) and do this EVERY time they call
- have a dozen left hands making constant and aggressive contact
- misdirect with bogus solutions and mystery addresses
- don't keep a customer's file up to date, and outsource your collection calling so the people on the other end of the phone are completely disconnected from your brand or the consumer
- be totally okay with your customer having to pay $140 on a $49 purchase
How did it happen?
My daughter and I were traveling in Portland, and she needed some jeans. We headed out for the big mall south of us in Lloyd Centre, and were delighted to discover a Macy's department store. We'd had watched the Macy's parade on occasion and associated the brand with family, fun, and great shopping.
We found a couple of pairs of jeans, including a pair of 'distressed' jeans my daughter loved. We approached the cashier to pay and she suggested there was a way to save money.... I love saving money, so I asked how and this is what she told me: "You can sign up for a Macy's card today and get an immediate 40% discount AND a further discount when your bill arrives and you pay it off immediately."
I replied, "I can't, I'm not an American."
"Sure you can! We have lots of Canadians with Macy's cards."
"But I don't have a US bank account, only a Canadian one."
"You can pay online at Macy's - lots of people do that."
"I don't have an account in US funds, though, I'm sure we would need that to pay on the Macy's site," I continued. I had heard stories about currency issues and wanted to be triple sure.
She was really persuasive. "You don't need US Funds, you can pay with a Canadian card and pay the exchange rate. We have lots of Canadian customers doing that, you don't need to worry. It's a great deal!"
Famous last words. We got the card, and the discount, and the jeans and soon were headed home again to BC.
Fast forward: the first bill arrives in late September. I go online to pay and spend an hour on the Macy's site trying to find a way to pay with my credit card, my bank account or PayPal. Attempt to call Macy's via the number provided on the statements and on Customer Service. Must first register for the site. Automated phone system will not accept my Social Insurance Number and keeps returning me to that step. There are no other options provided for getting an operator, agent, or an alternate verification such as date of birth. Unable to connect.
We have a flood that destroys the flooring throughout the lower half of our house, prompting a chain reaction of events involving mass upheaval of our household and my office; all of the files and phones and computers are in different places, there's 10 workers a day trooping around interrupting and driving us out of the house with the noise of the fans and tools. Total chaos allowing only the most urgent of family and business issues to be dealt with for a 6 week period.
By the time we could actually reconnect on smaller issues in the family and business, the Macy's account was well overdue. I happened to answer a call from the customer service department and a very nice gentleman (the only one I would talk to who was helpful and interested in working WITH me) erased the interest charges and told me, no, you can't pay online as a Canadian, you'll need to send a cheque. We agreed that the account would be closed and that payment would clear the balance and I would be removed from their mailing lists. I sent that out as promised.
First Payment Attempt:
The cheque was returned due to it not being in US Funds. Collection calls began.
Second Payment Attempt:
I called back the collection agency - a different number - and the woman I dealt with spoke with her supervisor and told me to 'put USD next to the amount on a new cheque and send'. I did and sent it out, by mail, to the address she provided in Ohio.
The collection calls began again, several times a day, and continued for the month it took until my bank notified me that the cheque had been returned since it was not written on an account in US Funds.
Third Payment Attempt:
I called the same woman at the collection agency and had the interest reversed again. I negotiated a settlement of $83 USD on the original $49 purchase on the card in Portland. I was instructed to purchase a money order in US funds and send it to the address on the statement/bill. I did, and had the mail registered so someone would have to sign for it and acknowledge receipt and put it in the mail express post December 17. We were now up to $99 on the bill. I called Macy's to let them know the money order had been sent, the date and time of the package departure, and the registration number for the mail - which I had to beg them to note in the file. I can not confirm if they did.
Late December the harassing collection calls began again. They had not received the money order. I called the number they provided and the customer service rep said, "You've sent it to the wrong address. It wasn't supposed to be sent to Ohio. It was supposed to go to our processing center in Des Moines. (!!!) I asked how I was to have known that given all of the statements came with 'please enclose your payment and send to.... Ohio." Nowhere in any of the correspondence from Macy's was there an Iowa address. She could not give me an answer and referred me to another customer service rep.
The new rep said, "You'll have to send another money order," to which I replied, "Why would I send another money order that if the first one never arrived and we can track the package into the US where it sits somewhere collecting dust, that's $80 of my money plus postage already sent once."
"I'm sorry, you'll have to send us another money order." Finally, after some wrangling, I was able to get a hold put on the file so Canada Post could track the package and work with the US Post Office to either get it forwarded out to Macy's, or returned to me. We set a time of three weeks.
Now I was working with Canada Post, a bureaucracy well-known to Canadians. Surprisingly the gal I talked with was excellent, though the news was not good: the US post office had a full 90 days from the point of inquiry to provide information back to Canada Post. She would do what she could.
In about 10 days the calls started again, sometimes up to a dozen times a day. After the full three weeks was up I called Canada Post again and asked for help. Again, they were excellent. She waived the 90 day waiting period, and issued the maximum refund allowed under CP for an undelivered package, which meant a cheque for $49 CDN was on its way to me.
Fourth Payment Attempt:
I called Macy's and gave them the status, and agreed to buy a second $83 USD money order and send it - again and confirmed - to the Ohio address. We agreed that the $83 uSD would be my final payment and would close out my account and my file with them and remove me from all of their mailing lists. But not before they asked me if I could drive across the border and pay the account out in Bellingham! A full day of travel and gas and ferries!
I went to the Post Office this time and bought a second money order and sent it off as agreed.
Fast forward to March 30. Macy's requested a call. I went through the phone process for about the 18th time, getting jammed every time on the same sticking point: "Please enter the last four digits of your Social Security Number". I put in the last four digits of my Social Insurance Number (provided when I registered for the card) and got back the same answer: that's not a valid number. Please repeat the last four digits..."
Finally I reached a human being - and what did I hear? Please provide the last four digits of your Social Security Number. The last four digits of your Social Insurance Number then. That number is incorrect. Finally after doing the date of birth thing - again - we get to the discussion of the account. "Your account is in arrears and you have missed your payment for three months."
"I sent a money order - again - 10 days ago and that was to clear up and close my account."
"We have applied the $83 money order against your account but there is a balance remaining for the interest charges. You will have to pay these charges."
The term apoplexy does not begin to communicate the sense of frustration. The man seemed to have no reference of the earlier conversations I had had with other representatives and just repeated that I still owed money and the calls would continue.
In the meantime I weekly receive in my snail mail box more invoices with additional interest applied, and glossy inserts for the Macy's store. Oh, and the jeans didn't last longer than 3 months before literally falling apart.
Always, always get written confirmation that there is a payment mechanism for you as a Canadian consumer. Get a customer contact number that does not require a Social Security Number to reach an operator. Or better yet, pay cash. My $40 off the purchase cost me $160 and untold amounts of stress, and has damaged my credit rating.