The U.S. economy, at least as manifest in its banking system, has a public relations problem, and it's not the one you may think. This one isn't about housing and mortgages, but about a family's credit standing and how a bank -- in this case the Capital One bank -- determines it.
How do I know there's a problem? Because I've just experienced it and was appalled at the only answer the Capital One lady could give me, a new customer with an unblemished lifelong credit history. "To tell you the truth, she said, "this is technology." Technology that determines our credit standing in a couple of seconds, and that's all she could say. "We don't have a person who will pull your card," the Capital One lady told me. Friends, that's a PR problem for the U.S. economic system: Faceless decisions made on faceless customers.
A little background: We fly to the West Coast a couple of times a year to visit with our son's family. We use Mileage Plus miles for those tickets. On the Visa card we've been using, that one issued by the Chase bank, those arrangements have been a hassle. (The airlines, too, have their own PR issues.) We were told that Capital One has a better Mileage Plus arrangement on its credit card, so we signed up as a Capital One Visa card customer. Our intent has been to quit using our other card, which has a higher credit limit than Capital One has been willing to grant us. We're not looking to "max out" several cards. We pay our bill in full every month.
This afternoon at the dentist's office, Capital One's credit limit caught up with me. I wasn't able to put the full cost of new dentures on its card because it exceeded our credit limit by about $80, and I didn't have our other card with me. (We haven't gotten our first Capital One bill yet and thus haven't made a payment on that card yet.)
When I called Capital One and, after a bit, asked for a larger credit limit, they said they couldn't grant it. When I asked repeatedly why that was so, they said they ran a credit check on us and that was the result. As a matter of my privacy, they said, they couldn't explain anything further over the phone. I would get a letter in 10 days. I offered to waive my privacy. I wanted to talk to the manager who makes credit decisions at Capital One. There is no such person, the Capital One lady told me. They check, she explained, with a computer and in a couple of seconds get a consolidated credit report that somehow emanates from four other companies. I asked who they are, and was told: Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion. In seconds, comes the unchallengeable ruling on a lifetime of problem-free credit.
Friends, this is what the U.S. economy is subjecting us to on a credit check, at least at the Capital One Bank. If Capital One says this is how it works, as they definitely do, presumably this is how it works at many other banks. And I hope you'll agree that this is a PR problem indeed. Nobody wants to be treated as a faceless cipher. "To tell you the truth, this is technology" said the Capital One lady.
After returning home, I called Capital One a second time. During that call, the Capital One lady put me in touch with a representative of the Visa system. Visa has nothing to do with credit limits, he explained.
Capital One will say I was angry; you bet I was. But my dentist graciously accepted a partial payment on my bill.
Added Dec. 18 – Our official response letter came from Capital One this week, explaining why they wouldn't grant my request for a higher credit limit. "Insufficient length of Capital One relationship" was the only reason given, and it's a reasonable one. Nothing about our credit history – the response of the "account manager" when I called. Which leads me to note that if a company is going to have a call center with employees who talk to customers, it needs to train them to listen to customers, to anticipate what questions might be asked and the answers to them.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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