"Do You Know Your Secret Code Number?"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Saturday, March 24, 2018

Many companies fail to consider their customers when they make changes to the way they run their businesses.

Sure, they send a note announcing, "We have improved the appearance of your statement."

The improvement usually results in difficulty determining what is actually owed.

Service companies such as telephone, TV or purchased radio time companies you use in your car are often the worst offenders – and the ones we use the most. My biggest complaint is the inability to reach a "live" person to discuss problems or ask questions, especially when they change things up. That "live" chat option online is a rabbit hole to fall into – it usually leads nowhere and eats up a lot of your time.

When you try to reach out via the telephone, you arrive at a "call center." Every major company in the world has created the nightmare of people being paid paltry amounts to respond to calls in their kitchens with kids yelling in the background.

During normal business hours, I attempted to contact my insurance company regarding what I considered an urgent matter. After languishing on hold the requisite amount of time, with a poor choice of music, a young women came on the line and asked, "Can I help you?"

I explained my problem and requested I be put through to an underwriter for the company. Be aware I am not making this up, I'm quoting verbatim. The person's response was, "I only have a small area to take incoming notes on."

I again asked to speak to an underwriter and was told, "Didn't you guess you would get a line with an operator that could not keep track of all the questions asked?" When I responded, "No" I was told the operator I expected to speak to was not in the insurance business.

After another long wait on hold I was told, "There are no representatives available on the insurance company's phone lines but a message can be put on a list at the call center that answered when you first called."

I actually received a call back – much later and was able to leave my message for an underwriter. Even later in the day, I actually heard from the underwriter. So much for "urgent" matters of a customer.

Because I had guessed my call back would not arrive anytime soon, I tried calling my telephone company about a minor issue with my bill. All I hoped to relate was to update my mailing address. When I reached their call center and tried to explain what I wished to do, I was told I could not change my address without providing my secret code number.

Who on the planet remembers their secret code numbers? I tried a few sets of numbers, which I was told were not correct. Finally I had to admit I could not recall the number so the operator said they would send it to me in the U.S. postal mail. And, of course that was the topic of my call – they did not have my proper mailing address. I was again told my address could not be changed in their system without the secret code number.

Growing weary of the round and round I asked, "Can you email me the number?" Of course they responded and promptly did so. As I looked at the number I realized it was one of the numbers I had provided but what the heck, my time is unlimited to spend on useless undertakings.

Actually I was not done with this one because when I followed up later to provide my secret code and pass along my correct address, I reached an operator whose volume on their phone was so loud they could not understand me. When I asked, over the noise, to have the address I had provided read back to me — it was wrong.

I hung up, called back and reached yet another call center and surprise, they were able to take the information, without the secret code – there was no mention of it. I was told however it would take four to six weeks for the change of address to be placed on my account. When I asked how I would avoid late fees because my bill would not arrive timely I was told just call us to find out what it is and pay it on the phone. I asked what my next due date was and I was told it varied but the date would appear on my bill. Which I won't get for four to six weeks.

The two events I described were only two of three that occurred that day and took the entire day to conclude. I wonder what the secret code is for me to reach someone and find out how to bill for my time spent trying to just access my information.

Conclusion – as I see it, customer security is becoming so demanding it prevents customers from accessing their own accounts. We all need to have a long list — placed where — of passwords and secret codes to do business with any of our providers. Maybe we can visit a tattoo parlor and they can stencil all of them – where?

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