Closing an account is not so easy

I JUST got off the phone with a credit card account company. I was closing an account that I no longer used. A simple transaction, or so I thought.

After waiting on hold for a couple of minutes - I love the on hold dialogue that says "your call is important to us and will be answered in the order received". I always say to myself, and sometimes out loud, "your call is important to us, but not important enough to staff operators to actually answer it in a reasonable time" - I told the operator that I would like to close my account.

I was then promptly transferred to another line and waited another couple of minutes on hold. I then repeated my request to operator number two, who then asked me for my merchant account number, business name, address, position in the company and why I wanted to close the account.

I quickly answered all the questions and was then transferred to another operator. After waiting on hold again for several minutes, I went through the same process with operator three as I went through with operator two.

Then operator three asked me why I wanted to close my account. I answered that I no longer use the account and have no need for it. Operator three asked if there was anything in the company's service that I was displeased with or would like changed. I answered that there wasn't, although I was thinking about mentioning their perpetual-hold phone system and the number of people I had to talk with to get my account closed.

Operator three seemed determined to try every tactic to keep my business, as any good company should. But it quickly became obvious to her that I just didn't need the account. I wasn't dissatisfied with their service, I just did not have a need for it anymore.

I was then given instructions to compose a letter/ fax that is required to close my account; apparently verifying my account information three times was not enough of a security check, I needed to send in a letter as well.

Up to this point I had been speaking to a very friendly operator.

I was then informed that the closing date of my account, that should also be included in my letter, was five months later. I asked why I had to wait five months and was patronisingly informed that my "revolving" contract was for six months at a time and the next expiration was five months from now.

If I cancelled my account earlier I would have to pay a "R300 early termination fee".

So I had to pay R150 in monthly fees to avoid the R300 fee. The tone of the operator's voice made me feel like she was steeling herself for a heated argument with an enraged customer.

I simply said "uh-huh" and nothing more. She then asked if I needed anything else, I said "no" and the call ended.

By then I was a bit amused at the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde display I had just witnessed from this customer support operator and the company in general.

First, as mild-mannered Dr Jekyll, they try their best to keep me as a customer, fix any problems I may have had, promise better service in the future, lower my rates and wash my car, well, it seemed to be heading in that direction. It really seemed to me that they wanted to stay in my good graces and not part company with any bad blood between us.

Then (Mr Hyde appears) they whacked me with my choice of a R300 fine or a forced five months of extra unneeded service. First make sure there is no bad blood, then come up with a stupid reason for creating some in a relationship that had had no problems up to this point.

Now what am I going to remember about the three years of service that they gave me? That I had no problems with them, that everything went smoothly? No. If asked, I am going to tell the story of how they tried to screw me when I needed to cancel my account.

So much for good publicity. What was the point of their trying to preserve our relationship if they were just going to poison it at the end anyway?

It seems that as long as I was a current customer the priority was to keep me happy, but when I become a former customer it is open season on my wallet. I still have to be a customer for five more months - so the first part is somewhat conditional.

Well, I hope they enjoy the extra R150 they extorted from me because I am going to do my best to give them R150 of negative word-of-mouth. -