Drawing the line with poor customer service

Last year, I wrote a breakup letter to Chase Bank. It was pretty ugly. I’ll save you the heartbreaking details, but trust me, they had it coming.

Closing the account was another nightmare. They wouldn’t let me break up with them! They told me I couldn’t close the account because my signature on the request form did not match the signature they had on file. An understandable concern, but I’d been signing my name as either a squiggly line or “The Hawk,” for the past few years, so I don’t really understand why my signature had suddenly become so important.

It took months. But my account was finally closed, and I’ve been recovering nicely since the breakup. I’m in a new relationship with a financial institution that I can trust, depend on and, most importantly, I rarely have to call for anything.

Before and since then, I’ve had plenty of other issues with banks, organizations and institutions. There was the $2.00 fee some ATM company charged me even though their machine was broken. There was the totally disputable $100 traffic ticket. And the list goes on, as I’m sure it does for you, too.

These issues cost us more than the charge itself. They cost us time, sanity and, oftentimes, grace (Chase’s customer service really brought out the worst in me).

The other day, I was on the phone, on hold, about that aforementioned $2.00 ATM fee. While listening to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” I took the phone away from my ear to see how long I’d been waiting. Twenty minutes.

I hung up. I felt myself getting frustrated, and I let it go. Maybe this wasn’t the most frugal thing to do, but then again, maybe it was — after all, your time is valuable, too. And in that moment, I decided that my time was worth more than $2.00.

My point is this — and it’s not exactly a point, really, but a question: Where do you draw the line? How much of a fight do you put up before you decide that the customer service battle is just not worth it?

Financial justice vs. letting it go

Regarding those two dollars, my mom would have probably told me to stay on the phone. “It’s the principle,” she would likely say. But I wonder if that principle has any place in getting rich slowly. The mind-set of working to get what is owed to you certainly has its roots in frugality, but if your time and sanity are valuable, then isn’t wasting it on two dollars sort of defeating the purpose of frugality?

Here’s my measuring stick. While the principle is important (who wants any amount of money unjustly taken from them?), for me, it can’t just be about the principle. If I’m going to spend my time calling customer service, I have to be getting something out of it other than the satisfaction that I’ve put the company in its place. With the ATM fee, the problem was a broken machine. I’d inserted my card, stared at a blank screen, and then removed the card without conducting a transaction. But their system charged me anyway. This probably didn’t usually happen, and I don’t think the company was trying to pull one over on me. Personally, it wasn’t worth my time to spend upwards of 20 minutes on the phone; I would just avoid using ATMs in the future, being especially aware of the “glitches” of this particular company.

Chase, on the other hand, was a different story. I genuinely believe they needed to be put in their place, and while I broke up with them for my own sanity, I did relish the fact that I was justly serving “the principle.” I could have left the account open and just never used it, but it was worth my time to never worry about any issues with them again and let them know why they had driven me to that point. After spending months arguing with them over some fraud charges, I figured I was already invested in this argument, so I was past the point of no return. It was worth it to go a bit further and end things altogether.

Putting up a fight…or not

It’s bad enough when dealing with customer service problems that you have to spend your free (or sometimes work) time correcting someone else’s error. But, man, these institutions can really drain the life out of you. It’s easy to get mad when some company is charging you an unfounded $100 “processing fee” (sadly, a true story), but the last thing you want to get is emotional. As the saying goes, you attract more flies with honey, and you want to spend as little time arguing your point with customer service as possible. If you find yourself getting heated, annoyed, or you begin to raise your voice, I’ve found that the best thing to do is to hang up and deal with it later. Being relentless is one thing, and it’s sometimes necessary when you need to talk to a supervisor, but you’ve already lost your money and time — don’t lose your cool while you’re at it.

Avoid it in the first place

Going back to the Chase example, I could have avoided that headache altogether. I joined Chase because a friend of mine used them and told me she had racked up enough points to earn a free flight. “Wowee! A free flight,” I thought. I was young, OK? I didn’t know better. And a lot of my friends had Chase, so I figured, Chase must be great. I didn’t read any reviews, didn’t consider my longstanding relationship with my current bank — I switched banks that week, dreaming about my flight to, oh, I don’t know, the Bahamas or something.

You know how the story ends, and no, there was no free flight. The point is, I could have avoided that entire headache by doing some research and not being impulsive.

Some fee issues we can’t help; others we have control over, if only negative qualities like procrastination and impulse wouldn’t rear their ugly heads.

Dealing with customer service issues is probably a constant in most of our lives. It’s simply something we have to live with. But how we deal with it is a matter of contention. So now, I ask: Where do you draw the line in dealing with customer service? How much time do you spend righting financial wrongs, and how does your frugal mindset affect your behavior in those situations?

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