16 OctFirst Hand First Impressions – Amex, that will not do nicely!

First impressions count. That is not news and in fact is such old hat, that one would think most businesses really understand this. Not so, the good folk of American Express. As a process hawk, I love a good process on the one hand and get a bit OCD about bad process on the other; just hate putting up with it. Here is a tale of muddled service hot off the press from a weekend trip to Germany.

Based on recommendation from a friend, I recently acquired a British Airways American Express Card. “Gets you loads of miles quickly,” he told me “and extra lots when you book BA flights.” As a frequent flyer in Europe’s skies, I thought “that will do nicely” and duly applied.  The application process was a bit long winded and I had to re-do part of it; however, having to re-do part of it may well have been more my fault than theirs, as I had the wrong wording on the proof of identity and I am really not sure if they sent me the boilerplate they wanted. Well, no matter, we got past that and I was sent some new plastic, including a card for Mrs. Ransome. Easy activation process, super little app for the iPhone and even an email telling me about the first few purchases. Marvellous. A pretty good start, almost too good to be true.

Well, as the cynical, experienced among us in Financial Services know, if it is too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Sure enough, after a pretty good start, it all went very Pete Tong during a weekend shopping trip to Germany. A couple of early purchases for less than €50 were no problem; Amex, that will do nicely. Then a pretty large ticket for a few large bags of ski gear for our two teenagers. My card; not approved. Mrs. Ransome’s one, approved. Go figure. Next store, again €50 or so, approved. What we appeared to have was “a sometimes problem”; as in when you tell the mechanic at the garage that it “sometimes rattles above the driver’s side wheel.” Next store, another biggish ticket in a sports store; declined. Dinner, declined. No email from Amex, no text message, no phone call, no alert on their hitherto pretty good iPhone app. So, concerned ahead of checking out of the hotel on Sunday morning, I reluctantly called the number on the card for 24hr service, hating the fact that I would pay roaming charges. Having been asked to enter my card number and a few security items, I was greeted by a voice message telling me that Amex was closed and would re-open Monday. The help line! What if I had had my card stolen? Fortunately, I was armed with more plastic than Michael Jackson’s face and could sort myself out. For sure this was a problem, but a manageable one.

Monday morning. Time to call Amex. First off, their machinery asks me to enter my card number and security details. Ok. As soon as I am through to an operator, I am asked for my number again. Why make me do it the first time then? Once past that initial hurdle.  A little more ID checking, which was fair enough. Then out came the reason for the transaction being declined; seems I had fallen foul of their anti-fraud programme; too much too soon on a new card, even though I was within the limit. Ok, I said, fair bough. These algorithms exist and for a purpose. But, and it is not a small one, you did not call me, text me, email or anything else and when I rang your “24 hr help line” you were not there. And, I was in Germany, which is a likely destination and not Nigeria or Columbia. “We only work Monday to Friday, sir,” they told me. Amex; a five day a week process? Oh, please! They then asked to check my mobile phone number. Suspicious, I asked if they had one in their system. No, was the reply. So somehow, I had filled out the application form, and done one not the other. If you believe that, I have a very nice used Swiss navy aircraft carrier I can sell you. Their client on-boarding had failed. Very upset, I asked if my card could now be unblocked. Then they said that a letter was in the snail mail to me. I had to have the code from that letter and only that code before they could do anything. Quite brilliant. Wednesday night and it is still not here.

Lessons Learned: Amex, don’t leave home without it, but take some extra plastic too. More seriously though, this is terrible. No warning not to use the limit, no warning about parts foreign, either near or far. No warning that 24hr had its limitations and a failed on-boarding process to boot. Never mind Six Sigma or Lean Sigma or any other fancy name, some basic super high intensity therapy is needed here down in Bournemouth chez Amex. For the usual fee, plus expenses, that help could be arranged. A formal venting of the process minded person’s spleen is sure to follow; maybe some other folks will have a better experience.

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