Last March I reactivated my Universal Card after many years of inactivity. I experienced some difficulties in using it after being told that the card was again active (several transactions were rejected for no reason that I could ascertain), but things eventually seemed to be worked out and I used the card a number of times.
My first bill was due early in June. I mailed a check for the full payment on 5/20/03, and it cleared my bank on 5/27/03, well before the due date for the payment. On 6/7/03, however, I had a transaction rejected. When I called the Universal Card customer service representative, I was astonished to be told that they had tried to debit a bank account for my balance, which was refused by the bank.
I was told that the bank account dated from 1995. Unfortunately, I no longer have the account and so naturally the bank rejected the charge. I cannot dispute the fact that the account was once mine, although I had no recollection of ever giving Universal Card an account for automatic debiting and I do not have any records going back that far.
Since I paid by check the full balance of my account, the bank should not have attempted to debit my bank account. The representative to whom I talked could not explain why the debiting had been attempted for a paid-up account. She assured me, though, that she could rectify the situation by eliminating the automatic debiting feature and reactivating the card.
However, the next day, I received a call from an airline, telling me that Universal Card had rejected a charge for airline tickets. When I called the Customer Service office again, I was told (by a very unhelpful and unfriendly woman) that the representative on Saturday had made an error, and that the card was again inactive and could not be activated over the telephone.
She said that I could correct the situation by getting the bank to write a letter explaining that it was its fault. She totally missed the point, since the bank was perfectly correct in rejecting a charge on an invalid account number. She didnt seem the least bit concerned that I had a charge rejected after I was told the day before that the account could be used again (even though she acknowledged that my account was fully paid up).
Finally, on 6/14/03, I received a threatening letter from Universal Card. It was dated 6/7/03, clearly after they had received my check by mail. It stated that they had experienced several incidences of check being returned to us unpaid, even though the one and only check I had paid them had already been honored by my bank. At the threat of damaging my credit rating, they demanded that I mail them a cashiers check for the amount that they had already collected.
My experience with Universal Card has been extremely unsatisfactory. Among my complaints are the following:
1. Getting the card reactivated in March, after a long period of not using it, required several calls to Customer Service following rejections of attempted charges (with each representative assuring me that the card would work from that point on).
2. Continuing to use a bank account number from 1995, without verifying it with me, seems quite likely to cause difficulties, given the large number of changes in the banking industry and customers changes of banks. The unhelpful Customer Service representative I talked to said that it was my responsibility to inform them of the change, but since I did not remember ever using automatic debiting I could hardly ask to have this feature deactivated. It seems to me that a good system reactivating an old account should have flagged the eight-year old bank account, and asked me to verify that the account was still valid.
3. Universal Cards automatic debiting system is not linked to the system that processes mail payments, for otherwise it would have known that I had fully paid off my balance by check and that no further payment was currently due.
4. After Universal Card made an attempt to debit my bank account, they made no attempt to contact me to get an explanation. Rather, they simply deactivated the card and subjected me to the embarrassment and inconvenience of having several transactions rejected. Contacting me and correcting the situation before the hostile action of rejecting transactions would have taken much less effort on their part than dealing with an unhappy customer with several rejected transactions. Even after I had explained the source of the problems, they were not willing to correct the situation. My prior payment by mail and my attempt to be billed by mail in the future does not seem to me to be the action of someone who intends to default on his account.
5. Their system basically presumes the guilt of the customer, despite all evidence to the contrary. They are willing to annoy customers, with the risk of losing them, rather than expending a minimal effort to find the facts and correct any problems.
It seems to me that this is an incredible story of incompetence and customer insensitivity on Universal Cards part. The error on my part, in not remembering the automatic debiting to a canceled checking account, was obviously unintentional. The fact that I had paid off the balance by mail indicated that I did not expect an automatic payment, and that I did not intend to default on the account.
Incredibly enough, in 1992 AT&T Universal Card won the Baldridge Award for management excellence. The then President and CEO bragged that the companys principal focus was on customer service and sensitivity to customer needs. Things obviously have changed since Citibank took over the credit card operation. If there were an award for total incompetence and stupidity, Universal Card would be a strong contender.
After this experience I will, of course, never use the Universal Card again. A situation that could easily have been corrected has resulted in the loss of a profitable and trouble-free customer. That hardly seems like an example of management excellence.
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