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Citibank/CitiCard: a customer service failure story

My Citi credit card says "Member since 98". I use it rarely. I pay my bills on time and in full when I get them. I canceled that card this week. The standing joke among some is "there's a reason Citi rhymes with shitty", and I finally figured out why that is.

It all begins a couple weeks back. I started getting a call daily from someone claiming to be with CitiCards. As I mentioned before, I seldom answer my phone when I don't know who is calling. This unknown caller leaves an automated voice mail wanting me to call them back at a number that I don't recognize as being a contact from Citibank. They don't state my name or even what the problem is; there is absolutely no indication that this isn't some sort of phishing/identity theft scam. Naturally, I ignore it, but it wasn't a one-off event.

Then they started calling twice a day. I figured I had enough at that point, and that if it was a scam, maybe the good folks at CitiCards could shut them down. So I called the customer service number on the back of my credit card on Monday, December 27th.

This is where things got good.

The helpful customer service person on the other end quickly worked through the issue. Turns out that the unnamed problem was a database error. At some point, they dropped my apartment number off my address, and at some point their bills stopped getting to me. Because I seldom get a statement (remember, I usually carry a zero balance) and seldom use the card, I didn't know anything was out of the ordinary.

The whole fuss was over a single charge I made in October, after not having used the card since April. Though the address on the May bill does not contain the apartment number, it got to me just fine, yet the one for November did not (and no other postal mail they might have sent has reached me either). I'm not going to dig into my archives to find when they last had the correct full address. It's all pretty moot at this point. It turned out to be a simple database error and it was corrected. Done deal, right?

This is where things got bad.

Imagine my surprise when I got a call again on Tuesday, December 28th! Perhaps this caller was a scammer after all, and it was just a coincidence that my Citibank account had an address error with it! So I again called the number on the back of my credit card to state my concern. The entire conversation was . . . off. They did unusual things, like ask for any 5 digits of my social security number instead of just the last 4.

Compared to my experience from just the previous day, it was like talking to a brick wall. I pointed out that the issue I was getting calls for was resolved: the error was corrected, a new bill was being sent immediately, I would pay it when it got here (also immediately and in full, naturally), and everyone can get on with their business. What was the point of continuing to call?

The very unhelpful customer service person said that I would continue to receive harassing calls until the payment was received. I immediately decided to cancel my card. I simply wasn't going to do further business with Citibank if they really thought that bugging me daily was going to make the mail move faster. I was further assured that ending business with them would also end the harassing calls.

Guess what didn't end?

So here it is, New Year's Day, and I am still getting called. I figured it'd be a great way to start off 2011 by committing to doing what I've mentioned doing for spammers: accepting every invitation to call 800 numbers. So I call the number on the back of my credit card one more time. I've never enjoyed being on hold so much.

Since they showed no inclination to behave rationally and treat a resolved issue like a resolved issue, I took the only angle left to me. I posed them a simple question: What legal authority would CitiCards actually listen to such that the harassing phone calls would stop? Do I notify the phone company? The Better Business Bureau? The State Attorney General? Who will they listen to?

The extremely unhelpful customer service person I got this time was the worst of them all. All I wanted was one of two things: for them to state who they preferred to escalate the issue to, or to completely stop the calls. They refused to do either. It got so bad, they were so evasive and unhelpful, that I eventually found myself asking "Can you even answer a simple yes/no question?" And they couldn't give a yes or no answer! It ended with me being called an irresponsible customer . . . for paying my bills on time and in full! Stay classy, CitiCards.

So now I, too, after over a decade with little complaint, finally realize that Citibank sucks. They have definitely earned the Impossibly Stupid Hat of Fuckheadery. On Monday, I plan to waste yet even more time by making good on my promise to seek help from other organizations. And, of course, I'll make good on the promise to return all of CitiCards' toll free calls.

Dear reader, do yourselves a favor and avoid all this hassle. Make it your New Year's Resolution to cancel your Citi accounts today.