Last week I sat down to pay our monthly bills via the online banking portal, as I’ve been doing for well over a decade. I really can’t recall the last time I wrote a check to settle a financial transaction. (I understand Donald Trump suffers from a similar malady.)
Cable, cellphone, credit cards, car payment (and that’s just the “C”s) – pretty much everything other than the grocery bill (which, come to think of it, we use a dedicated credit card for and pay off that balance online) – I check all the monthly statements on the web, log into our bank’s site, copy and paste the amounts due, and schedule when the funds should be released. It’s a simple, efficient process and I don’t have to pay for postage or keep a fat accordion file of canceled checks to thumb through in the event of a dispute. Easy-peasy.
At least… until the other day. I logged into the bank account to confirm all payments had been made according to schedule and saw that $170.84 had been paid to one of the credit cards. The problem: it was for a credit card we hadn’t used in well over a year; there were no recent charges or outstanding balance. I was befuddled and couldn’t make sense of what had gone awry, so I clicked the chat icon on the bank’s webpage and waited for “Cassie” to enter the conversation in approximately 3 minutes.
I should mention here that I rarely speak to any service representatives over the phone anymore. If there’s an email or chat option to contact a business – I’ll eagerly make use of it rather than feel forced to engage in conversation with a total stranger. Besides having the advantage of providing a written trail of the interaction in the event of a misunderstanding or dispute, permitting myself the luxury of typing out my answers allows me to “speak” in complete, coherent sentences, saying precisely what I mean and without the other party being subjected to how tongue-tied and red in the face I get every time I open my mouth in real life.
Once Cassie popped into the chat window with her pre-programmed greeting, I quickly qwerty’d my inquiry regarding the obviously fraudulent payment. She asked if I’d mind holding while she researched, and after the briefest of pauses came back to inform me that I’d entered the payment request on the 4th of the month and it was processed on the 7th. “Yes,” I typed in response, “I understand the dates involved but would not have sent a payment to that particular credit card company since there was no balance due.” I hit “enter” and waited for Cassie to respond with further insight.
After a minute, I saw a prompt appear: “Cassie is typing…” “A-ha,” I thought to myself, “she’s found the error and is about to tell me she’s returning the funds to my account. Mystery solved!” In fact, I can refer to the log of the chat session to let you know her exact words – which were, “John, are you still there?” We then got involved in an extended back-and-forth where I kept aggressively insisting I’d authorized no such payment, and Cassie kept politely insinuating I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground (I’m paraphrasing here rather than quoting from the transcript).
I was getting increasingly frustrated and told Cassie I was going to double-check my own display of the payment history. I went back to that tab in the browser, preparing to arm myself with the final piece of incontrovertible evidence to put Cassie in her place and prevail over the banking-industrial complex. As I reviewed the bill pay page, I found the problem: I had sent money intended to pay one bill (the cable company, starting with “S”) to the next payee listed in alphabetical order on the page (the credit card company, starting with “T”). I had, if this phrase is still part of the vernacular, “fat-fingered” the entry and was entirely to blame for the kerfuffle.
I sheepishly returned to the chat session (dammit… I managed to get red-faced even while avoiding personal contact) and informed Cassie of my discovery. I apologized and then asked if she could assist in recovering the misapplied funds and have them returned to my account. Unfortunately, she typed, she was unable to do that since the payment had already been processed. I would need to contact the company myself to make that request, and I’d have to wait another 2-3 business days before the payment would show up in their records.
Arrgh… I was already imagining how convoluted that process was going to be, anticipating a laborious series of interactions requiring several levels of approval and weeks of processing time. Meanwhile, I still had to pay the cable bill from our remaining funds while the same amount of money would languish indefinitely in the cold, interest-free hands of the credit card company. I exited my chat with Cassie (who, I’m certain, leaned over to the virtual teller in the next cubicle to share: “You wouldn’t BELIEVE the recalcitrant cretin I just dealt with!”) and made a reminder on my phone calendar to make contact after the waiting period.
That evening, I told my wife Carol what had transpired, leaving no detail out of the story and reading occasionally from the chat session transcript to provide notes of dramatic vérité to the retelling. She, to her credit, remained generally attentive as my recounting passed the 30-minute mark. In my version of events, I lamented over the inevitable difficulty of dealing with a corporate behemoth and getting the funds returned in anything remotely resembling a reasonable time frame. I’ll take care of it, but woe is me and all that mishegas.
When I finally wrapped up my narrative, providing an opportunity for Carol to offer soothing words of empathy and compassion, she responded with: “Can’t you just use that credit card to pay the cable bill this month? Then you’ll have paid the bill and used the credit balance on the card without creating any further hassle for yourself.”
An awkward moment of silent contemplation – as the crimson rose from my neck to the top of my head – and then I provided the only appropriate response under the circumstances: “Fine, then – YOU can take care of paying the bills from now on!”
No, not really – I thanked Carol for identifying a simple, expedient solution to the matter at hand, admitting how chagrinned I was that I hadn’t thought of it first. I then logged back into the bank’s website, opened a new chat session, solicited Cassie’s return, relinquished my seat at the computer to Carol, and let the two of them commiserate over what a moron I am. There’s no doubt in my mind Carol requested a copy of that transcript.
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