Monday, November 23, 2009

Who IS S. Larson?

My wife and I just canceled our CitiCard credit card. We did this because CitiCard very badly mishandled a dispute over a hotel charge. The whole saga of the dispute, however, is not the subject of this blog (though maybe I'll write about it later).

Instead, the focus is on the CitiCard mystery person who corresponded with us during the dispute process and whom I'd like to blame for screwing things up -- except that I suspect the person doesn't really exist.

As the dispute progressed we received several letters from "S. Larson" at CitiCard. Despite attempts to make the letters seem like they were personally addressed to us, their disjointed obliqueness and lack of specifics unique to our case made us begin to suspect they were composed of chunks of boilerplate. I began to envision S. Larson as some overworked lackey in a CitiCard bullpen cutting and pasting letters to us from a standardized set of approved responses.

We also noticed that the signatures on the letters were always exactly the same. And since they didn't smudge, we decided S. Larson was using a graphic signature file rather than taking the time to actually sign the letters.

At one point in the dispute I became frustrated with the lack of progress and called one of the merchants involved myself. The person I spoke with informed me that a CitiCard representative named Debbie had been in contact with him, not "S. Larson." At this point I began to suspect that S. Larson was a cover name to shield CitiCard's customer service workers from being contacted directly. This might explain why the name is genderless, making it very difficult to even address a letter to S. in personal terms.

For the heck of it I Googled the name S. Larson. Go ahead, I'll wait while you try it yourself. It turns out S. Larson is quite the continuing hot topic and nearly all of it very negative. One of the Google hits I found particularly interesting was the long-term discussion going on for several years regarding the existence of S. Larson on Daggle, the Blog of Danny Sullivan, who has had a CitiCard for about 20 years.

He's been getting letters from S. Larson the entire time, always signed the same way, and always impersonal. Beginning to suspect S. wasn't real, Sullivan went to great lengths to investigate, and his sleuthing efforts are documented in the blog -- really fun reading. Bottom line to his probing is that even if S. Larson does exist, it is quite likely that he or she is NOT the author of each letter and instead underlings send them out with the signature file attached. Most of the posts responding to Sullivan's blog give similar stories and similar frustrations in attempting to communicate with CitiCard. A couple of posts are from people who say they were employees of CitiCard and knew S. Larson (referred to as Sue, Sandy or Sandi, depending on the post) personally. However, aside from identifying her as female, not much information is given that might put this to rest.

The idea of signing all letters regarding customer relations issues with a genderless, computerized signature (even if the signer exists) is just plain bad business practice. And if the signer does not exist at all, or actually doesn't have any personal involvement in the issues addressed in the letter, this is deceptive and insulting to customers. But I guess we've now come not to expect much more than this from the financial industry.

I wonder if S. Larson got his/her bailout bonus this year?

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