We got your number: 'Executive customer service' can get you better bank service

Pssst! ... Want to know a secret? Banks actually have two customer-service departments. The one all of you are probably familiar with is regular customer service. But financial institutions also have what's called "executive customer service" - and these guys (and gals) can perform magic.

The blog Consumerist dedicated this post to a reader's experience with Chase's executive customer service. The short version: After being turned down by ordinary customer service when he asked for a lower rate, Chase's executive customer service department dropped the cardholder's APR from 26% to 9% for a year. He also got three months' worth of finance charges refunded.


While this might sound like a good-news urban legend, it's not. What's more, executive customer service departments at banks all across the U.S. have helped other savvy cardholders get a better deal.

Blogger Kelly Whalen, who types budget-minded advice and observations at thecentsiblelife.com, writes here about an experience she had with Chase's executive customer service. When her APR was hiked, she took to Google and dug up an executive service number. After a bit of persuading, she got the agent to give her back her old rate for her existing balance. There are others who report getting rate relief from executive customer service. For instance, take a look at this comment thread: The user calling him or herself Stickinthemud also managed to head off a rate hike from Chase with this method.

Chase, for its part, didn't seem too happy that WalletPop was taking an interest in its luxury-box service. Chase wouldn't answer a question about how commonly experiences like the one recounted on Consumerist take place.

When asked why the bank doesn't publicize the executive customer service phone number and give everyone that service to begin with, a spokesperson replied in an email, "It's most efficient for customers to contact us using the number on the back of their credit cards because they will reach advisors who specialize in their particular card product."

So remember, if customer service turns you down and you have to track down the number for executive customer service to get what you want, that's the bank helping you be more efficient. Thanks!

The trick to reaching an executive customer service representative is knowing where to look. Banks don't exactly put their executive customer service phone number front and center on their websites; you have to do a bit of sleuthing to find the magic number. Chase's executive customer service information is in the post linked above. Here are a few other links to the executive customer service divisions of various national banks, also courtesy of the digital gumshoes at Consumerist:

Bank of America
HSBC
Citibank
Wells Fargo

Now, a discussion of the rules of the road are in order. For starters, be nice to them. They don't technically have to do anything for you, so if you're hot under the collar about how much you're paying in interest, get it out of your system first by venting to a friend (or on a blog like WalletPop!) Next, think about what you can live with. Maybe having a lower rate for a year like the Consumerist reader's story would give your financials enough breathing room. Maybe, like Kelly Whalen, you've made a project of paying down your credit cards, so a higher rate on future charges wouldn't affect you. Maybe you'd like an APR of 9% but you'll settle for 15%.

Think of yourself as someone shopping for a service, because that's what you're doing. You wouldn't walk into a store or approach a kiosk without having a clue what you wanted, so you shouldn't in this case, either. Finally, if they show you some love, thank them. Yes, they're just doing their job, but who doesn't appreciate a heartfelt "thank you?"

Contacting executive customer service is also worth a try if you want to get a charge such as an overdraft fee waived. The commenters on this blog post report numerous success stories getting those annoying -- and expensive -- fees removed by Bank of America's executive customer service, even some who admit it was their own mistake that got them socked with the charge in the first place.

Also keep in mind that it's not just banks that have executive customer service departments. Last year, MSNBC profiled customers of all sorts of services who decided they were mad as heck and not going to take it anymore. (Main takeaway: Contacting executive customer service generally gets you further than smashing an electronic device.) So if you have a beef with your cell phone bill, your cable service or the like, try typing the name of your provider along with the phrase "executive customer service" into a search engine.

If you find it absurd or maddening that banks make you jump through a bunch of hoops just to get your interest rate down to a manageable level, you're not alone. Kathleen Day, a spokesperson at the Center for Responsible Lending, told WalletPop in an interview that executive customer service is just another example of the two-tiered system the banking industry embraces. "There are many inequalities. It takes time to go though all this, and people who are barely holding on or maybe have two jobs aren't going to have time to surf the Internet and then stay on hold on the phone." Never mind the fact that people without Internet access probably won't be able to get their hands on an executive customer service number at all.

One last insult to injury? Since many executive customer service numbers aren't toll free, calling -- and holding -- might mean paying long-distance charges.

"What they're counting on is if you put enough hoops for customers to jump through, some people won't even bother," says Day. "The more hoops, the fewer people will get through."

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