From “system update” to “system outage” — get your story straight, Citibank!

Silence followed by laughter was not quite what I was expecting to hear yesterday from a customer service representative at one of the “top” major banks as millions of customers lost access to their money for hours.

Having worked in retail and currently working in customer support for many years, I actually loved the “customer is always right” policy and still stand by it. Customers need to FEEL the empathy from the other line, from the live chat, from the customer service rep standing right in front of them. Any halfway decent human being working in customer service will understand that his or her service has the potential to make a huge difference (both good and bad). Both amazing and horrible customer service tactics can go viral — this can either make or break a company’s reputation, cause embarrassment, or generate tons of new business.

I was checking out at the local Publix getting groceries for the weekend when I was surprised by the “Not Authorized” text shown on the debit card machine as I tried to pay. Thinking I probably entered the pin number wrong, I tried again — same error. As there were people behind me, I had to step away from the checkout counter and call Citibank to make sure everything was ok. I was 100% sure of the amount of money I had in my account, so I didn’t have much to panic about… yet.

Frantically Googling Citibank customer service phone numbers on my phone as each number led to a dead end/horrible fax machine sound was starting to put me into panic mode. I must’ve tried calling 5 or 6 different numbers at least 10–15 times. I finally reached a rep who was of no help other than saying “sorry, we’re currently updating our system” and could not tell me when my card would work again or more importantly, why I was NOT NOTIFIED. For one of the biggest banks in the country promoting smart financial planning, they sure are poor planners when it comes to their own customers. I did a quick search online for any information on this and while surprisingly no outlets were covering this issue yet, there were a bunch of comments on downdetector.com from customers who were trying but failed to pay bills or close out a restaurant because of their cards not working.

Oh, and the customer service representative didn’t hold back their laughter at the end of that initial call as I was trying to get some answers. Tried to call back after that non-informative conversation and got a lady who answered, said to call back in 4 hours, and hung up. So, to get this straight — company experiences system breakdown/outage/who knows without telling anyone= hang up on your customers, laugh, and don’t forget the “snark” in your tone.

The customer service representative I talked to today also laughed at the end while also adding in with an undeniably self-righteous tone that she “knew I was looking for compensation.” I’m not a yeller, I don’t use horrible wording, I don’t name-call , and I certainly didn’t ask for any money— all I wanted to see was what they could do for the inconvenience and what even happened in the first place. Today, the customer service (hate to use this phrase as this was not representative of any kind of a “service”) representative couldn’t even tell me exactly what the issue was — she used the phrase “system outage” which was different than what the rep said when I first called yesterday. Tomato, tomato, right?

How can a company that handles something so sensitive to people be so insensitive when an issue that was completely on them affected most of their customers? Well, Citibank, here’s hoping your PR team blows us away over the next couple of days to make this right. Until then, hope those two customer service representatives enjoy their weekends worry-free spending money at their own leisure. Too bad the company you work at can’t provide that.