I had an unexpectedly pleasant experience at Safeway a couple of weeks ago. I was buying falafel mix and decided to buy it in bulk rather than in a box because the per-pound cost came out a little cheaper. When I got to the register, the falafel rang up at a higher per-pound price than it was supposed to. It was something like $2.29 per pound instead of $1.89 per pound. I mentioned this to the cashier but she had already swiped my card, so I paid and headed over to the customer service desk.

While standing in line at customer service, I started to question why I was haggling over what only amounted to a difference of about forty cents. The person in front of me was doing some transaction that required the cashier to count out a stack of small bills one by one, and my Creamsicles were starting to melt, and I almost said ‘forget it’ and left the store forty cents poorer. It wasn’t the forty cents that bugged me, though, but the fact that I had made a point of buying the bulk falafel to save a little money, and had been incorrectly charged. So I waited it out. When it was my turn the cashier looked up falafel in the computer and insisted it was the higher price, so I asked her to go over to the bulk section and check. She did, and came back with the sticker that had been on the bin, which advertised the lower price.

This is where the pleasant surprise comes in. All I was expecting was to get back the difference, but not only did she refund the entire price of the falafel, she also gave me a $5 gift card in accordance with Safeway’s “price guarantee” policy. (I couldn’t find any information about this policy on Safeway’s website, but I did come across this article, that talks about a settlement Safeway recently paid out after charging customers incorrectly, and the implementation of a new price guarantee of up to five dollars if they mess up.) I ended up with about eight dollars in my pocket, free falafel mix, and a warm fuzzy feeling thanks to the positive customer service experience. I certainly hadn’t expected it from a juggernaut like Safeway.

Of course, the universe maintains a fiendish sense of balance, and a few days later this good experience was followed by an extremely annoying one with Chase, my credit card company.

I have had a Chase credit card for about three years. I also happen to bank with Chase, since they took over Washington Mutual. I consistently pay my credit card bills in full, in advance of the deadline, via an online transfer through the Washington Mutual (now Chase) website.

At the end of June, I did an online transfer to pay off the full balance on my credit card, but for some unknown reason the transfer didn’t go through. The bank couldn’t explain why and I didn’t receive any notification that anything was wrong, so I only found out two days after the credit card bill was due, when I checked my balance and saw that I’d been slapped with a $39 late fee. I tried calling Chase credit card services to explain what had happened and was told that I was out of luck; their policy is that they’ll never reverse a late fee unless Chase is at fault. (The irony of Chase bank being at fault for dropping the ball on the online transfer was lost on the Chase credit card rep I spoke with.) I understand the reason for charging a late fee if a bill is paid late, but considering I have always paid on time and in full, and that this wasn’t my fault, and that I paid the balance in full as soon as I found out about it, I was hoping Chase’s customer service folks would be a little more understanding, and credit back the late fee. Isn’t retaining a loyal and financially responsible customer worth more than thirty-nine bucks?

I sent Chase a letter explaining the situation and expressing my disappointment over how it was handled, and figured that would be the end of it. Then today I got this month’s bill and found that in addition to the $39 late fee, I also have to pay a $13.95 finance charge because last month’s bill was late. I called Chase again and was frostily told by a supervisor that finance charges can’t be reversed. No ‘I’m sorry,’ no ‘Wow, that really sucks, but it’s out of my hands.’ Not even a ‘Have a nice day.’ All she said was that I should sign up for automatic billpay to avoid finance charges in the future. Once again, the fact that all of this happened due to an unsuccessful online transfer through Chase bank made no impact whatsoever.

Having to pay $53 for a bill that was two days late is pretty excessive, especially since the late payment wasn’t my fault and was in fact the fault of the bank affiliated with the credit card, but it’s not only the fees that upset me. I’m more bothered by the customer service reps’ unwillingness to listen to me or extend any sympathy over the situation. While I was working at Telltale I handled their customer service, and I dealt with a lot of upset customers. Sometimes I felt people were asking for things they didn’t deserve… people who decided after they received the product that they didn’t want it, and expected us to cover their shipping charges for the return, or people who demanded compensation when we offered a discount on something they’d purchased at full price a year previously. To these customers, I tried my best to be friendly and sympathetic, even though I couldn’t give them what they were asking for. But most people who wrote in for support had legitimate gripes, and I’d do whatever I could to make it right, which often meant giving them something for free. It made me feel good to be able to help them, and I heard back from more than one person that they were impressed by the service. (Apparently I’m not the only person who appreciates the unexpected surprise of a positive support experience!)

I’m still waiting for an answer to the letter I sent when the initial late fee was charged, and while I hope that I’ll be pleasantly surprised by an apology and an offer to reverse the late fee, I’m not holding my breath. I could get huffy and take my business elsewhere, but I wonder what the point would be. It’s not going to make any difference to a juggernaut like Chase, and it probably won’t give me enough satisfaction to outweigh the hassle, and it definitely won’t get me my $53 back. But this is just like when I was standing in line at the Safeway customer service desk with soggy Creamsicles starting to soak through the bottom of my shopping bag, asking myself why I wasting my time haggling over forty cents. It’s not about the money. If I do leave Chase, it will be because I feel like this company really doesn’t care if I have a positive experience as their customer, and I’d rather not give my money—consistently paid in full, in advance of the due date—to a company like that.