Friday, February 9, 2007


I tend to forget that I have a credit card that racks up "thank you" points when I use it. As a result, I end up with thousands of points that can be used to procure things like vacuum cleaners and restaurant gift certificates and other goodies it's nice to get for free rather than actually pay for. Both my kids recently moved into new apartments and both, interestingly, demonstrated enthusiasm for the idea of a vacuum cleaner. So I thought - thank you points.

I log on today, find I have the usual zillion points and identify a nice ultra-light little vacuum cleaner perfect for someone who still has several additional moves ahead and doesn't want to get over-burdened with things that are hard to carry (like my two favorite such someones). I order one and enter the address. I click on Place Order. All goes well. I order a second and enter the second address. I click on Place Order and this time the thank you screen informs me that my order has been placed and the vacuum will be shipped to me. I don't want any vacuum cleaners, so I look for a way to cancel or modify the order. There is none. I do find a telephone number, though, so I call it. It's promptly answered by one of those voice recognition ladies. She tells me a bunch of things I don't want or need to hear, then starts asking me to "state or enter" info like my phone number, zip code and SSN. I do so. She tells me my point balance (another thing I'm uninterested in, particularly since I have it on the screen in front of me). Then, she tells me to listen carefully to my options. All I want is an operator - a human one, although the voice recognition lady does seem nice - but of course that's the last option. I hit 5. A voice does a little commercial for the thank you site. A human answers and asks to whom he is speaking. This question strikes me as odd since I just entered my entire life story for the voice recognition lady, but I swallow my irritation and tell him my name. Pleasantly. He asks me how he can help. I tell him. He apologizes and calls me ma'am about 12 times (despite having just asked me for my name), but the system is down and there's no way he can help me. No, I can't fix the problem online either. His suggestion is that I call back "in a few hours or tomorrow." I want to swear, but I ask (still pleasantly) if there's a way to bypass the time I spent with the voice recognition lady when I call back. Lots more calling me ma'am (until I can't stand it any more and ask him to quit calling me ma'am), but there isn't. I say goodbye.

I really don't want a vacuum cleaner to be shipped to me, so I read some email and some news stories, all the while watching the clock. After 90 minutes, I can't stand it any more, so I take a deep breath and call the number again. The voice recognition lady and I repeat our conversation, I hear the same commercial, and this time a new guy named Mike asks to whom he is speaking. I tell him and ask if the system is back up. He says yes. I explain my problem. In a burst of irrelevance, he tells me they no longer want to use SSNs for security purposes and asks if I could pick something else. I do. He then logs into my account, finds the bad order, asks for the correct shipping address (and is audibly typing it in as I tell him), then asks me to hold. I do. After some ghastly music (but no more commercials), Mike tells me Mary Ellen is on the phone with us. She's a supervisor and she'll handle the address change. I say ok and Mike says goodbye. Mary Ellen says hello and asks me for the correct shipping address. With some amazement evident in my voice, I tell her I just gave it to Mike. She apologizes for the inconvenience (and calls me ma'am). I give her the address and listen to her type it in. (Where did Mike's input go??) Mary Ellen tells me that when I place orders online, "for my protection" I will never be allowed to specify an address other than my billing address. I reply (still pleasantly, although it's killing me) that not 5 minutes before the bad order, I did just that. She assures me that's impossible. I resist asking why there's a button to click that says "Send to alternate address." (Really, could the explanation be anything but ludicrous?) Instead, I assure her that it was completely possible. She says we better check on the other order because, really, it's impossible. She pulls up the other order. It correctly states the alternate shipping address. She's amazed. I'm now trying not to laugh. (My husband, who normally makes this sort of call because I can't be trusted to behave properly, is laughing helplessly as he listens to my end of the conversation.) Mary Ellen gabs for a while about the old system and the new system, assures me that no vacuum cleaners will be coming to Nevada and asks me if there's anything else she can help me with. I say no and we part pleasantly.

I know the odds of a vacuum cleaner coming to Nevada are very high, but my fingers are crossed. All I can think is that I should have bought more expensive vacuum cleaners so I wouldn't have so many points left. I can only hope they don't expire before I have the will to face another redemption.

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