Consumer Alert: Customer disservice. How one man’s incredible story has a lesson for us all.
News10NBC has edited this story to correct the spelling of Kurt Hertzog’s name.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — This consumer alert concerns a guy you know. You know Kurt Hertzog because you are Kurt Hertzog. I’m Kurt Hertzog. We’re all Kurt Hertzog because we all have had his experience. We’ve all called customer service and gotten no service at all, leaving us fuming, frustrated and fatigued.
But Hertzog did not give up. He emailed me. And that led me to investigate how to actually get service when you contact customer service.
To call Hertzog loyal is a bit of an understatement. When he needs a new car, he buys but one brand, General Motors. It’s the only automobile brand he’s owned for almost 50 years.
So you can only imagine what it took to push him to contemplate defection from the only brand of car he’s owned since 1974.
"Know what?” Hertzog asked bending toward me. “For the first time in my life, just out of frustration, I’m going to be shopping somewhere else."
Yep, the guy who has been a GM loyalist since Gerald Ford was in The White House is contemplating defection. Hertzog is at wit’s end. It all started last August.
"So two and a half years into my lease I get an email saying you know, ‘Your account’s overdue.’ And I look at it and go, ‘Excuse me, What do you mean the account’s overdue?’" Hertzog said.
When he checked his online account he found he owed $634.51. How could that be? GM Financial takes Hertzog’s car note of $258.96 straight from his bank account every month.
"Here’s March,” Hertzog said pointing to a stack of statements. “Zero due, zero finance. Here’s April. Zero due Zero finance. We can go through this each and every month."
We did just that. And for two and a half years, GM Financial sent him a statement that said his car note was paid. Total due? Zero. And so he called GM Financial again. He recounted what a customer service agent told him.
"’Your account shows that you’ve been logging late charges every month for two and a half years,’” he remembered being told. “And I said, ‘Okay, why did it take two and a half years before I got an email?’”
They had no explanation. So then Hertzog asked the question every customer should when front-line agents don’t have an answer.
"’Can I speak to a supervisor?’” Hertzog remembers asking.
“’Sorry none are available,’” the customer service agent told him.
“’None are available?’” Hertzog asked incredulously.
“’They’re out to lunch,’" the agent insisted.
But Hertzog is not a man easily deterred.
"I call back two weeks later and I got somebody in a different state and a different phone line,” Hertzog said. “And I asked the same question. “’What’s going on?’ ‘We don’t know.’"
"And finally they said, ‘Ya know, we don’t have any answers, but we’ll get to dig into it and call you back.’"
It was the call that never came. So the retired GM engineer studied his paperwork and thinks he found the problem. He leased the car in February of 2018 and set up auto-pay. But it doesn’t appear his paperwork was processed in time for his first payment in March, so GM didn’t begin auto-pay until April. Unbeknownst to Hertzog, the March payment was never withdrawn.
"When I sit down and figure it out, it looks like it’s one car payment,” Hertzog said.
And when you add a late fee of $12.95 for 29 months, the total is $375.55. But why did it take GM Financial two and a half years to catch the missed payment?
"If I did something wrong, I’ll pay the penalty. But I’m not going to let you rack up 26 months of late payments and then tell me,” Hertzog said. “That’s like kicking your dog two days after they did their business in the wrong part of the house!"
To avoid damaging his credit, Hertzog paid the entire bill. But because GM never informed him of the missed payment, Hertzog has been fighting for a late fee refund. Phone calls. Emails. Online chats. He estimates that over seven months, he has spent 30 hours in a frustratingly futile fight.
"The money really is not the issue,” Hertzog said leaning toward me intently. "What really troubles me is you don’t treat people this way."
Annette Franz is the CEO of CX Journey, based in California. She literally wrote the book on customer service.
She advises that like Hertzog, the customer should come armed with good records concerning your purchase, a good attitude and records of every conversation with customer service.
"Take notes when you’re calling customer service,” Franz said. “Keep dates and times and the agents’ names that you spoke to, what they said, and what they said they would do as next steps.”
But when all else fails, take your case to social media. Franz says because big companies have social media teams, stating your case on Twitter or Facebook can be very effective as a last resort.
I reached out GM Financial by email, sending them proof the company failed to notify Hertzog about the missed payment until 29 months after the fact. And in days, Hertzog got a check in the mail.
"And had you not intervened, I probably would still be messing with these folks, probably not successfully,” Hertzog said.
Score one for David in his battle against Goliath. It’s time for a new lease. Will his next car be made by General Motors?
“I’m still going to be a GM customer, but I’m tellin’ ya, I’m not going to let them get away with one little iota," Hertzog said.
But in the end, Hertzog decided against a new lease. Instead, he bought his leased car with cash and avoided financing entirely.
When you’re calling customer service, Here’s Deanna’s Do List.
- Keep good records. It was easy for me to plead his case because I had evidence that GM Financing never informed him about the missed payment.
- Take notes during the call including the name of the agent. If they give you a first name ask for last initial. If the agent can’t help, ask to speak to a supervisor. And don’t give up until they make one available.
- When all else fails, take your case to social media.
For Hertzog, it was never about the money. He gave me a greeting card, and inside was a check for $375.55. He asked me to give the money to my favorite charity, and so the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester just got a donation from Kurt Hertzog.
And that’s your consumer alert.