A Customer Experience Journey

Signing Up for CitiCards Rewards Proves Daunting

October 5, 2006

Citibank changed the rewards on my preferred credit card, offering a bonus for paying household utilities with the credit card. But signing up the various utilities to take advantage of this offer proved to be somewhat of an exercise in f(utility). This report documents my customer experience with Citibank as well as my utility providers: Comcast, KeySpan, NSTAR, and Verizon.


When the terms and conditions of my Citibank credit card rewards program changed, I followed my own customer scenario to maximize the new reward offers. In this situation, that meant signing up to pay my monthly home utilities with the Citibank card. I needed information from each of the utility providers as well as from Citibank to proceed.

My approach was to first browse the appropriate Web site for information on how to set up recurring utility payments with a credit card, then to search for the appropriate information to see whether browsing or searching was more efficient and yielded the same results.

I then contacted each company’s telephone support line to see what information and assistance was available.

My results were mostly disappointing:

* Citibank had no mechanism in place to facilitate signing up utility payments.

* KeySpan didn’t accept credit card payments at all.

* NSTAR (through payment partner Western Union) charges a transaction fee for each credit card payment.

* Verizon and Comcast could both set up recurring credit card payments.

Results aside, the customer experience on the Web sites and the telephone lines all had their positives and (more often) negatives. This report documents my journey of f(utility).


Recently, I was sent a notice by Citibank, with whom I have a Citi® Dividend Platinum Select MasterCard, telling me that the rewards program was changing. I signed up for the card and used it extensively because of the reward structure: five percent cash dividend at gas stations, pharmacies, and supermarkets; one percent cash dividend for all other purchases. With the prices of gas, groceries, and drugs, I was earning major rewards each month. And I faithfully used this card as my primary credit card, providing good business for Citibank.

The new offer kept the one percent on most purchases, but lowered the five percent premium reward for those specialized retailers to two percent. But we card owners could now also earn two percent on utility payment if we pay with the CitiCard.

As a customer, I resent when terms of an agreement are changed, especially when the new terms, upon close inspection, are heavily weighted towards provider benefits rather than customer benefits. But I understand the need for companies to make money, so I contacted Citibank to discuss the rewards program and to make sure I would get the most out of my rewards program. What follows is my (mostly depressing) journey through less than optimal customer experiences.

Customer Scenario

The scenario I wanted was pretty straightforward. I wanted to pay my monthly utilities with the Citi Dividend Platinum Select card and reap the financial rewards. And I had a very important condition of satisfaction: I wanted to enter all the information once and have it taken care of every month without having to even think about it.

VARIATION OF CLASSIC BREAK/FIX SCENARIO. In fact, this is an interesting variation of a typical break/fix scenario--sometimes a company has to "break" its promise/customer expectation for good business reasons. This change of terms and conditions often throws the customer into a break/fix mindset--“How do I ‘fix’ this so I still get the most I can from this provider?” Conditions of satisfaction are similar to those in a break/fix scenario:

* I am happy with the result.
* It was easy to achieve the result I wanted.
* I am confident that this problem won’t happen again.
* I had a great customer experience.

Too often, unfortunately, the company doesn’t think through the scenario from the customer's standpoint. The company’s scenario is based on profit margins, not customer satisfaction.

My Research Approach

As I went through my own scenario, I applied a simple pattern to my research:

1. Browse the Web site of the provider to find information on signing up for recurring utility payments by credit card.

2. Search the Web site for that information.

3. Call the customer support telephone line to speak to a customer service representative to find out the desired information.

What follows documents my experience with Citibank, KeySpan, NSTAR, Verizon, and Comcast ...


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