An Artist’s Lament: when American Express is not so Express / by Jeannine Cook


Every artist can only devote a certain number of hours to art-making. Life is often full of problems that rob one of that precious time that one normally uses to create art. Increasingly, I resent such situations, as time is already short enough to work at something creative. So when I experience incompetence and ineptitude that cost me time and effort and also add stress, it is not good!   A huge problem that has been on-going since June 2015 has been my seemingly “good idea” to enroll in American Express’ Auto-Pay programme so as not to have to worry about my monthly account when I am outside the United States. I started off diligently filling out the requisite forms on their Amex website. I found the form badly written and often malfunctioning. Eventually I invoked the live chat people to ensure that all was correctly done: “oh yes”, I was assured.

I receive confirmatory e-mails to say all is good to go - ha ha! Quite by chance, I check on it all, only to discover that in fact, nothing has been set up. So I have a conversation of literally about 1 ½ hours with Amex people, all parroting their placating formulae, about how they feel my pain - and end up with one gentleman, Nimit, in the Credit Department, who claims to have unsnarled the seeming dysfunction on American Express’ Auto Pay page for me. He guaranteed that all was now corrected, gave me his ID number, SDL 513, and so, on 11th June, I thought I could go back to being an artist.

Dream on. I am back in the States in October, checking on something entirely different on the Amex website, when I spot a seemingly anomaly in payments. So I phone to enquire and am cheerfully told that I am certainly not enrolled in the Auto Pay programme! So this time, the conversation on the phone with one supervisor, Jamal, whose ID # 57840 I was also given, was an odyssey. It was stressful in the extreme - bad for creativity – and went round and round in utterly nonsensical, ridiculous circles. I was supposed to do everything yet again on the website – but no assurance was given that anything might work. it was obviously all my fault - I must have invented the digits on my bank account number so that there were thirteen (despite the fact that for umpteen years, I have paid my monthly bill with cheques on the same account!). Eventually, he went over the entries with me that I was making on the computer on the requisite Amex page and again I was finally assured that all was correct. By now, I was distinctly feeling that if American Express was so hopeless with this process, what other areas of their business were equally dysfunctional? And I also discovered that American Express apparently does not have any telephone lines on which they call out: the customer has to call and, guess what, it is almost certain that he or she will never again get the same person, so the whole issue would have to be once more explained and the wheel re-invented over and over again. Amazing!

I again distrusted this whole affair, so in early December, I told an Amex lady by phone to go ahead and use all the information to pay the due account, earlier than needed, as a “dry run” to ensure that the system really was working and that American Express could “talk” to my bank account. That worked, Amex could grab their money. But and such a big but, my time for art was still not available, courtesy of American Express.

I check again, and the predictable story – “no, you are not enrolled in Auto Pay”. December 2nd was another day’s utterly wasted hours, with another supervisor Lulu, who eventually agreed with me that the whole thing was completely ridiculous once I had suggested she cut out the canned conversations and really help resolve the conundrum. She revealed that American Express actually has a department where people really type on keyboards and enter things for people who do not have computers, etc., so she would tell them to enter all the tracking codes and account number yet again. She even confirmed, oh amazement, that the numbers I had been almost repeating in my sleep of my account number were indeed correct, that no, the tracking numbers had not changed (I was checking that on-line as we spoke!). In other words, American Express’ software for the Auto Pay page has to be defective. So her parting assurances were that she was going to keep an eye on this issue and ensure that all was done correctly.

It almost beggars belief that even then, I was not a happy artist. In quick succession, I receive three e-mails sent in the wee morning hours of the same day: all saying different things about being enrolled or not enrolled, but the last one congratulated me on being enrolled in American Express’ Auto Pay programme and that the first payment would be done in January 2016. However, out of total distrust of Amex by now, I phone to verify the situation, only to be told once again that no, I was certainly not enrolled in this programme. Why can I get a phone bill or electricity bill organized in automatic payment immediately but not American Express?

Eternity's Gate,1890, Vincent Van Gogh (painted during a time of great stress)

Eternity's Gate,1890, Vincent Van Gogh (painted during a time of great stress)

So on 10th December, this one very irritated artist spends yet another hour on the phone, this time with purportedly a supervisor’s supervisor, one Ronnal (again providing his ID #38492). Once more, the platitudes proliferate. They must have almost run out of the prepared soothing nonsenses to mouth at the customer by this time in my case. This gentleman ends by assuring me that no, none of this made sense, that he was going to the requisite department to sort out the problem and that he guaranteed he would come back to me by telephone to my home that day or the next. Amazing – he must have had a telephone specially installed to call me??

But no, evidently not. I am still waiting to hear from the gentleman. He was unavailable when I called, now almost in a spirit of “let’s see how far this outrageously dysfunctional and dishonest behavior can go with American Express?” By chance, the same Jamal to whom I had previously spoken answered the phone. He seemed a little surprised to have his ID# quoted back to him. He undertook to e-mail Ronnel, the “supervisor’s supervisor”, that I was still awaiting news. So far, no news as of January 6th, 2016, some six months after trying to enroll in American Express’ Auto Pay.

So I have two questions: the first, what could I develop as art as a result of this inconceivably incompetent and inefficient performance on American Express’ part?

The second, more practical, is: why should anyone trust American Express to conduct any business correctly, efficiently and honourably, based on my and others' experience in this issue?

Francisco Goya, Capricho 42 - "Tu que no puedes - Thou who cannot " (those who ride on the backs of the hard-working poor), print, image courtesy of the Museo del Prado

Francisco Goya, Capricho 42 - "Tu que no puedes - Thou who cannot " (those who ride on the backs of the hard-working poor), print, image courtesy of the Museo del Prado