Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I’m still on a broom. Yesterday I received an email from JC Penney—specifically the CEO of JC Penney—saying that he “hears” us. I wondered so I emailed him back, or at least used the “contact us” button on the Penney’s website.

JC Penney was a part of my life until about eight years ago. I shopped at the downtown JC Penney in Seattle with my mother as a child. Theirs was the first credit card I got as a young adult. My children wore Penney’s overalls when they were babies and toddlers. They eagerly awaited the Christmas Penney’s wish-book’s arrival each fall so they could dream of what Santa was going to bring and I could calculate how much macaroni and cheese we’d have to eat to make their dreams come true. When we lived in Nachotta on Willapa Bay, and far from department stores, ordering over the phone was a treat. Penney’s saw me through babies, divorces, and remarriage. We refer to our wedding as a JC Penney wedding because my dress, the maid-of-honor’s dress, the flower girls dresses and the ring bearer’s suit all came from Penney’s sale catalogues. We should have been featured in a catalogue.

I should have realized that Penney’s was not the store of my childhood when I ordered the monogrammed sheets. When my son became engaged nine years ago I decided that I would order monogrammed sheets for him and his bride. I didn’t want the moon. I just wanted the initials in the right order. Since both of their first names begin with “J” I wanted to have the last initial “C” in the middle with a “J” on each side--JCJ. When the sheets arrived at the kids’ apartment the monogram was wrong. The bride didn’t want me disappointed so she didn’t tell me and took them back to Penney’s in Tacoma, explained the error and the sheets were reordered. Two weeks later they arrived, different, but wrong. It was at this point she decided to share the dilemma with me. This time Mama Bear took the sheets back to the store and tried explaining. The sheets were reordered again and two weeks later came back wrong a third time. This time I was irate. I took them back and drew what I wanted with a big red crayon and finally they got it right, but I remember at the time wondering where in the heck the monogramming was being done and did they understand the Latin alphabet.

That would be, not much. A month rolled around when my husband asked if I wanted to pay the Penney’s bill. Penney’s bill? I hadn’t bought anything from them in months. How could there be a bill? I looked at it to see what had been purchased. There was only the word “service.” Service? What service. I knew that Penney’s would soon straighten it out and take it off our account. I searched for a billing department number. Hmm. Nothing. Okay, customer service. I dialed the 800 number. “Hello,” said an obviously Indian voice, “this is Andrea. How may I help you?” I explained that I had a strange charge on my bill that I wanted taken off. “Are you sure you did not ask for insurance in case your account become delinquent?” No, I hadn’t used my card or done business with Penney’s in months. Take it off my bill. “We will launch investigation.” Investigation? Just take it off my bill. “We are not authorized to do that.” I hung up in disgust. I decided to dial the 800 number and get someone else. Clearly this woman didn’t understand English well enough to serve this customer. I’d just get someone else. I did. That person’s English was less good and their Indian accent even thicker. We went through this routine twice more, each time I was told that they were “launching investigation” and didn’t “Mr.” sign up for the service?, before I asked, “Are you inside any of the fifty United States?” Silence. “Okay,” I said, “I think I know how to solve the problem. Cancel my credit card and I won’t need insurance.” And that’s how Penney’s and I came to part ways.

Oh sure, I’ve shopped in the store a handful of times in eight years and used my Visa card. Then one of my student’s gave me a Penney’s gift card at the end of the school year. This fall I used it to order a comforter for my daughter off their websites clearance pages. Hence the email telling me that JC Penney’s hears me. I seriously doubt it. I emailed them and thanked them for their email. I asked if they still had their customer service in India? Today I received an email thanking ME for my email and telling me that as soon as they can process my query they will get back to me. I am annoyed by having to press anything for English. If I go to Mexico I expect customer service to be in Spanish and that I ought to count myself lucky if there’s a number to press for English, but here I expect the default to be English and for JC Penney’s to have a billing department that speaks English. That’s the view from my broom.

PS I had occasion to call AARP roadside service last week and got another “Andrea.” She got us a tow truck in jig time so I’m keeping my roadside service card…for the time being.


Lorraine Hart said...

I think Woolworth's might be the only department store I can remember going into with any regularity.

Personally, I am annoyed that JC Pennies (NOT) seem to be responsible for a million extra pieces of paper floating around and needing to be recycled. I'm sorry to see newspapers going the way of the dinosaur...but not at all sorry that those weighty paper ads go.

Stephanie Frieze said...

I received an email from Penney's informing me that their credit card is actually the responsibility of GE Bank and that it is THEIR customer service that is in India, not Penney's. I should think that the store would be interested in problems their customers have with their credit card. They seemed unconcerned to have lost us as customers.