Seriously, how do companies stay in business?
Let's try even to look at a company I love, Amazon.com.
I recently got a new Visa card after some child attempted to purchase $400 worth of games at a gaming website using my account. I forgot all the 34789647 places I had my old number stored, and one of them was my "One-Click" settings on Amazon.com.
So I downloaded the mp3 of Martha Wainwright's new album, and was happily listening to it when Amazon sent me a note saying my purchase was canceled because I'd used an invalid credit card.
Oooops, I thought, and thus began my attempt to pay for my download.
I updated my credit card number. I emailed them using the contact system on the website. I got a couple of polite but non-responsive answers, and finally used their callback system, where a representative told me to enjoy my free download, because they had no mechanism in place to charge me for it. She was very nice, agreed it was something Amazon really needed to fix, and laughed with me at the complete ridiculousness of the situation.
But still, WTF, Amazon? Are you insane?
Now on to a story with less laughter.
I bought a plane ticket for someone else at United.com. I've done this before, at United and elsewhere, for various people and for various reasons, recently and over the years. I'm going to guess I'm not the only person on earth who has purchased plane tickets for other people. Perhaps I'm wrong.
They told me that when she checks in, she must have the credit card used to pay for the ticket.
I was perplexed. I emailed. The email I got in response didn't answer my question, instead addressing a completely different issue. Okay, they accidentally used the wrong form letter, I thought.
I emailed again, asking for the answer to my actual question.
In response, they said I should phone. The whole reason I didn't want to phone is that United puts you into what has to be the stupidest, most endlessly frustrating, totally aggravating automated phone system on earth, and no matter how you try to game it, it's almost impossible to manipulate the little robo-man into putting you through to a human being. But I persevered and eventually, a human came on the line.
I asked her what to do about the situation.
She told me to give my credit card number, expiration date, billing address, and the security number to the person checking in.
I was speechless. "So, why should I do that?"
"To protect you from fraud."
I laughed. "You mean to protect United from fraud, since I'm not liable for fraudulent charges to my credit card."
"Well, ma'am, I've already told you what the reason is. I understand your concern, but you must understand this is to protect you."
"No, what I understand is if I, say, want to buy a plane ticket for my kid, I'd have to give him my credit card information, which I might not want him to have and which is far more risky to me than using my credit card to purchase something online or over the phone from a corporation, something that, by the way, I do all the time without them getting upset that I can't physically show them my card."
She had nothing to say to that because there is nothing to say to that, other than to repeat: How do companies stay in business?