Do you have difficulty expressing yourself?

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When I use the phrase “expressing yourself,” I’m making a pun. Today’s column is about my recent Battle Royale with American Express….

I’ve been fighting a guerrilla war with American Express since last November.

On the theory that my experience might help you in expressing yourself – whether trying to arrange interviews with difficult people, negotiating with challenging bosses or simply dealing with your own customer service nightmares – here is my story.

My problem started when a client was unable to buy my book using American Express. I called my shopping cart company and they told me to talk to my web developer. I did and he immediately worked his magic on the back end of my site.

But the card still didn’t work. I called back the shopping cart. A second account rep told me I needed to set up an account with Amex. I thought I had one already, but I called Amex. And that’s where the real craziness began.

First, it took me days to get through to them. Their line either rang busy or their outrageously complex phone tree repeatedly – and unceremoniously – dumped me out to a dial tone. Finally, I figured out a way to “game” the system (I did something like press 2 instead of 5, even though I wasn’t supposed to). Finally, I encountered a real person. She was reasonably pleasant and set up an interview for me. A few days later the interview took place and they told me it would take 24-to-48 hours to activate my account. I waited and then tested.

Guess what? The card still didn’t work. I called the shopping cart again and they processed the information again, telling me to check in 48 hours. I did. It still didn’t work. I asked to speak with a supervisor. After a 45-minute conversation, he figured out the problem was that I am a Canadian who charges in US dollars. Thus, I required what’s called a multi-currency account. He sent me back to Amex.

Amex: The Horror Story 2, resumed. I requested an interview with a multi-currency specialist. Several days later the interview took place. The rep was polite and efficient. But thank goodness at the end of the call I made a joke about my multi-currency requirement. The rep told me he dealt only with Canadian currency.

It took another week before the correct interview could be scheduled. And after that they sent me a pile of paperwork, which I duly completed. When, at last, everything was approved, they let me know the fee. There’s a percentage taken off the top and an annual charge of $200. I was horrified.

I contacted the local sales rep and said in view of the dozens hours of my time they had wasted, I thought they should waive the fee for the first year. He told me no. I asked to speak to a supervisor. He said he didn’t have one (!)

I called the US number and made the same pitch. At least I got more traction there. The kind sales rep agreed with me and agreed to waive it.

Good thing I wrote down her name, because when I called to check on this at the end of January, they had no record of the promise. I then spent another month calling back and forth with a variety of reps to ensure the fee would be waived for the first year.

By the end of February, I thought my Amex nightmare was settled but, as I was writing this story, I had another call. When I signed the Amex paperwork I had listed myself as “principal” of the Publication Coach. Apparently, this term is not recognized by the US government. So now I must write a letter using a new term (director.)


If you ever need to fight for yourself, here are five tips that should help:

  1. Be unfailingly polite: Strong sunshine causes people to take off their jacket more easily than wind. Use a patient voice. Don’t whine.
  2. Ask to speak to a supervisor: Sometimes they are the only ones who can help.
  3. Tell them what’s in it for “them.” It might be your future business. The chance to tell their side of the story. The opportunity to avoid bad publicity.
  4. Document everything. I always use the address book in my iPhone to write down the name of everyone I speak with and record the date.
  5. Be tenacious: As Benjamin Franklin put it: “Energy and persistence conquer all things.”

By the way, if you use American Express and want to buy my book, my course or my coaching, be sure to do it within a year. There’s an excellent chance I won’t renew with them.

Do you have difficulty expressing yourself with big companies or in seemingly hopeless situations? We can all learn from each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me by commenting below. (If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.)


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