How to Make Visa Obey Your Every Desire: The Credit Card Concierge Experiment

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The following post is a guest post by John Hargrave, whom I met in 2007 at SXSW.

If you find large-scale pranks (Super Bowl, anyone?), impersonating celebrities, and other clever mischief amusing, he’s the king of the domain. His book Prank the Monkey is a guide to unleashing your inner Loki.

Given my interest in outsourcing and pushing the envelope with concierge services, he suggested the following post, which looks at just how far VISA will go to keep you happy. I’ve run similar experiments with American Express Platinum Card with similar results. There are no credit card affiliate links in this post, so no ulterior motives. Just eager for you to reap benefits you’ve probably never taken advantage of. Enjoy.

Please share your success stories, past or present, in the comments.

Herewith enters Sir John Hargrave.

###

I recently signed up for The Visa SIGNATURE Chase Freedom card, for one reason: it has a concierge service. [Tim note: In fact, all of the “Visa Signature” cards have this concierge service, among other benefits]

A credit card concierge service is much like a hotel concierge service, except you don’t have to tip. A concierge is your own personal assistant, someone who will do anything you want them to do: make dinner reservations, book a trip to Hawaii, or shop for negligees for your grandmother.

We’re so used to being treated badly by credit card companies that it’s almost impossible to believe that they are serving you. But that’s how it works: they’re your virtual assistants, ready to help you with anything.

Anything?

I wanted to test the limits of my Visa Chase Freedom concierge service, so I spent a week making incredibly ridiculous requests, to see how they’d hold up…

TEST #1: GIANT TUB OF NACHO CHEESE

I made my first call to the Visa Chase Freedom concierge service by calling the toll-free number on the back of my card. I was connected to a concierge named David, who I pictured wearing a little bellboy hat, like a hotel concierge, though I think they just wear a telephone headset nowadays.

David spoke English, which was a nice change from my usual calls to Visa. “I’m traveling to Austin next week, and I want a big tub of nacho cheese. Make that a HUGE tub,” I told him. “Enough to fill a punch bowl.”

“Does it need to be in a tub?” he asked, taking the request with the seriousness of someone who worked for me.

“Can, jar, tub, I don’t care,” I said. “I just want liquid cheese, and a lot of it.”

“Would you like us to get back to you by phone or email?”

“Phone, please. I don’t want there to be any miscommunication about my cheese.”

“Is it okay if we have this information to you by 2:00 pm tomorrow?” he asked.

“That would be fine,” I responded, “as long as I get my cheese intel.”

“You’ll get it, sir,” he assured me. “Thank you for calling Visa Signature concierge service.”


Chase Freedom, before it runs away.

Here’s how the service works: your request is assigned a “case number,” which goes into an enormous pool of concierge requests. These requests get outsourced to overseas workers who track down the information and enter it into their system. Then you either get e-mailed, or an English-speaking worker phones you back the next day with what they’ve found.

“I have your information,” said a young woman named Jenny who called me the following day. “There is a supermarket in downtown Austin named Fiesta that sells large cans of nacho cheese.” She gave me the address, phone number, and the price of the cheese.

I went to Austin the following week, where I went to Fiesta, and I actually found the cheese exactly as she had described.

I was floored. This service was a dream come true. Just think of the ridiculous errands I could send them on next!

When I heard that the Visa Chase Freedom card came with a concierge service that would do anything I wanted, I had to put them to the test. Don’t we all want to make our credit card company work for us for a change?

TEST #2: CROSSWORD PUZZLE

“I’m really stuck on 62 across,” I complained to Maurice, the concierge who helped me the following night. I came to learn that I would get a different concierge every time I called, but they were all quite helpful, with none of the attitude that you normally get from customer service reps.

“What crossword puzzle are you doing, sir?”

“It’s the USA Today puzzle,” I said. “The clue is BLUE GROTTO LOCALE. I have no idea what that means.”

“Blue Grotto locale,” he repeated, writing it down.

“The only Grotto I know is at the Playboy Mansion,” I told him. “But this is 11 letters, and starts with I.”

“Okay,” he said. “You want to hang on?”

“Sure,” I said. He put me on hold for about two minutes—the same amount of time it usually takes me to get through to someone at Visa—and came back with the answer.

“You ready?” he said.

“What, you already got it?”

“The answer is ISLE OF CAPRI,” he said. “11 letters, starts with I.”


11 letters, starts with “I”.

“That’s incredible!” I exclaimed. “Are you like an idiot savant of puzzles?”

“You just happened to get someone who likes crosswords,” he said, modestly.

“I will call you every time I need a clue in the future!”

“Uh … okay!” he said, as brightly as he could.

How many times have you been at a restaurant, arguing with your friends about which President was the fattest, or whether Kevin Bacon has ever done a nude scene? Now you don’t need to pull out your smartphone and Google it, you can just call Visa and have them look it up for you.

Having a Visa worker do your bidding: much classier than an iPhone.

TEST #3: DAILY AFFIRMATIONS

“I suffer from low self-esteem,” I told Jamie, my new concierge. “My psychologist recommended that I give myself a daily affirmation. You know, something like, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.'”

“Okay,” said Jamie, not sure where this was heading.

“But that’s a lot of work, so I’m hoping you guys can do it for me. Just call and give me a daily affirmation.”

“You want us to call and tell you you’re a good person?”

“That’s right. I mean, if you think so. I’m not so sure myself.”

“If you can hold for one moment, I can check on this for you,” Jamie said.


Keep repeating this, and you can one day be Senator of Minnesota.

I bit my lip to keep from cracking up as she went to check with a supervisor. She came back with bad news. “I’m afraid we can’t do this for you,” she said, “but we can look up services that would do this for you.”

“What?” I asked. “Why? Am I not good enough? Oh, I knew it.”

“I’m sorry, we’re just not allowed to do anything of a medical or emotional nature.”

“You can’t tell me I’m good enough because I’m not,” I moaned. “Which is exactly what I thought!

“Sir,” she said patiently, “I’d be happy to look up other services that can send you these affirmations, and e-mail you that information.”

“Could you at least attach a little positive note to the e-mail?” I begged. “Just like, ‘Thanks for being you?'”

“Let me check with a supervisor,” she said, a little less patiently this time.

I pushed hard on the affirmation, and she asked a supervisor three times before I relented. Apparently Visa Signature couldn’t do quite anything, but I have to admit she did eventually come through on her promise, sending me this via e-mail:

Visa Signature Concierge

Dear John Hargrave,

Thank you for using Visa Signature® Concierge. The information you

requested is provided below.

Motivational Message Service

Please Note: Please find below one option for a company that

is able to provide phone, texts, and emails reminding you of “what a good

person you are.”

Company: MedVoice Inc.
Contact: Renee Dotson
Phone: 800/720-1151
Cost: $89.25 per month for unlimited messages.

I decided to let Visa have this round, since they did technically satisfy my request, which was to find someone who could send me love notes. But now it was time for a real challenge.

I had applied for a Visa Chase Freedom card, just so I could test if their concierge service would fulfill my every desire. So far they had done an amazing job, but now I was about to cross the final frontier.


TEST #4: SPACE TRAVEL

“I’d like to book a trip to space,” I said.

There was a pause. “You want us to send you to space,” said Courtney, my new concierge/slave.

“That’s right.”


Cost: $200,000, plus a $15 fee for extra bags.

“Well, I have heard there are companies who can send you to space.”

“Money is no object,” I said, “but I am on a budget.”

“So you want details on pricing?”

“Pricing, the waitlist, when I could travel, everything,” I said. “Also, medical restrictions. I have a weak spleen.”

“I guess you don’t need restaurant recommendations to go with that trip,” she cracked. Humor! I fell in love with the Visa Signature concierge service at that moment.

“That’s a great point!” I said. “What do they serve on these flights? I want to know what I’m going to get to eat in space.”

“Probably that astronaut ice cream,” she said.

“YES! Tang!”

“We’ll get this for you by 2:00 pm tomorrow,” she said.

Their time quotes vary, depending on how difficult they think the request will be, and probably how many wage slaves are available to look up your request in the Philippines. But my requests were generally answered in less than 24 hours.


Possibly the coolest name of any company, ever.

The next afternoon, I got my response via e-mail, outlining not one but TWO space travel companies (Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures), with medical restrictions (none that they could find), and meal options (peanuts or pretzels).

Another test passed. There was only one more thing to find out: could the Visa Signature concierge service investigate themselves?

TEST #5: WRITING THIS ARTICLE

“I’m a writer on deadline,” I told Bruce, my new concierge/manservant, “and I need to find out a little more about this Visa Signature concierge service. Are you familiar with this service?”

“I’ve heard of it, yes,” he said.

“Here’s what I need to know: is there anything you won’t do? Like, I assume you won’t help me find a contract killer, or overthrow a government. But what else? Where do you guys draw the line?”

There was a long pause. “May I place you on hold while I check on this for you?”

“You betcha.”

He came back a few minutes later, sounding a little bit shaken. “Okay, we can get you a list like that, but we’ll need about three days to put that together.”

“Oooh. That’s not going to work. I need to deliver this article tomorrow.”

“That’s the best we can do, sir.”

“That’s weird,” I said. “You shouldn’t have to research this one at all. Can’t you just read it from your training manual or something?”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“But my deadline really is tomorrow. I can’t finish the piece without it. I’m going to have to say Visa Signature concierge service couldn’t deliver the final thing I asked for.”

“We can deliver it,” he repeated patiently, “just not until Monday.”

“But the readers will never find out the answer,” I pressed.

“I apologize to your readers.” Bruce was polite to the end.

“All right,” I said. “They forgive you. Monday it is, then.”

All in all, I was incredibly impressed with the Visa Signature concierge service. It costs nothing beyond the annual card fee, and it’s helpful for so many occasions. There’s almost no limit to the things the concierges can do for you, except for… well, you know. Help you finish the end of your article.

Some things I guess you just have to do yourself.

(This post originally appeared on Credit Card Chaser)

Afterword from Tim: In the comments, several concierge service providers were kind enough to provide their thoughts, and one was kind enough to list some of the cannot-do’s. Here are a few:

1. We cannot get you an interview to work for a sports team.
2. We do not have special access to confidential government reports.
3. We do not have discounts for venues, restaurants, or services not included on the website http://www.visa.com/signature.
4. If a hotel is completely sold out and booked, we cannot reserve a room there; however we’d be glad to check other hotels nearby.
5. We cannot research your school paper, or do your job for you.
6. We can’t run personal errands or call your friends for you.
7. We can’t plan your wedding, but we can help you find a wedding planner.
8. As far as what’s considered unethical behavior, consider this an example: If child prostitution is legal somewhere, we won’t help you find one; however if you’re in Nevada and want to make an appointment for a rendezvous at the Bunny Ranch, we’d be glad to help you check rates and availability.
9. We don’t have access to your credit card account information or rewards program.

Please keep these not-so-unreasonable limitations in mind when you give us a call. We’ll hear from you soon.

Elsewhere on the Web – Odds and Ends:
Tim Ferriss on Angel Investing (video) – TechCrunch
How I answer the question “How should I monetize my blog?” (3-minute video)

Posted on: May 1, 2010.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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311 comments on “How to Make Visa Obey Your Every Desire: The Credit Card Concierge Experiment

    • Great post- I have been using my AMEX concierge like a VA on and off for the better part of three years now. They are wonderful- I am in Dallas, found out my girlfriend was having dinner w/a friend at a restaurant in Boston (1 hours notice) and wanted to send her flowers. (just to be a nice guy…)

      Called AMEX and they found a florist and had an arrangement (with lavander flowers, her favorite color) sent to the restaurant (by foot because of the short notice!) on her table waiting, total cost 40$. They made magic happen!

      Thanks-that earned me some big brownie points!

      Like

  1. I love this! I have this service with my card, but I’ve been too tentative to actually use it. I think I’ll see what kind of concert tickets they can come up with! Thanks Tim.

    Like

  2. uno what Erica? i was actually thinking that they would have had the nachos delivered….slightly below my expectation :)

    Like

  3. I called VISA concierge once and asked them to research the 10 best game fish in the world and where I could catch them. I had no reason to do this. I just felt like knowing. Here’s their response, which was amazing.

    Dear Brennan,

    Thank you for using the Visa Infinite Concierge Service. It has been our pleasure to handle your request. For your convenience, please find below specific information researched on your behalf.

    Game Fish and Ranges

    Please find below a list of the most-sought-after game fish with a description of the range for each. In order to research companies that offer fishing outings to target these species, we would need to know what your departure port would be, and which species you would prefer to target, and approximately when you planned on fishing.

    Atlantic Sail Fish – Located in southeastern coastal United States such as South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana; and into the Caribbean Sea. Atlantic Sail Fish is a popular game fish off the coast of Cancun, Mexico.

    Indo-Pacific Sail Fish – Located in the tropics and sub-tropical zones of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, they are popularly fished off of the West Coast of Central America.

    Sword Fish – Are a widespread game fish, found from the North Atlantic during the summer and fall, and more abundant near Florida in winter and spring. They are also located along most of the western coast of North and South America, as a particularly popular game fish off the coast of California.

    Blue Fin Tuna – Commonly fished in the Northern Atlantic Ocean off of the East Coast of the United States and Canada in summer, they are also found in Mediterranean.

    Marlin – Marlin fishing is considered by many game fishermen to be the pinnacle of offshore game fishing. Blue Marlin are found worldwide, but are most commonly fished off of the Eastern coast of the United States from Cape Cod in the summer south through the Caribbean. They are found as far south as Brazil. White Marlin are located only in the Atlantic Ocean, and are the smallest of the marlin species. They are renowned for their speed, leaping ability, their elegant beauty and the difficulty that anglers often encounter in baiting and hooking them.

    Mako Sharks – Are a popular sport fish off of the coast of Southern California. Their meat is considered the best table fare from the different shark species.

    Tarpon – Are a medium sized salt-water fish that lives in shallow coastal waters. They are most abundant in the Florida Keys, and are enjoyed by anglers as they can be caught on light tackle and even fly-lines, making for a fun fight.

    Hammerhead Shark – Are not commonly targeted specifically, but are often caught while fishing for other game-fish in the shallow coastal waters of Florida and the Caribbean Islands.

    Chinook Salmon, also known as King Salmon – Are found in the tidal waters and inland rivers of the North Pacific from San Francisco Bay in California to north of the Bering Strait in Alaska, as well as in the arctic waters of Canada and Russia.

    Northern Pike – Are a freshwater fish that lives in the lakes and rivers of the northern United States and most of Canada, particularly Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Québec (pike are rare in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick). The Great Lakes are a prime spot for Northern Pike fishing.

    If you would like for us to make a reservation on your behalf, or if we can be of further assistance, please call us toll free at 888-853-4458. If you are calling from outside the United States, please call collect at 804-281-5751. If you prefer to send an email, we accept emails at visainfiniteconcierge@mondialusa.com. Visa Infinite Concierge is available to assist you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

    Thank you for using the Visa Infinite Concierge Service.

    Sincerely,

    Jeff Bunting

    Visa Infinite Concierge Service

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are some great tests. I would have died laughing with most these conversations. I love the “Chase Freedom”. What a clever way to phrase it. Lifestyle design being pushed by corporate now is a cool thing.

    Like

  5. Well that was amusing. Unfortunately I don’t think Australia has as good as a selection of credit cards because when I looked a few months back I couldn’t find any with these types of features unless you’re a huge spender. Probably a good thing though, I’d have too much fun with this.

    Like

  6. Hi Tim, great post again!
    Brief comment not related to this post:

    I missed your contest a few months ago but did want to tell you reading the 4HWW has changed my life. Since reading it, I’ve taken 6 months off work to spend time with my newborn at that time. I also took on snowboarding and I’ve writen a book on the environment called 144 ways to reduce your organization’s ecological footprint.

    I was on a path to a typical engineering career, now there are tons of things I want to do and very few are engineering related…I have no clue where I will be in 5 years from now and I love it that way!

    thanks Tim!

    Like

  7. Hi John.

    This is an interesting tale of what you can do with that service. I did not really think about the items like this that exist out there. It is sort of like Yahoo! Answers, except that a satisfying answer is much more likely with this service.

    It is also pretty entertaining that they would help this much. It seems like a cool service that is probably underused(maybe slightly more used after this article).

    I think many of us are thinking of using the service or a similar one at some later point after seeing the things you tried.

    Like

  8. Fairly unimpressive. All 5 test of this experiment only tested one thing: Can Chase’s concierge service use Google to find information?

    Why not have them do something silly/crazy like have a pizza delivered to a random part of your house every day for a week? Or make them call and record a prank call to AMEX for you to listen to? Or bid on 100 random eBay auctions that’s less than $1/free shipping?

    #3 could have been fun, but they clearly failed on it. Further experimenting is in order I say.

    Like

  9. I’ve used VISA’s services before for booking flights and it was excellent. I did days of research for the cheapest flights from Winnipeg Canada to New York and they beat everything I found. They also convert your points to cash to go towards the ticket if you like.

    I will definitely look into this card.

    Hows the deadlifts comin’ Tim? POUND IT

    Like

  10. Credit card companies often offer a range of services on top of the card service. I have always been sceptical of them, but I guess this really proves that it’s worth investigating those extra freebies such as travel insurance!

    Like

  11. Haha interesting coincidence, I just got my new Visa card in the mail today. I’ll definitely be trying this out. I also just opened a Schwab High Yield Checking Account, perhaps the most beautiful checking account ever to exist (no affiliation, but I just about fell out of my chair when I found it). No annual fees/minimums, .5% interest rate (yes, on checking), free checks, refunds on all ATM fees anywhere in the world, warranty extension, the list goes on. They’ll even refund you the difference if you buy a product and find it for a lower price elsewhere within 90 days (up to $200/item, $1000/year). Again, this is a free checking account; how ridiculous is that?

    Anyway, card benefits are incredibly underutilized, especially be young people like me who are never taught about this kind of thing. Thanks for the great post.

    Like