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.

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

  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.

    Like

  2. Oh my goodness. I have not laughed this hard in FOREVER! Brilliant. All because I didn’t know what a concierge would do for a credit card service. Now I know! You ROCK!

    Like

  3. I just want to say that it is not accurate that requests are sent oversees to be fulfilled. They are actially fulfilled by the concierge the cardholder speaks to on the phone; unless he is not in the office the next day in which case a colleague of his, from a Canada or USA office will assist.

    Like

  4. I don’t think the standard Chase Freedom Card anymore has it. Maybe they upgraded the ranking system. The AMEX Sky blue is pretty neat. I’ll check out and see if they have concierge services.

    Like

  5. This was incredibly entertaining to read! I’m a hotel concierge in San Francisco, so it’s funny to read what other types of concierges go through when getting information. They should give you a commission, I’m totally wanting one of these signature cards now!

    Like

  6. this is a great post i know its several years old but it still had the info i needed and it made me laugh while reading. i never did use their concierge program and was wondering about it. did a quick google search and your blog popped up. thanks for the info and im sure to be using their service in the near future.

    Like

  7. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your
    sites really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later on. Many thanks

    Like

  8. You are so interesting! I do not suppose I have read through a single thing like this before.
    So wonderful to discover somebody with unique thoughts on this
    topic. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website is one thing that is needed on the internet, someone with a
    little originality!

    Like

  9. After I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the identical comment. Is there any way you may remove me from that service? Thanks!

    Like

  10. I used to love this guy’s website Zug.com. I was pretty bummed when it closed down a couple of years ago. I’m glad to see he’s still going strong!

    Like

  11. I work for a Fortune 500 insurance company that also provides Employee Assistance Program benefits. These EAP benefits include a work/life department that provides these types of concierge level searches. Additionally we provide in-the-moment counseling crisis services that are given by professional clinicians: so your requested affirmations are our pleasure.

    Like

  12. So when I first read this article I was disappointedly thinking this service would be US only. No way we’d have it in Canada. But a quick trip to Google taught me, not only is concierge service available in Canada, but it’s on the Visa card I already carry!!!

    I just called them and talking to Andre, my concierge was as much fun as reading the blog article! I’ve got him trying to find me the puppet from the movie Purple Rain. He did start of on Google, but I had already tried that before and I knew it was a dead-end. They’ve got their work cut out for them!

    Also I made Andre promise to watch Purple Rain tonight and will be quizzing him the next I speak to him, I also sent him the link to this article. Hi Andre!

    T.

    Like

  13. Dear Tim et. all,

    I am a concierge with Black Card Visa and we have a similar service. Just to let you know, we do not use the Philippines or other outsourcing techniques for our research or to fill requests. I have had calls similar to yours, especially the “Money is no object, but I am on a budget” statements. I am glad you found your concierge with a sense of humour, I know with our company a sense of humour and yet taking each request seriously is vital to fulfilling our duties.

    Some of my requests have involved a trip to place a flag in the Antarctic, life size Star Wars statues (could not find in budget specified so I offered mannequin information, costumes to fit and wigs matching hairstyles with nearby hairdressers willing to fix the wigs to style), live butterflies in boxes to be released when birthday candles were blown out, and other fascinating and imaginative requests.

    Have a great weekend!
    Alison C

    Like

  14. Hilarious read, it looks like the Visa team has a pretty good handled on what they should and shouldn’t cover. I think I would’ve been uncomfortable with them giving those life affirmations if it wasn’t obviously a joke.

    Like

  15. Awesome article, you are a great writer. I wonder whether the concierges are intrigued to have an interesting challenge or just annoyed with calls like yours. I can’t help but have enormous respect for them, I am not sure I could display such poise and efficiency. I never realized I had such a valuable credit card in my pocket, and to think I was about to cancel it. I am holding on to my signature card, who knows when I might need a bucket of cheese?

    Like