And we wonder why we are in this mess.

“Your call is very important to us,” said the chipper robo-voice, just before throwing me into the middle of a familiar easy listening song from the 60s. And as I continued to listen to the entire loop from the “Various Artists” soundtrack, she interrupted each ditty in turn, just as I was starting to get into the rhythm, to remind me just how important my call really was, in case this hadn’t been sufficiently impressed upon me twenty minutes prior.

If my call was that important, someone would have picked up the *&#% phone already, but this is not about bad customer service. Rather, it is about incompetence.

I was on hold with a lending institution. And I suppose I should cut them some slack. They are busy-busy people. In fact, I am reminded of this each time one our clients is nearing a closing deadline. Three days before close of escrow, time to fund – this is when the lender explains to their valued customers why the loan application they have been sitting on for 45 days may not be approved in time, moving trucks be damned.

We received two such reminders this week, both from very big direct lenders.

“I can tried cannot guarantee anything we do not do same day or next day fundings and at this time of the month it is even harder BUT I will try once I receive them,” said one eloquent processor in her email. So busy was she, apparently, that she had no time for proper spelling much less punctuation.  Oh, and the “them” that she was waiting to receive was the steaming mound of paper she had been sent the previous day.

But, back to my call. I am busy too. And, I was making this call because I received a letter from IndyMac Mortgage Services with the subject heading “Project Lifeline.”

Dear IndyMac Customer:

You have fallen behind on your mortgage payments and IndyMac Mortgage Services… wants to find a way to help.

It seems, to better serve me, they wanted me to speak to a Loan Counselor and let them know I am “interested in exploring the available options to stay in (my) home.” Further, they advised, “We cannot help you unless we hear from you.”

Uh, IndyMac, guess what? I don’t have a loan with you. I did – up until two months ago – but that was before we refinanced our home and the loan was paid in full. And, for the record, I have never (as in “not in my whole life, and I am really old”) been late on a mortgage payment.

Before calling my Loan Counselor, I had to of course do a little homework. Need to get my ducks in a row. Bummer I’m so busy, because I hadn’t exactly budgeted time for saving my home today.

First I had my credit pulled, fearing that it was now littered with a dozen bogus late pays, but it wasn’t. It showed my IndyMac loan closed out with a zero balance. Next, I called the escrow officer who handled the refinance, just to make sure everything was paid off and recorded. She had the cancelled check. Then, I had to scrounge for my loan number, because I knew that my Loan Counselor would ask for it, and they hadn’t bothered to include it in my bail out letter.

I finally did speak to the customer service specialist, but only after selecting “1” for English, punching in my 48 digit loan number, the last four digits of my social security number, and my dogs name, reciting the names of all seven dwarfs, and listening to Paul Anka gush about having his baby so many times I was going into labor myself. And here is how the conversation went.

Loan Counselor: This is (unintelligible name) on a recorded line. May I have your account number?

Me: Well, I just punched that in, but I’m not sure if that is the account I am calling on, because I got this letter and there is no account number…

Loan Counselor (irritated now): What’s it say at the top of your letter? Is it (something unintelligible)?

Me: Uh, there is nothing at the top. The subject says “Project Lifeline” and…

Loan Counselor (barely civil now): Those were sent out by mistake. I have been getting these calls all day. You can disregard.

Loan Counselor: (Dial tone)

I might have been wondering at this point how a letter like this got sent “by mistake,” how many people were inconvenienced like myself by this boo-boo, or even if there was something more sinister at play – like a lender getting bonus points by being able to demonstrate to the government that they were really trying to defend and protect the American Dream.  “Look! We mailed 1,900,712 letters in August alone! We are really trying!”

Ultimately, I suppose my beef really was about customer service. An apology would have been nice. Some feigned compassion would have been appropriate. Instead, I was dropped like a hot potato the minute it was determined that I was either not really a customer or I served no immediate purpose. They are, after all, very, very busy, and there are many other calls that are very important to them waiting for the next available operator.

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