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It's been quite a while since we've heard from Citibank's consumer service department, but I've noticed something over the past few months that worries me. I recently tried to use the toll-free number for Citibank services to order a mortgage refinancing. When I called, I was told that a representative would be available soon. Three days later, I still haven't heard from them. So, what is going on?

I went to the local Citibank branch to ask about their response time, because I wanted to make sure that my money would be safely placed into my account before my loan was processed. The rep, who I'll call A, told me that they could only provide assistance if I called the Consumer Services department. Then I asked if they offered any other types of assistance. Again, the representative didn't answer my question, but then she directed me to a voicemail box.

I called this representative back and explained that I had called to see if my refund could be expedited. She told me that the representative in my area didn't have a phone. I asked her why, and she said that it didn't matter, since “our phones are out of commission.” I asked her what the status of my refund was, and she indicated that she could not give me the information.

I then asked her if there were any other ways she could assist me. She indicated that there were, but only through the automated system. I asked her why this process was necessary, since I already had an idea that I had a problem. She responded by telling me that it was necessary because “customer service is very important, and they cannot possibly have someone in your office to follow up on your behalf if you don't have access to a telephone.” I asked her if she had any other ways she could help me. She told me that she would try to get me in touch with the appropriate people.

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I asked her why CITI would have me enter my social security number when providing me with the means to contact a human being. She told me that CITI credit card customer service phone numbers were meant to provide “a way for us to provide our customers with assistance if we experience a problem.” She went on to state, “It's just a way for us to make our clients feel better when they're dealing with us. If we don't have somebody available to them at any given time, they might feel like we're ignoring them. This can actually cause problems between clients and employees.”

I told her that I felt that it was far too aggressive of a response from a credit card company to ask for someone to help me out without having first taken the necessary steps to fix the problem. Now, she has decided to tell me to call a CITI credit card representative instead of advising me to fix my own financial situation. After all, I've been doing exactly what she recommended, but I guess she feels that calling me is a more personal gesture than advising me on how to solve the problem.

When I called CITI's customer service phone number, I was told by an associate that “our agents cannot assist you at this time” and that I should speak to someone else. I asked who else? She replied that CITI representatives could only assist me if I was a CITI credit card client. I explained that I was not a CITI credit card client and was only inquiring about the manner in which I would be able to get help with my credit problems. She told me, “For our agents' assistance you will need to fill out an application for our professionals.”

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The irony of this statement is that I was just about to talk to the same person who advised me to use the Citibank credit cards in the first place! She then told me that I needed to fill out a CITI application if I wanted any help with my financial troubles. I immediately felt like I was dropped like a hot potato. This is a common practice at many financial institutions, where the sales representatives are taught to steer customers toward products or services that are better suited for them. I am not sure whether this is done on purpose or just an oversight, but I do know that it's upsetting and disheartening to deal with such poor service. When I finally called back, I talked with a friendly associate who told me that CITI did not have an application for me because I was not yet a CITI credit card client.

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