Credit cards are great to pay for shiny things and get further in debt. But you can also make their concierge services to obey your every desire, from finding an out-of-stock gadget to a bathtub full of cheese. Here's how.
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.
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 travelling 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 OK if we have this information to you by 2pm 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."
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 emailed, 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."
"OK," 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 … OK!" 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.'"
"OK," 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 email you that information."
"Could you at least attach a little positive note to the email?" 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 email:
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
Cost: $US89.25 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 fulfil my every desire. So far they had done an amazing job, but now I was about to cross the final frontier.
"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.
Cost: $US200,000, plus a $US15 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. Humour! 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.
"We'll get this for you by 2pm 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 email, 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?"
He came back a few minutes later, sounding a little bit shaken. "OK, 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 apologise 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.
Afterword from Tim: Several concierge service providers were kind enough to provide their thoughts, and one was kind enough to list some of the cannot-dos. 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 behaviour, 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.
Sir John Hargrave - who officially changed his name to "Sir" after the Queen of England denied his petition to knight him - is the author of Sir John Hargrave's Mischief Maker's Manual and Prank the Monkey. You can follow his antics at Zug.com, the comedy and prank site he founded with Genevieve Martineau in 1995.
Timothy Ferriss, nominated as one of Fast Company's "Most Innovative Business People of 2007", is an angel investor (StumbleUpon, Digg, Twitter, etc.) and author of the #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller, The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been sold into 35 languages. You can follow his blog at The Blog of Tim Ferriss, Experiments in Lifestyle Design