As D.C. Cuts Their Power, Card Companies Psych Customers into Paying


The poor credit card companies! All those newly-destitute customers are defaulting on their debts, forcing companies like Advanta out of lending altogether. And the Senate is speeding ahead with legislation to restrict their power to jack up rates whenever someone sneezes.

Fortunately they still have brainwashing techniques. In a fascinating Times magazine preview, Charles Duhigg reviews the ways in which credit card companies hypnotize their customers into paying what they owe. “It’s O.K. to help people know that we are all working to make the world a better place,” says a Bank of America “customer assistance” trainer. “It’s O.K. to help them believe.” Part of helping them believe is using years of psychological research to understand debtors’ triggers (“Santana had initially put this [debtor] on the ‘love/belonging’ level of Maslow’s hierarchy and built his pitch around his relationship with his ex-wife”) and using it to get their companies paid. One BOA rep fake-empathized so well with Donna Tiff that she got Tiff to pay off $28,000 she owed, even as she stiffed other creditors — and even though, a BOA executive tells Duhigg, she “probably could have cut her debt in half just by asking.”

As Duhigg points out, these companies are handing out fewer cards nowadays. This will probably concentrate the companies’ debtor-target pool: fewer customers with more debt. Maybe soon it’ll be worth the card companies’ while to get their reps off the phones, and send them out to make “friends” with creditors by admiring their hairstyles or striking up a conversation about the local sports team. Then they can really get inside their heads — and into their wallets. Image via Happy Time Clowns.