Last Friday I received a new credit card in the mail, accompanied by a letter explaining that my old card was  compromised and so it was being replaced for security reasons. I appreciated that, and proceeded to spend an hour updating loads of accounts with the new number. And then I discovered a new logo on the front of my card. The new logo is a shell, and a quick search confirmed it is, in fact, the logo of that Shell.

I phoned the credit card company and got a woman on the line. I asked her what card options she had for me that don’t involve a relationship with Shell. She said there weren’t any. She said all the cards through the bank are now partnered with Shell. I was so baffled I forgot to ask to speak to her supervisor and instead asked to whom I could file a formal complaint. She gave me a fax number, I hung up, and I promptly wrote and sent the fax.

It didn’t occur to me to phone back and try to get further than I did the first time around. I consider telephone customer service to be about as helpful and pleasant as trying to remember what I ate yesterday by pumping my own stomach.

So I decided to just ask at my branch. I love our branch. The people who work there are friendly and some of them even know us by name. So it was not at all a surprise to me that when I mentioned my problem I was not only understood immediately (no questions like “But you get cash back when you pump at Shell. Don’t you want that?” Only, “You want to ditch Shell, eh?”), but the teller got on the phone with the credit card company and went through all that questioning on my behalf.

After my phone encounter with customer service last week I was feeling very much like a wee needle caught in the haystacks of the infiltration of corporations into nearly every segment of my life. I was almost feeling betrayed by the bank I’ve been so happy with because they decided to partner with a company that is totally unrelated to banking, and further had the audacity to force that partnership on me, an unknowing and ultimately unwilling participant. But once I made it personal, once I stood across from a live human and smiled and she smiled back, it all worked out.

It turns out I did have to pick a card that had some sort of partnership associated with it. But I did have a choice. And after less than ten minutes, I left a very satisfied customer. In a few days we’ll receive our new cards, partnered with the SPCA. Cleo is very happy to know it.

I mentioned yesterday that I entered 2008 with a very explicit goal to strike better balance between work and play and friends and family, and I’m quite pleased with how I’ve been managing that. My goal heading into 2009 is to live better by my principles. I have a lot of them, and many are inconvenient. But I know that when I get myself in line, I’ll be far happier for it. Today I took the first step.