A recent conversation with a “relationship manager” from Barclays, the bank that issues the L.L.Bean Visa credit card:

Relationship manager: “Verifying your security information, Mr. Mistler. Thank you. How can I help you?”

Customer: “Well, I’m calling because I was just online paying my bill – in full, by the way – when I noticed that the interest rate on purchases was 27.24 percent. Can you tell me why?”

RM: “Well, Mr. Mistler, sometimes the bank will raise your interest rate if you’re late on a payment or fail to make one. Let me check your account and see … (tap-tap-tap) … Okay, it appears you had a late payment on Dec. 21 of 2008.”

Customer: “Okay, so how late was it?”

RM: “One day, sir.”

Customer: “One day? And how much was the payment?”

RM: “Two hundred and fifty dollars, sir.”

Customer: “Have there been any other late payments since I opened the account?”

RM: “No, sir.”

Customer: “So let me get this straight, because this seems, I don’t know, almost criminal. I have really good credit. I always make way more than the minimum payment. I rarely even carry a balance. But I have one late payment – by one day – and you nearly triple my interest rate? That’s outrageous.”

RM (dutifully reading from script): “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Mistler. That’s the bank’s policy and there isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Customer (blood pressure rising): “Can I speak with someone who can do something about it? If not, I want to close the account right now.”

RM: “Let me get that started for you. I will tell you that the bank periodically reviews accounts and could choose to lower your interest rate if the account remains in good standing.”

Customer (stunned that RM’s protocol is to immediately begin closing the account): “How often is periodically?”

RM: “Every six to eight months.”

Customer: “Six to eight months? That sounds pretty arbitrary to me. So I’m supposed to trust that you guys will do the right thing when you finally get around to it? Why can’t we do this now, or do you not care about losing good customers?”

RM: “I understand your frustration, sir. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. But there’s nothing I can do today. Do want me to begin closing the account?”

Customer (lid flipped, steam out): “Look, I understand that banks and credit card companies are generally soulless organizations whose only objective is to bleed regular people of modest earnings through late fees and interests rates. I know the game. I get it. But this reaches a new level of robbery. I mean, you’re not even being subtle here. Seriously, how can you guys justify this? We’re not talking about some jerk who racked up 20-grand buying plasma TVs and jet skis. We’re talking about someone who freaks out if he carries a balance of more than a couple hundred dollars. Is that the kind of customer you want to lose? Would it be better if I couldn’t pay back the debt, that way you could whine about irresponsible spending the next time you need a bailout?”

RM: “I understand your frustration, sir. But there’s nothing I can do.”

Customer (feeling bad for RM): “Look, I don’t mean to take it out on you. I know these directives are handed to you from HQ, and they march you guys to the front lines while they hide away in cherry wood board rooms, sipping cognac and playing Master of the Universe. I get it. But you have to admit, this is outrageous.”

RM (Laughs. He’s human! RM quickly reverts to automaton. They must be listening!): I’m sorry, sir. I understand your frustration. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

Customer (launching one last salvo into oblivion): “What you can do is close the account. I’m sure another credit card company will be eager to nickle-and-dime me in a more responsible, ethical manner.”

RM (powering down, resetting protocols for next satisfied customer): “Thank you, Mr. Mistler. And thank you for choosing L.L.Bean Visa.”