Article first published as A Little Barnes & Noble Holiday Customer Service Failure on Technorati.

Every consumer’s worst nightmare when calling a customer service number for support is hearing the following: “Due to abnormally high call volume, you may experience longer than usual hold time to reach a representative.” Whenever I hear that I think, “The reason you are experiencing abnormally high call volume is likely because your service or product is infuriating.” 

Everyone has dealt at some point with having to call a company’s customer service number for something. Maybe AT&T has dropped your call for the last time, (ironically many of those dropped calls come while waiting in the queue to talk to an AT&T representative) or you’re a Comcast customer without a connection. Perhaps, as was the case with me, Barnes & Noble’s website was making holiday shopping a little less merry and a lot more stress-inducing.

I admit that the majority of my online shopping is done on Amazon. They’re ranked number one in customer satisfaction according to a recent survey and there’s good reason for that. The process is quick, easy, painless and I believe that their slogan (Amazon, and you’re done) is a true reflection of how user-friendly they make the experience. Should you need help at anytime they have friendly support 24/7 and returns couldn’t possibly be any easier. Plus, they have everything. All of the above have made me a loyal Amazon customer.

However, I had accumulated a few gift-cards to Barnes and Noble throughout the year and opted to take care of some holiday shopping while taking advantage of the savings. Mistake number one.

Many online retailers allow their customers to save their gift-cards into their online account and store them for future use. This is useful if you have more than one but don’t want to spend them simultaneously, or if you want to guard against losing them before they’re spent by keeping them stored online. These practices are a welcome safeguard to consumers in such cases.

Unless you’re dealing with Barnes and Noble.

According to Barnes and Noble, gift-cards that are digitally stored can only be used for the purchase of e-books. That’s great if (a. I want to purchase e-books and b). I have a Nook, which I don’t. So I called B&N customer service to see what they could do. What I got was a lesson in customer service, or rather the lack of it and the absurdity of the Barnes and Noble online shopping experience.

After 20 minutes on hold, I explain my situation to the representative. I am simply trying to apply my gift-cards which are stored and clearly visible within my B&N online account to my order. Her initial response filled me with hope.

B&N Rep: I can help you with this. Go ahead and place the order online. Then under payment options, select “Pay by phone.” Once the order is placed, we can apply the gift-cards to your order.

Me: Great. I’ll go ahead and place the order now.

B&N Rep: Orders take approximately 20 minutes to reach our system. You may want to call us back once your order hits our system. Then we can apply the gift-cards on your account.

Keeping in mind that I have already waited 20 minutes to get to this point, I was flabbergasted by her suggestion that I call back. However, I agree. I’ve already made it this far. Mistake number two.

I endure another 20-minute wait on hold (after waiting the requisite 20 to call back) and retell the story to the next representative I speak with. She informs me that the previous representative misspoke. I’m reminded that per B&N policy, digitally stored gift-cards are eligible for e-book purchases only. Without having the full card number to enter manually at checkout, I’m out of luck.

I plead with her that there must be a solution. She asks if I mind being put on hold while she “investigates.” Before I can even answer, I’m on hold for another 20 minutes. While on hold, I’m hoping someone is listening to my mounting frustration and monitoring my call for “quality assurance purposes” as they claim to do.

Her final solution had me laughing.

B&N Rep: Thank you for your patience. What I can suggest is that you purchase e-books with your gift-cards through our online store, then once they’re ordered, you can call us back, request a refund and then we will then be able to retrieve the full gift-card number for you. Then, you can go ahead and place a new order for the items currently in your cart and use the gift-card toward that order.

Me: Are you kidding?

She wasn’t. Maybe I could have gotten somewhere with a supervisor, but by now I’ve spent well over an hour trying to place my order through B&N and use my gift-cards to save some money only to now be left utterly frustrated. I thanked her for her help, hung up the phone and went to Amazon.

The whole process took under two minutes.

Amazon, and I’m done. Sometimes you don’t know how good a company is until you meet their competition. Thank you, Amazon. I knew there was a reason you ranked #1 in customer satisfaction.

Barnes and Noble will never beat Amazon now matter how hard they try. They may, however, surrender to Borders.