It’s petty. It’s a story of my own battle over a little thing with a 10 billion dollar corporation, filled with inane digressions and ridiculous amounts of wasted time.
Yet I want to scream about it. And I’m starting to realize it’s emblematic of an emerging trend.
It began last April, when I moved in with someone. I contacted BC’s only land line phone company Telus to close my own account, and requested two services: My name, with my room-mate’s number, added to directory listings. And a message on my old phone line saying “this number has been changed to…”
The Telus rep said we’d have to pay a monthly rate for the “extra listing”. It was a rip-off ($1.75 per month to have your name added to a list?), but as a full-time freelancer, I need to be accessible.
However, he said, putting a message on my old line redirecting people to my new number was impossible.
But I got such a message the last time I moved, I said.
He explained that moving my phone account was “different” than closing my account and paying to be listed on someone else’s. What this primordial, elemental difference was, he couldn’t convey, but no amount of money could bridge the gap. Indeed, the CRTC had banned it, he said. (The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission is responsible for regulating the telecommunications industry in Canada.)
Incredulous, I asked, “There’s a government regulation forbidding Telus from putting a message like that on my old phone line?”
He insisted. I pressed him for details, and eventually asked for his supervisor. He hung up.
I turned to Telus’ phone book. “If you wish to discuss your issue further: Ask to speak to the Service Representative’s Manager. Your Service Representative will be pleased to transfer you.”
Well, “pleased” wasn’t exactly the word I would’ve used to describe his reaction. Pleased to transfer me to a dial tone, maybe.
I called back and requested a manager. “Why?” the new man asked. He also sounded suspiciously not “pleased”.
There’s no point in recounting events in order from here. That would give you the impression there was logic in how things progressed.
That second rep directed me to a news article about the CRTC regulation in question. Meticulous investigative research failed to uncover said article.
Telus soon admitted that the fabled CRTC regulation didn’t exist, either. In an email from their customer relations head office, Telus wrote, “The service you are asking for is called ‘transfer of call’ and it is provided for one month at no charge.” Tellingly in retrospect, this rep wasn’t interested in investigating the lying and contravention of Telus policies. Meanwhile, his instructions for the ‘transfer of call’ were forwarded and forwarded, until I was directed back to the people who’d said it was illegal.
More ridiculously, months later I also discovered that, despite my paying regularly to be in directory listings, people couldn’t find me even if they called 411.
One rep gave me the number to call to get listed. When I called it, the responder said, “They often direct people here. I don’t know why.”
For my part, dear readers, I was starting to suspect why.
I was eventually offered a refund of one-tenth of what I’d paid so far for the listing service which had never been provided. I pointed out that this was patently illegal, but the woman said service reps couldn’t reimburse more. Another rep justified the one-tenth amount by explaining, “You should have checked our directory listings earlier.”
Once, I waited on hold for fifteen minutes while I was definitively added to directory listings. I checked later; no listing. This rep also promised to get a manager for me, but I’d have to wait on hold because managers wouldn’t do call-backs and she was only allowed to work on “live” customer calls. I gamely agreed. Twenty minutes later, the string quartet “Angie” was remarkably unsoothing.
I was promised my latest emailed chronicle of Telus incompetence “will be used as a tool to enhance skills and training”. The email I shot back later began, “I guess the ‘training program’ is going pretty well, eh?”
Meanwhile, I was still paying monthly for these services I wasn’t getting.
Finally, someone explained that, after 9 years of having my name right, they’d spelled my name wrong. She apologized “on behalf of Telus” and promised a full refund.
My heart pounded joyfully with anticipation as I opened my next Telus bill. Alas, no refund. Instead, there were charges of $17.50 for an “Extra Listing Termination”, plus 90 cents for every time Rob Whipond called 411 from Rob Whipond’s phone asking for Rob Wipond’s number.
A manager from Telus’ head office called this week and said it was all rectified. Additionally, they were currently overhauling their complaint “escalation” procedures. I’d heard that same pledge a year ago, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her. After all, it was her third day on the job, and I suspected she was well on her way to breaking the record for how long Telus customer service managers last. (Congratulations, Susie! Your three-weeks-of-service pin is in the mail. We swear.)
Besides, I’ve become convinced it’s part of a new trend, a deliberate business strategy of falsely inflating bills while creating an underfunded, disempowered customer service.
Call it “a corporate commitment to disservice”. Large companies are exploiting how most people either won’t notice an incorrect charge or will pay it, and will drop requests for proper service, if the alternative is waiting on hold, and arguing with underpaid, over-stretched, poorly-trained, powerless workers.
It sounds far-fetched, but it didn’t take much researching to hear all my friends’ similar stories, and find many large-scale examples. It’s especially common in semi-monopolistic circumstances, where companies find gouging customers more lucrative than competing.
Remember negative option billing, for example? In the 90s, Canadian cable and energy companies started simply introducing new services and billing customers for them, unless you went through a time-consuming opt-out procedure. It only stopped when the mass outcries spurred governments to illegalize it.
Then there were the millions (including me, twice) who unwittingly had our long distance carriers changed, then got false bills and intransigent customer service departments. This practice only abated when governments imposed fines and companies began contacting their own customers immediately when they’d been switched away.
Ever waited in a long line to have your grocery bill corrected after being overcharged at the till? Or did you just figure it wasn’t worth your time? And how much has AT&T made by repeatedly sending out “accidental” bills for $5-7 to literally millions of people?
Public agencies do it, too. Eager for savings, the Liberals partially privatized our Medical Services Plan. Soon, thousands received incorrect bills with threats of loss of coverage. Simultaneously, phone personnel were cut back. During months of jammed lines, how many worried folks just paid up?
It’s ugly, and solutions are elusive. Legally, it all looks like pardonable ineptitude. Meanwhile, my persistence with Telus wasted my time, my energy and, really, my life.
They made me spend many hours as a bitter, unrelenting boor, just to correct their witless mistakes.
Switch companies? Sure, Shaw offers digital phone. Coincidentally, they recently gave me a “free offer” — which cost me 13 dollars. We cleared it up, though.
Originally published in Focus, April 2007.