The Telus Commitment to Disservice

April 4, 2007
in Category: Articles, Economics
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The Telus Commitment to Disservice

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.

I hope.

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Originally published in Focus, April 2007.

12 comments on “The Telus Commitment to Disservice”

  1. Irate Phonebat says:

    boo telus yay skype & all other alternatives

  2. Nancy says:

    Wow, Rob, you’ve described the type of situation that I imagine each of us has experienced in one way or another. I had a similar experience with Rogers over cell phones. My teenaged daughter was repeatedly costing me $200 per month in bills. I decided to bite the bullet and cancel the phone, despite the knowledge that that too would cost me an extra $200, because foolishly, I had committed to a one-year plan. It took me THREE months to get the damn thing canceled after I too became a “bitter, unrelenting boor”. I was outraged at the misinformation and out-and-out lies I endured at the hands of various customer disservice representatives. I was left with the distinct impression that these people are actually trained to lie. As for speaking to managers, I too had reps hang up the phone or tell me that speaking to supervisors was not “allowed”. Imagine! Well, I guess none of us have to imagine it, because we’re living it. Thanks for taking the time to spell it out.

  3. Rob Wipond says:

    Youch! Of course, yours is one of a growing number of stories I’ve been hearing. I would really like to see a study done — if some economics dept at a university could get access to thousands of bills from various companies and analyze them for mistakes and give us some concrete percentages on how widespread this is and how much time people are spending, maybe some sort of laws could be passed to curtail it.

    A whistleblower could help, too. I have so far had a couple former employees of companies contact me to say that they too had always been suspicious when they saw so many false bills, but so far no one has come forward to reveal an actual training program of lying or anything like that.

  4. Chris says:

    Oh wow. Yeah Rob. Telus charged me $100 for activating a phone line just because it was in Langford. Then they activated mine and my neighbor’s lines as one, my number only. Took a week to straighten out, and a lot of hanging around the house waiting for surly personnel. But the real corker has been davidbowie.com, BowieNet. It’s a hub for (mainly) Bowie fans and (subsidiarily) artists interested in creating websites and an online community. These people were peachy until last year, when I paid late. My bad. But in the time it took me to mail their money, they (without telling me) stopped accepting money orders through the mail. So they said I was cancelled. I got my envelope back Undeliverable and asked them to contact me. Nothing. Again and again, no response. Eventually I logged on to clear my e-mail of its horrendous spam load and discovered I was locked out of my web file manager. I freaked, and began pushing for cancellation – screw the billing f&*kup. That took a couple weeks. What might have happened if my webspace had been hacked??!??!??! Nothing I could do. They don’t care. Concluded the episode by giving the bird impotently to the monitor, reading the BowieNet grunt’s cheery “Cheers,” farewell.

  5. Rob Wipond says:

    I feel for you, dude!

    We really need a STUDY to try to get a sense of how common these things really are… how many times a year… how many people… how much money… how many companies…

    rw

  6. Alan says:

    I have a terrible story to share with you. I have been a loyal BCTel/Telus customer for over 12 years with not a single late bill. I have also been a loyal Shaw Cable Internet Subscriber for almost as long, but when Telus began to offer their DSL Internet service at a lower price in 2005, I was offered a trial of their service to see if it was as reliable for a slightly lower price. I was given a DSL modem and tried for several days to get a signal and tried all the tricks from technical support and I was never actually connected to their network before sending back the entire hardware package. I made sure and asked as I sent back the box back to Calgary: “So, I send this back and I won’t be charged for this right?” They explained that there would be a charge on my next bill for the cost of the modem with a full refund next to it but no future charges were pending, and I took them at their word.

    I have since moved twice and each time I called to switch my service to a new address, I was simply asked, “are you happy with your services as they are?” I would replay yes in all cases. Even when I received a periodic call about my happiness with my services, I would always say yes, refusing to add any additional cost to my family of 5’s tight budget.

    Fast forward to January 25, 2008. My wife, who has the responsibility of managing our finances, was wondering why our bill is so expensive every month, scrutinized the $30 of “other services” on page 1 of our bill and asked me, “do we get Internet service from Telus or Shaw?” I said “Shaw of course. We don’t even have the equipment to get DSL cable. Are we being charged for it?”

    Yes we are, it turns out. Since June of 1996, in fact. My wife, feeling foolish for not noticing called customer service to rectify the situation. The first customer service representative explained that they would charge us an additional $140 to cancel the rest of our “contract” and no refund of any kind would be issued since it was noted on our account that we always reported satisfaction with our service. My wife called 3 more times to make sense of this and despite talking with some CSR’s with a less smug attitude, found that they were not willing to help in any way. This is likely due to a note left on the account by the first CSR, since they all sounded more apologetic during at the beginning of the call and would soon change their tune. Not one of them would escalate the call to a floor manager and all the time kept insisting, “you KNEW you had Internet service. There’s no way for us to check if you were using it.” They could check if I was a suspected pedophile and distributing porn, but they clearly weren’t going to go out of their way.

    The charge is on the bill on page 2, but for someone who pays their bills on time every month without question, there is no reason to question the nondescript “additional charges” box on the first page.

    I called and rationally explained that we didn’t have the equipment to receive this service and the CSR I talked to said, “Yes, I see this. Also it says you never got your iPod that was supposed to be part of the deal.” Exactly! This really was a covert spy operation to get some slick salesperson a commission on my trusting nature.

    This time I was transferred to retention because my wife tried to cancel our service in tears with her last call. This gentleman agreed to credit our account for 2 months of high-speed Internet and credit back the cancellation fee for its service discontinuation. I also got $50 credit for upcoming long-distance charges so I stayed with the company (even though the total was closer to $900 of illegal charges.) As soon as VIOP service comes to Mission, I’m switching.

    I used to work at a call centre. That job was for Sprint USA mobile customers, and of all companies this one has the worst customer service satisfaction. But I took my job very seriously and honestly tried to help everyone, never assuming fraud and understanding my powers completely. I knew when it was time to escalate a call to a floor manager, or when their was an error on the company’s part and they were due a large sum of money.
    Based on my wife’s experience, it sounds like things are worse. This situation could almost be called “slamming” my account, where someone charged the account with a service that was not agreed to. Not only are the policies flawed and their billing confusing, but there is a growing unwillingness to accept responsibility and to pass the buck to the next guy to keep their handle time low. You can’t trust anyone.

  7. rob says:

    Alan: Sounds like my story, only worse! Sorry to hear it; but not surprised. If you’re feeling energetic (I got burned out), you can always try writing a complaint to the CRTC; there’s an area on their website where you can do it. (not sure how the Better Business Bureau would respond..) In your case, with the physical/electronic evidence unequivocal that you never actually used the service, I would think you have a hands-down case for getting all that money back. Really, you could probably sue Telus in small claims court, too.

  8. TristanThepiston says:

    I just got off the phone with a telus customer disservice representative. I have never in my life been so insulted by as many representatives of one company. They told me they refused to speak to me about my account until i payed the amount which in less than a week had doubled. I was adamant that I was willing to pay the original amount that they told me was required less than a week ago and that i expected to hold them to the information that they supplied me with, they told me that i dont have a leg to stand on and that if i dont pay then they will send it to collections, I feel extremely angry and ill used, they treated a client who was more than willing to make a payment and lied to him, treated him like a small piece of crap and basically made it impossible to resume my phone service.

  9. Rob Wipond says:

    Sorry to hear that, Tristan. Sometimes it can help to try to get your complaints and their responses documented in writing by emailing their main customer service head office (address or form is on their website). Then you can at least present it to a third party like a Telus senior manager, the BBB or in court as evidence. Unfortunately, as you noticed in my case, it didn’t help much in terms of pure hassle, but it did prevent them from getting the extra money from me. Keep in mind, most of the people you will speak with have absolutely no power to change anything, are not paid well, and are instructed by their bosses to do exactly what they do to you. So the only recourse is to try to get things documented, and climb the hierarchy until you find someone who at least has some power to actually change something.

  10. Tamara says:

    Well the good news is that Telus has radically overhauled their customer service policies! Oh. No. Wait. My bad. Check that. What I meant was their customer policies remain patently UNCHANGED.

    It has been more than 2 years since you wrote your article, Ron. I literally hung up from Telus customer disservice moments ago, having been informed that my service has been suspended (despite being paid in full). This, of course, after holding for 15 minutes to get a live person.

    I was also informed:
    …that I will NOT be credited for the charges for services now not rendered.

    …that they would NOT be willing to committ any of this information to writing, and therefore I could not possibly receive any written documentation of these illegal charges for services not rendered.

    …that my comments to them, however, would be duly (and entirely objectively and accurately, I’m SURE!) recorded in their internal “comments” field in their computer system.

    …and that, furthermore, I would NOT be transferred to a manager. Hailey, the oh-so-helpful-and-friendly agent (can you hear the dripping sarcasm?) to whom I spoke, informed me that it is of course NOT Telus’ policy to deny customers the name/contact info of Telus customer service management personnel. But that it “doesnt need to be policy. Because you dont need to know, so I’m not going to tell you.”

    Really. How do you argue with reason like that? I’d laugh if my head didn’t hurt from all that bashing it against a brick wall.

  11. Kale says:

    I guess Im not alone after all! My story is very similar to every story on this page.

    Im not even tring climb the chain of command anymore.

    After countless calls to their customer service telling them my phone isnt working,and many months after mistakingly agreeing to a one year lock in to internet service,still havent recieved my modem or start up disc!

    I did however recieve a fancy letter thanking me for choosing Telus internet!

    Going on a year now,and the only response Ive gotten from Telus is a bill for anouther month of non service.

    Im in the process of taking them to small claims court now.

    The first step is to make sure youre sueing the right people,do a corporation registry search,went to the registry and surprize Telus has at least 20 different possiable entities to choose from!

    Looks like the beginning of anouther run around.

    If any one on this post has gone through the small claims process,any wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

  12. Rob Wipond says:

    Good luck, Kale! Keep us posted on what happens, I’d be very interested to know.

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