Thursday, March 28, 2013

"I'M MAD AS HELL AND..I'm just gonna sit quietly over here for awhile"

Greeting, Fellow Customer-Service Crusaders!

When I moved into residence at Saint Mary's as a fresh-faced frosh back in the early 90's there were two major hazards to contend with:
  1. Sharing a room with a complete stranger who might end up being a chronic alcoholic, a compulsive liar, a semiprofessional thief or the sort of person who self-archives all of their toenail clippings in a little plastic coffin.
  2. Setting up a communal telephone in your own name for six other suite-mates, none of whom are legally bound to give you a single red cent towards their bill.
I managed to avoid the first pitfall by scoring a single room but I couldn't avoid taking on the second burden.  In an era of personal smart phones I'm sure that most Gentle Readers out there are trying vainly to wrap their heads around what I just wrote.  Believe me when I say this: I'm with you.  Indulging in this level of faith with a bunch of people you just met is akin to doing a trust fall with Lucy from Charlie Brown.

And people wonder why so many of our generation's credit ratings got decimated before they even graduated from university...

In spite of this bizarre arrangement, I never experienced and serious issues.  People usually paid me on time.  Occasionally I'd have to pester a few people but naggery was an effective weapon.  Actually, let's face it, against a bunch of colossal guys who had no discernible necks, naggery was pretty much my only weapon.

This worked out well enough until we all moved out of residence.  When I went back home that summer to find a job and save some money for next year my so-called friends inherited my phone account.  Since we were all planing to share the same house next September and everyone had pledged to get one bill in their own name,  I had no issue with this whatsoever.

This was all well and good until one day I came home from work and my mom was completely freaking out:

"David!  Get yer arse in here!  I just got off the phone with MT&T!  They told me that you're after runnin' up a thousand-dollar phone bill that's overdue and if you don't pay it all off over the next few days they're sending it to collections!"

"What?!" I shouted and then ran to the phone.

I hastily dialed up my peeps in Hali, making sure not to call collect.  I certainly didn't want to give any hypothetical hired goons lurking outside my parents house any more incentive to burst in and garrote me with the phone cord. 

Turns out that one of my buddies, Mike, had indeed racked up a pretty hefty phone bill.  Since he spent his formative years growing up in Indonesia, you can just imagine that my boy's little black book has a decidedly global complexion.  But the thing is, Mike's phone bill was huge every single month.  MT&T was making a friggin' fortune off of him and, to a lesser extent, me and my other friends.  Was the bill slightly overdue?  Yes.  Did this require calling my moms and threatening her deadbeat son with legal action?  No.

Within a few days things got squared away but I never forgot the incident, especially when it came time to set up my own personal home phone.  Although MT&T had a monopoly on basic network service, I went through a veritable rogues gallery of long distance providers in an effort to deny them as much money as I could.  Unfortunately, a lot of these shady outfits were decidedly "fly by night" and, one by one, they all went bankrupt.

Meanwhile MT&T was undergoing its own metamorphosis.  After a wave of deregulation in the 1990's telecommunications giants sought to eliminate competition by buying them all out.  After changing its name to MTT this once-local company was absorbed by Aliant in 1999 and then merged with Bell in 2006.  When there were no more options left, I was forced to go back to them for my full phone service.  But in a continuing act of defiance, I steadfastly kept my cable and internet running through another local operation called Eastlink.

Even though splitting services up like this makes about as much sense as a chocolate teapot, I really didn't like the idea of putting all of my electronic eggs in one basket.  And to all those people out there who call me antiquated for still having a land line: cram it with walnuts.  When the next inevitable hurricane hits our region and annihilates everybody's cell phone service I want the ability to call people with power and beg for showers and hot food.  

Regardless of my past crusades, I knew there was probably a ton of money to be saved by bundling everything together.  Unfortunately, since my own personal savings and finances are always the last thing on my mind, I always kept putting it off.  That is until an enterprising young chap named Justin from Eastlink showed up at my door back 'round February 5'th and offered a boffo deal on a bundle.  Normally I treat door-to-door salesmen with the same courtesy you'd reserve for pet rapists but since I was already humoring the possibility I heard him out.

He offered my phone, digital cable and internet all together for $115.00 tax-in for a year.  Don't believe me?  Well, here's the service slip:

Now, considering that my phone bill was around $60.00 a month and my cable/internet bill was $90.00 a month, this seemed like a pretty sweet peach.  Not only would I be paying less, I'd be getting more services and a slew of cable channels, most of which I could scarcely give a f#@k about.  Nonetheless, I gave plucky young Justin the go-ahead to switch everything over.

Within two days I had a technician come out to install the cable box.  I also got a fancy new modem that doesn't require a crank handle.  Finally, since keeping my original home phone number was a prerequisite for the deal, I had to facilitate a second service appointment four days later.  But within a week, everything had been patched over to Eastlink.

Almost immediately things started to get interesting.  Not four days later I received a priority post letter from Bell Aliant begging me to come back to them.  And what a shocker: they were offering their own amazing bundle deal which was even better than Eastlink's.  It was something like $99.00 for six or twelve months.  Whatever it was, it was nuts.

'Nice,' I huffed.  'I was with them for how many years? and now they decide to offer me some sort of deal?  *PFFFFFFTTTT!!!!*  Screw them.'   

Unwilling to subject myself to another round of service appointments and still willing to see how things might work out with Eastlink, I quickly turfed the letter.  But even though everything in my current arrangement seemed to be kosher, I couldn't quite shake the feeling that I was about to get ripped off.  What I didn't suspect was that both Eastlink and Bell Aliant were conspiring to treat me like a pair of god-damned Chinese finger cuffs.

And sure enough, it started with my first bill from Eastlink.  It was $148.34.  Even though I'm the kind of guy who'll consider swallowing a cyanide capsule to avoid a confrontation, I grudgingly picked up the phone and prepared for battle.  Here's what they told me up front:

"Well, because of when you had your services switched over, part of this charge is your old regular rate and part of it is your new bundle rate," explained the admittedly-pleasant Eastlink gal. 

"Um, alright,"  I replied, already feeling my attention span threaten to ebb away.

"Yeah, see right here...if you turn to page two of your bill, you can see a breakdown of everything.  Prior to getting things bundled with us on February 7'th, we charged you $143.90 for your regular Watch & Surf package and then we charged you $146.50 for the full bundle.  Then there's a partial Digital charge for $6.38 for the period between February 7'th and March 15'th as well as a .67 sent 9-11 fee."

"Yeah, but...," I stammered, trying to interject.

"But then we gave you five separate credits back during that same period.  I see one for $40.43 and then another for $125.48.  You'll also notice a full credit back in the amount of $67.03 for your internet services and $35.79 for your basic cable service.  So that brings us up to February 13'th."

"Okay, but I don't see why..."

"You'll notice that between March 16'th and April 15'th things get a lot clearer.  We actually gave you the $99 dollar three-month special rate running right now so $35.85 was deducted from your normal rate of $129.90.  Then there's a charge of $4.95 for your digital cable, your .62 cent 9-11 service fee, .63 cents for the CRTC and then $19.37 in tax."

"CRT...?!?  Okay, sure, whatever," I mumbled, momentarily distracted by an anomaly on the ceiling.
"Oh!  And since this was all part of a special promotion we also waived the normal  $20.00 installation charge!"

The two-page bill and her explanation was so obfuscating that I suddenly felt as if I was getting away with grand larceny.  I decided to shut my word-hole for fear of saying something that would cause her to exclaim 'Oh, wait a minute, I just noticed that we didn't charge you any idiot tax!  Your real total is actually supposed to fourteen-hundred and sixty-two dollars and twenty three cents.  Thanks for bringing that to our attention and have a nice day!"

But before I hung up I wanted to test the integrity of Justin's initial "deal".

"Okay, now that all the transitional stuff is worked out, what can I expect my next months bill to be?"

This set off a clacking cacophony of computer keys as well as a litany of "umms" and "ahhs".

"Okay, from April until May it'll be $125.66."

"Alright, and what about after that?"

Cue more post-traumatic-stress-disorder-inducing, all-too-familiar call center ambient noises.

"Ummmm, let's see.  It'll be $135.47 plus tax.  So grand total, $156.44 a month."

Wow, quite a difference from the $115.00 "tax in" deal that the impeccably-attired Justin had quoted.  Too tired to open up that particular can of worms I decided to call this one a temporary stalemate, thanked the girl and then hung up.    

Little did I know that it was going to get worse.  Much worse.  A few weeks after sending me their sweet, conciliatory, OMG WE U, pleasepleaseplease come back to us, we miss you s-o-o-o-o-o-o much letter, I got my final bill from Bell Aliant.  After opening it up, I just sat staring at it for awhile. Two long distance phone calls totaling $9.90 had somehow managed to metamorphosed into a bill for one-hundred and nine dollars and four cents.

This time I was pissed.  I picked up the phone, called the phone number on my bill and had the following conversation with a frustratingly cordial Stepford Wife / customer service agent:

"Hi, I just got my last Bell Aliant bill.  It's only for two calls but it's over $100.00."

*rep clatters away at the keyboard while conjuring my file*

"Oh, that's just your early cancellation fee," she reported cheerily.

She then helpfully directed my gaze down to some microscopic legalese printed three-quarters of the way down the first page of the statement.  It read:

"30-days advanced notice is required to cancel select services."        

"Um, o-o-o-kay," I managed to stammer through my genuine surprise.  "That's kinda odd.  I left Bell Aliant, not because you guys did anything wrong, but because Eastlink was in the right place at the right time and offered me a good deal.  Then you guys sent me a letter by courier begging me to stay and offering a tempting counter-proposal.  Then you turn around and charge me nearly fifty bucks for leaving.  Sorry, I'm confused: do you want my business or do you not want my business?"

"Well," she persisted, "in all fairness that notice has been on your bill for the past six years.  I'm guessing that Eastlink probably didn't mention anything about it.  Not surprising; they often neglect to mention anything that might cost them a sale."

My Hulk-rage was growing exponentially by the second.  Unfortunately I was so confused by that point I had no idea who to vent my anger towards.  

"Okay, granted the onus was on me to see that fine print but I still think it's pretty cheesy to tag a long-standing customer with a $50.00 fee just after you send them a letter begging them to come back."

"I'll tell you what," the rep replied in a maddeningly cheerful manner. "I'll make a note on your file that if you come back and bundle all of your services with us over the next three months we'll waive that fee."

The feeling that I'd won some sort of minor victor quickly evaporated after I hung up the phone.  Every day it felt more and more like a capitulation.  I couldn't shake the nagging sensation that I'd been royally ripped off.  But who to be pissed at?  Eastlink for not disclosing this fee or Bell Aliant for charging it in the first place?  Regardless of the confusion, neither suspect was inciting close to the same levels of disgust that I was feeling for myself.  How could I have missed that fine print?

As the needle on my Self-Loath-O-Meter starting creeping up to "10" I began to realize that I was playing right into their slimy hands.  Knowing that overworked, preoccupied and generally oblivious customers are grist for the corporate rip-off mill, I vowed to do some independent research and get myself informed.  Thus fortified, I went back to work. 

I started by investigating this "30-days advanced notice required" bullshittery.  Days later I called Bell Aliant and got another rep on the line.  Since I've personally been on the receiving end of way too many pissy customer service calls I spoke to this dude in my usual calm, courteous and professional manner.

"I want to see in print how Bell Aliant calculates this fee and I want to know why I'm obliged to pay it, considering that I didn't sign anything."

Three times he put me on hold to consult with a supervisor.  Although he tried to explain that the fee is supposed to be a pro-rated charge based on what my average monthly long distance charges are, he couldn't produce anything online or in writing to this effect.  And he certainly didn't have a contract signature on file for me.  When I kept pressing the issue he put me back on hold again and then promptly hung up on me.

Although my calm veneer was starting to wear thin, I called back and got a new customer service rep on the line.  After explaining the situation in detail once again this girl told me that I might get some movement on my issue if I sent it via email to  Before hanging up I asked her to annotate my file saying that I would never, ever go back to Bell Aliant so long as that $46.74 fee remained.

After ending the call, I followed her instructions and composed an email.  Here was "Tammy's" reply:

"Hello David,

"Thank you for contacting Bell Aliant.

"We have received your email and appreciate that you have taken the time to write to us.  I do apologize for the early cancellation fee is told at the beginning when setting up services, it is also located on your bill and also on the website.

"If you have any further questions or inquiries, please feel free to contact us again.

"Thank you for choosing Bell Aliant.  We appreciate your business.

"Have a nice day!"

Like a great white shark, I could now discern the distinct hint of blood in the water.  Doggedly I wrote back:

"Hi, Tammy.

"My basic phone service dates back to MT&T, a company Bell Aliant eventually bought out.  I can assure you that I was never 'told at the beginning when setting up services' back in the mid-90's about any 'early cancellation fees'.  This also didn't happen in 2006 when Bell and Aliant merged and they subsequently inherited my business. 

"Although some (very) fine print on my bill vaguely states '30 days advanced notice required to cancel services' it says nothing about any additional charges or how they might be calculated.  

"Please note that if this balance of $46.74 is not credited back to my account by Saturday the 16'th I plan to go public with this grievance. 

"Thank you

But it wasn't over yet.  Suddenly (but not unexpectedly) the buck got passed:

"Hello David,

"Thank you for contacting Bell Aliant.

"We have received your email and appreciate that you have taken the time to write to us.

"I do apologize for we in E-contact are not able to remove charges that are correctly stated.  You could call 1-888-991-9960.

"If you have any further questions or inquiries, please feel free to contact us again.

"Thank you for choosing Bell Aliant. We appreciate your business.

"Have a nice day!


I could catalog a myriad of things wrong with this email, but as they say: "aint nobody got time for that".

Despite the run-around I tranquilly dialed this new number and subsequently got "Tony" on the line. For those of you playing at home: THIS WAS THE EXACT SAME FALKING NUMBER I CALLED IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Sweet Jezum Crow.  At this stage in the game, I'm thinking that I deserve a medal for not flipping ALL the tables.  Clinging to the vain hope that you can still catch more flies with honey then with vinegar, I kept a level head and laid it all out again.  By this time my case was so well-informed and practiced that lobbing every objection back was effortless.


"The 'thirty day advanced notice' requirement is printed directly on your bill."


"Not only is this in such fine print that customers will never notice it, no-one at Bell Aliant can show me a resource in print or online that says this will result in additional charges.  Nor does it  explain how these additional charges will be calculated."


"Customers are informed about the early cancellation fee when their services are first set up." 


(Please see previous "My home phone number is probably older then you are, Tamara" email response above). 


"We need to have this fee in place to discourage customers from constantly switching back and forth between us and our competitors."


"Hey, if I had a chronic history of cherry-picking deals between Bell Aliant and its competitors, I'd say, sure, charge me a fee.  But you've got my file right up there in front of you, so you can see just how long I've been associated with Bell Aliant and all its various incarnations.  Of all the money I've given you guys over the years do you really want to burn a bridge with me over a measly forty-six dollars and seventy-four cents?  


"Eastlink should have told you about the fee."


"Nope.  It's not Eastlink's responsibility to inform new customer about the stupid policies of their competitors."

My research, my logic and my calm tone all seemed to coalesce into an irrefutable case.  Eventually  Tony was forced to throw in the towel.

"Alright, well, we don't normally do this, but I'm going to issue a credit in the amount of $46.74 in the hope that one day you'll come back to us."

I thanked Tony profusely before hanging up.  I've worked for plenty of companies in the past that have made some consistently and supremely stupid decisions so yelling at him would have been patently unfair.  I'm also wise enough to know that runarounds are just a symptom of dealing with behemoth companies.

In the end, I'm happy that Bell Aliant was still capable of long-term thinking.  If they hadn't erased that bogus $46.74 charge, hell would have frozen over before I'd crawled back to them.  By crediting me back it really kept the possibility door wide open. 

And let's face it, if Eastlink doesn't honor Justin's little "$115 tax in" promise when May rolls around, the chances of me going back to Bell Aliant are now surprisingly good.

EPIC SKETCH  After thrilling you with the further adventures of "Mr. Canoe Head" check out Four on the Floor's "Idiot Tax" skit @ the 3:39 mark.  Tres apropos.      

ONE HAND FAILING TO KNOW WHAT THE OTHER HAND IS DOING   This second special offer card from Aliant arrived just days after I got the bill for $110.00.

1 comment:

Michael Chiasson said...

I'm sorry dude. They get us coming, and they get us going.

Congrats on the credit, though!