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Confronting Call-Center Chaos

Updated on August 26, 2014

Wanting Solutions to Service Center Glitches

You know you’ve been there. A bill comes that isn’t correct, so what do you do? You call the company, of course—or at least you try to call it. You use the toll-free number, or a local one if that seems more appropriate . . . and then the ‘fun’ starts, but only if you have a very perverted sense of fun.

Here’s my recent experience (which may seem awfully familiar to you, dear readers) and how I approached it, which hopefully will not only diagnose the problem but also offer a few attempts at solutions . . . none of which are fool-proof. But more on that later.

Identifyng the Problem

Last week I received a bill from one of our cable providers at one of our homes. I won’t identify which business it is, or our location that company promises to serve, for reasons that will become obvious as this tale unfolds.

The bill was for an amount over $400, at least $271 of which was due immediately, or our service would be terminated by August 21st and a reconnect fee would be required, AND the matter would be turned over to a collection agency. (Ignore the fact that the billing arrived only three days before the promised cutoff date). Sounds dire, right?

The only problem was that a) we hadn’t received any previous invoices for the two prior months, due to the fact that b) I had gone on-line (as instructed by the company) and used their new ‘put your service on vacation’ link.

I’d specified a starting vacation date of May 31, 2014, and a restart date of November 2, 2014, and then printed out the final form with all of our account information and those dates on it.

Attempt #1 at Finding a Solution

So, what to do? You call the company, right? I used the number on the bill for our local office in the area for which we subscribe to that cable service and dialed it on my cell phone. Now, guess who comes on the line? That’s right, NO ONE! It’s a computerized answering system. Not only that, but it’s not our local office. It’s just a call center, somewhere in the ‘ether’ that surrounds Planet Earth. And now the real fun starts.

I’m confronted with verbal options on their ‘main menu’ and am instructed to push the correct digit—#1 if yes, #2 if no, etc. So I begin the labyrinthine process of following instructions (or trying to), all in the vain hope of eventually talking to a human being from this same ether-breathing planet.

But there’s a snag. The computerized voice doesn’t recognize our account number when it’s punched in as requested. So, on to an entirely new set of menus. Twenty minutes later the computer gives up and says “I’ll connect you to one of our service personnel.” At last! Hope springs eternal. And then I’m put on hold . . . for another ten minutes.

Eventually a female voice comes on and asks, “To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?” I answer, giving my name, and the distinctly non-Caucasian voice says, “Hello? To whom am I speaking?” We perform that dance several more times, and then the voice says, “1-800 . . . . “ and the line goes dead.

Attempt #2 at Finding a Solution

What to do? I have no choice but to dial again. Again the computer that talks, again the main menu, again the absurd choices that don’t fit my reason for calling in the first place, again a response from me that doesn’t register with the machine (even though the information I give is correct) and once again I wait and survive a long hold, only to reach a human being from . . . where now? Is it Thailand or Singapore or Tokyo, or somewhere else? I don’t know.

This person is polite at least, and somewhat easier to understand perhaps than a person in New Delhi or Bangladesh might be, but after five minutes of decoding this individual’s properly accented English from the Far East, I explain my problem. Now we’re getting somewhere, right?

The polite person says, “Give me a moment while I look up your information. May I have your account number?” I supply it and the line goes . . . not dead this time—but repetitious, with the same 15 second commercial about a wonderful new service this company is offering me, since I’m so pleased with my current offerings’ and am ‘such a valued customer.’

Minutes later, my new friend from ‘off’ (as my wife’s relatives say in Kentucky) comes back on the line and says, “I’m sorry, but we have no record of any request for putting your service on vacation.”

“But I have a print-out from my computer, listing the start-and-stop dates, our account number and the address where this cable service is received,” I say.

“What’s the confirmation number?” my Far Eastern acquaintance asks.

“There is none. It wasn’t supplied on the page I was asked to print out.”

“So you phoned in a request and asked to be put on vacation, but you don’t have a confirmation number.”

“NO! I did not phone in the request. I did it on-line, USING THE SERVICE THE COMPANY NOW RECOMMENDS, and NO, I don’t have a confirmation number.”

“I’m sorry. Then I’ll have to transfer you to another division.” Click. Music comes on, and half a minute later the phone goes completely, utterly, and absolutely DEAD.

Attempt #3 at Finding a Solution

By now I know the number I’ve been calling by heart, and dial it again. After another 45 minutes of senseless waiting, explaining, and hoping . . . I’m cut off again. So, I do what any other right-thinking American male would do. I complain to my spouse and my wife decides to tackle the problem. She dials information, asks for a local phone number for our service provider in (place and company unnamed here), and the operator says, “Certainly,” and gives her the same number I’ve been calling for the past hour and forty minutes! She dials, asks to speak to a supervisor and eventually gets through to a nice-sounding male from somewhere whose English is pitch-perfect . . . and after an additional twenty minutes of sharing information, answering questions, and waiting, she’s told by this person (let’s call him Peter) that a) there is no record of my filing a request for a vacation hold, but b) that he’s wiped out the charges entirely, c) backdated our request to May 31st, and d) issued a new amount of $7.80 that we should pay immediately, plus e) giving her a confirmation number for this new request, and his name as a reference.

HALLELUJAH! The angels are singing, and Robert Browning is correct: “All’s right with the world.” So I rush to my computer and type in the correct amount to the company, using on-line banking from our regular account. Problem solved, yes?

Back to Square #1 - Or Are We?

Well, not exactly. Two days later I get an e-mail billing that lists the original mistaken amount, along with another threat.

So, is our problem solved . . . or isn’t it? Stay tuned.

When November 2nd comes and we’re back at our other residence, we’ll see if the cable TV and internet services are back on. If not, then I’ll just take all our paperwork in hand—including the supplied confirmation number and ‘Peter’s’ name—and head over to our local service office to confront a real person, hoping he or she can rectify a real problem that never really should have occurred in the first place.

Toward the Ultimate Solution - Sort Of!

Now, lest you think I’m just venting (YES, I AM!) and to prove that I’m also interested in finding solutions, which is why I’m writing this article in hopes that it may motivate someone else to take similar steps, here are my prescriptions for dealing with an otherwise impossible billing / call center situation:

#1 – When at all possible, call your local office or go in to see someone in person.

#2 – Failing that, hit ‘0’ on your phone as a response to any prompt (or as a friend of ours recommends, speak total non-sense into your phone until the computer at the other end says, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I’ll get someone to help you.”)

#3 – If the person’s English isn’t clearly understandable, ask to speak with a supervisor.

#4 - Keep meticulous records of the exact times you call, when you may be cut off, how long and how often you were put on hold, the names of the people you reach (if you’re that lucky), and above all, get a confirmation or case number for any issue or promised resolution to the problem.

#5 – If all else fails, ask to be referred to a call center in the U.S. (and hope that you don’t get cut off in the process).

#6 - If all that still doesn’t cut it, consider smashing your TV, drowning your phone, or moving to Mars.

A Perverse Last Word

Just kidding, of course, with regards to #6. Who could live without modern conveniences, let alone go without current technology? On second thought, maybe the Native Americans had something going for them after all, with smoke signals.


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