Don't you love it when a phone company makes a mistake and puts all the blame on you? Or how they only write letters about the problem instead of, oh I don't know, maybe making a phone call or sending a text message?
Or how about when the mistake they've made is to wrongly change your address so you cannot ever, ever, ever receive any of their letters, and they slap you into debt collection because you haven't been answering the letters they've sent to the wrong place?
That's what happened to LK. When we left on our six-month journey around the world, she called Optus, our second-largest phone company, and adjusted her account by having a second phone removed from it. That call only took about half an hour of her life, and listening in to her half of the conversation I was pretty sure they weren't really going to remove the second phone.
I was wrong. They removed the phone, but then they did even more. For no reason at all, they changed her billing address back to an office she hasn't used for several years. And that meant, of course, that none of their bills were ever forwarded to the person monitoring our mail while we traveled. Ditto for their overdue notices, for their warning letters, for their termination of service notice and for their you're-in-debt-collection-hell now letters.
All they had to do was call us on the phone in question, and everything would have been fixed. But that, of course, would be easy and that's not a word in most phone companies' manuals.
Anyhow, while overseas we realized we weren't getting bills and had guessed at what the bills might amount to and sent e-payments. Then we discovered that LK's phone service was disconnected, but decided it could wait to be sorted out when we got back. Once here in Tassie, we called Optus fully expecting we had overpaid and were due a refund. Turns out, we hadn't put in enough and with penalties and late fees and charges for the months they shut off the service, we owed $275.
Did you catch that last bit? They were charging us for the two months AFTER they had disconnected the service. It's entirely possible that if we had not called them looking for a refund, we could have eaten up our entire retirement nest egg on a disconnected phone service without even knowing it.
Anyhow, LK spent about 10 minutes with someone trying to understand what had happened and why we had never received any of the bills or notices. Then the penny - or more precisely the $275 dropped - when the person told her the billing address they had been sent to. "But I haven't been in that building for three or four years!" she said. "There's absolutely no way I would have told you to use that address." And rather quickly she figured out that when they dropped the second account, they had reverted to the older billing address.
She assumed it was human error or computer glitch. I was pretty sure this is the phone company's way of getting back at you for reducing your business with them.
Either way, LK was reaching the sort of frustration levels that can ruin a beautiful Tasmanian morning so I asked her if I could give it a go. In my mind, I knew I had a secret weapon for I had only last month learned the techniques and skills of wearing people down from Super Consumer Advocate Dave. Remembering his mantra of "I want my 5 dollars," I figured I could win as long as I didn't ever flinch in the face of a mega-million corporation that wanted our $275.
I spoke with the person who had answered LK's call and asked for her manager. That was Susan, and I explained what had happened and was put on hold for about 7 minutes. Acknowledging that I may just have a point that they had screwed up, she "happily" offered to cut the penalties and fees they had tacked on, which amounted to about $70.
"That's great," I said, doing my best to channel Bill Clinton at his most persuasive, "but don't you think we should also cut out the charges you've been posting for the time the phone was disconnected?"
I think Susan agreed, but there is something you need to know about Optus. It not only is a phone company, it is a government-owned phone company. (And that government isn't even Australia, but that's a whole other issue altogether.)
So of course I was moved to yet another Optus manager to deal with the second part of my request. This is bureaucracy's great tactic - just wait them out, shuffle them from person-to-person, and eventually they will give up. But these Optusians didn't know I had been trained by Super Consumer Advocate Dave and my tactic was simple - show more perseverance than they and keep telling them you want your money.
Immovable objects, it's time you met an unstoppable force.
Joe was my last contact. He told me Susan had briefed him on the issue (which would explain why I was on hold for about 10 minutes). Joe, needless to say, had not the tiniest grasp of the issue. He tried to convince me that they were generously waiving the penalties. I just kept saying, "But, Joe, since this was all your mistake, I don't want to pay for service during the time you disconnected the phone."
Joe put me on hold several times. Finally he came on and said they were waiving the fees for the period when they were not providing service. The final bill was only $79 and I gave Joe the credit card details to pay it and get the debt collectors off the case.
It's time to picture LK and me standing on our front porch, looking in the sky and waving as we shout, "Thank you, Super Consumer Advocate Dave."