Other Articles In This Series
Congratulations! You have decided to fight city hall, er, the phone company. I’ll be more than happy to shed some light on this often times confusing maze of options and governmental red tape.
First let me explain how telecom works. Yes there are Federal resources available such as the FCC, but honestly this is one place where you really shouldn’t start at the top. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, every telecommunications provider, wether it be landline or wireless has to apply to each state to provide service. It’s a really lengthy process that involves contracts that are longer than my fence in my backyard, politicians, and more lawyers than OJ Simpson’s dream team. My point is, that this is a great place to start when filing a complaint, since without each individual state’s approval, companies can actually be shut out of service territory and customer base. Pretty much companies will do whatever it takes to help you once the state gets involved. Not to mention, the fines that can be levied upon service providers for each occurrence of misconduct can be larger than most home mortgages. Bottom line, they don’t want to tick off the people who keep them in power.
So you’re telling me that a small group of people hold the key to my telephone complaint destiny? Sort of... Although it’s nothing like the “Skulls” of lore on the Harvard campus, each state has a governing body that regulates utilities. This includes electricity, water, telecommunications, as well as other public and private functions. They are usually setup as a board and are appointed by the governor of the state. Usually these boards consist of retired lawyers, politicians, or even utility workers (usually CEOs). Since they are appointed you’ll never see them on a voting ballot. Each state has different rules on the length of term or how long they can serve on the board etc. They are referred to as the “PSC or PUC”. This stands for Public Service Commission, or Public Utility Commission. In many states this is where the complaint should be directed to. In other states, consumer affairs handles the complaints. My suggestion is to checkout the state resources I have put together, and depending on your compliant type (wireless, wireline, service related) start here. Usually there is a simple web based form that you type in all of your information and BAM, you have done your part to file a formal complaint.
In some states, the PSC/PUC doesn't handle every day run of the mill complaints, but instead leaves it up the the consumer affairs or consumer protection division of the state. For example, in Florida, the same group that you would complain about your faulty toaster, also gets to handle your telephone service complaint. Ironically enough, in Florida, it’s also connected to the same group that hands out the concealed weapons permits. How’s that for coincidence? Generally the consumer affairs groups actually have a better track record at solving complaints than the PSC/PUC since they handle more overall consumer complaints. In an effort to streamline the process and minimize expenses I feel this is definitely going to be the trend.
Ok so I filled out a complaint form, now what? The easy answer is that it depends on your state. Some states have different commitment windows to resolve complaints. Usually you can count on up to 10 business days for you to get a response. In general it will actually be a representative from the phone company that will be contacting you back directly to resolve your issue. WHAT?!? Didn’t I just do that? No. The person who contacts you back will definitely be a manager, not someone low on the totem pole. They will have the ability to correct whatever has gone horribly wrong. Usually these employees do not work on commission, and truly are customer service, not like the sales ninjas you may have had previous talks with. These folks are more like the Men in Black of the phone world. You will usually get their personal extension and/or direct number, with an email address, and proper contact information. While it’s important to know they are there to help you, don’t expect them to grovel, as they are still looking out for the best interests of the company. Some companies refer to these folks as the “Executive Appeals Department” or “Executive Escalations Group”.
Remember, when you take the time to actually complete a complaint form, regardless of where it is actually directed to, remember these 4 tips:
1 - Facts - Stay Factual
2 - Remove Emotions - No personal attacks on the company or employees.
3 - Documentation - Provide all that you have, the more the better.
4 - Requested Outcome - Tell them what would make you happy.
So why not just start out complaining to the executive appeals department? This is why I call them the Men in Black. They don’t really exist. That is, regular employees of the phone company have no way to actually seek out these individuals, and they don’t have a generic customer service number. It’s not like they can actually transfer you to this group. I used to love getting calls from these folks, and yes, they do actually call the internal customer service number. We were putty in their hands, and we did whatever they said to do. That is actually after verifying their true identity of course. This group often times doesn't have the ability to actually make changes in the system, they just act as a middleman between the customer and the appropriate departments to effect change. The Executive Appeals group attempts to prevent any fee or fines from the governing regulatory body so they try to do whatever they can to make you happy. Remember when we started this journey I told you not to expect a mega check for lost business etc, they still won’t reimburse you because you lost your million dollar deal over a dropped cell phone call, but if your request is reasonable they will try to work it out for you.
True story: I had a problem with my wireless carrier when I chose to switch providers, and was socked with a huge bill. I actually followed my own advice, gave the company a chance to rectify the situation and they simply refused to do the right thing. Since it was a wireless carrier, I actually went into my local retail store to complain, and the store manager could care less about my situation. I filed a complaint with the local regulatory body and not only did I get a call from their executive appeals group, but since I mentioned the store manager by name, he actually called me up personally to apologize!
Alright, so maybe you have tried this route and you still haven’t gotten any satisfaction. What about your local politicians? But why would you write to your local senator you may ask? Simple, it’s all about money and power! Believe it or not, your local politician has contacts within the phone company. It’s called public relations! Often times local politicos want to be seen as a knight in shining armor, standing up for the little guy, their constituent. If you write your congressman/woman they will essentially forward on your request to the public relations department of the appropriate carrier and they will often times work on your behalf as well. This process can be quite effective, but often times requires some follow up paperwork. Because of privacy laws, once you write the appropriate politician, they may ask you to sign a release stating that your complaint will become public knowledge. Just don’t be caught off guard, in my opinion I think this is a good thing.
So why are the telecom companies afraid of local politicos? State politicians actually have control of the fate of the telecom groups. While the PSC/PUC actually regulate them to ensure they are complying with all the pertinent laws, politicians actually get to create those laws. In fact, many of the large companies actually have “Political Accounts” departments. These are usually departments that handle the politician’s accounts with “kid gloves”, ensuring that technicians arrive on time, that billing is appropriate, and that the politician is treated swiftly and appropriately. Lets face it, if someone is running for a local office, they may one day actually become head of some oversight committee and the phone company doesn't want them to have negative experience. I can personally recall an instance when a politician’s aide called up to add more lines for an outbound call drive right near election time. In my system, the quickest I could get them installed was after the election. Once the political accounts group got involved, it was within days!
So now you know that you have many options and places to turn to in your fight against the super mega phone company. The question remains, “Do I do these all at once or one at a time?”. There is no right or wrong answer, as it it truly up to you just how much fire you want to light under someone’s back side. Some prefer to blast their company with everything all at once, others take their time with a complaint and exhaust each resource individually. There is no right or wrong answer and I have seen it happen both ways. Some times it’s a fishing expedition where you are just hoping to catch something, other times, you may need to be a shark in a feeding frenzy.
Did you try all of these options and still nothing has worked? Lets move on to the federal resources!
joseph garrett on March 03, 2014:
I have hughes internet services.we was looking for a home phone service.vonage told us we could get great service from them.most of the time it does not work.when we complain about that,they say sorry we are not compatable with hughes net.so