The Secret Joy of Fighting City Hall

The Secret Joy of Fighting City Hall

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bureaucracy

Last month, we got “crammed.” That means my telephone company hired someone to call my wife, ask if she wanted information on DSL, and despite specific assurances we weren’t signing up for something, they shipped a modem and billed us. After a few hour-long waits to talk to a human, the Account Manager assured me I had to ship the modem back myself, and then they would remove the charges. When the magic words “Let me speak to your supervisor” yielded a curt “I am an account manger, and my supervisor isn’t available,” I knew it was time to call on the big guns. It was time to go to the top.

There are a number of state-sponsored weapons available to a person such as me in this case, but they are all a bit ineffective and time-consuming. That doesn’t mean they are useless, but they are just diversionary tactics. I summarized the facts of the transaction, and stated what I wanted: Get the charge off the bill, send someone around to pick up their modem, tell me the name of the company that called, and send a hand-written apology letter. I then sent the summary with an appropriate cover letter to the Consumer Affairs guy in Tallahassee, the Public Service Commission, wrote a dispute letter to the billing department at the phone company, and sent a copy to the two relevant Registered Agents for the phone company. Now I was ready to attack.

“What’s a Registered Agent?” you might inquire. He’s an obscure but useful person. Every company doing business in Florida but headquartered out of state has one of these guys. They essentially accept legal and other documents, forward them and charge the receiving party a modest but exorbitant fee. You get their names from the Florida Department of State Web site. The goal here is to cost the other party as much time and money as possible to settle your complaint, but not claim any for yourself. They jerked me around and got nothing for their efforts, but now it’s my turn.

Here’s the main thrust of the attack — you call the president of the company. Most major companies that deal with the public have bunker-tight security protecting them from irate customers. Yelling at them is like peeing on a frog — it’s warm and wet and they like to be that way. Interestingly, their home offices are wide open if you can afford to make a long distance call. The president or vice president’s name is in the annual report, and that’s easy to get from Yahoo! finance or many other places on the Web. Their phone number is also there, and one or two professional sounding calls will often get you through amazingly fast. I told them “I need to talk to Mr. Big, there’s some fraudulent and probably illegal activity going on in his department.” Despite the Enron fiasco, that line scares the poop out of most bigwigs, because if there is something crooked going on, they get a cut, and free agent deceit is a violation of corporate etiquette.

Well, Mr. Big was on vacation, but I had a nice chat with his secretary and she was genuinely concerned. I emailed my complaint and requests, and a toady (Assistant to Presidential Escalations, I am NOT making that title up) quickly returned my call.

Now, the total dollar value of my complaint is really about $28.75 — the $18.75 quarterly payment on the modem, and a sawbuck for UPS to come around and get it. And the $18.75 isn’t even real; they’re getting their modem back, even though I’m legally entitled to keep it. I’m sure Mr. Toady is paid at least $50k, maybe several times that amount, so one hour of his time is worth $25 minimum, even without overhead. ANYTHING I get him to do is costing them money. He was very polite. At least three other people called to help. This is the adult equivalent to a firecracker in an anthill.

Well, as I write this, I still haven’t gotten my bill cleared up, but that will happen. They sent FedEx to get the modem, and I even got my hand-written letter. Petty as it sound, this will make a few people in Corporate realize there are dangerous crackpots out here, and maybe they’ll be a bit more responsive next time. When Mr. Toady goes drinking with his buddies in Buckhead this Friday, I want to be his war story of the week.

They also gave me the name of the company that called. That’s my biggest coup of all. All telemarketers hide behind the fact they know who you are, and you don’t have a clue as to who they are. They only told me the name verbally, but a quick Google search turned up a company with that name in the Customer Resource Management business with offices in, among other places, Toronto. They guy who called had an accent my wife picked up, and he said Southern Ontario. Hmmmm…

I now have a number of additional options open. First, I plan to file a complaint with Florida about them. I’m on the Do Not Solicit list, and he called, improperly identified himself, and then committed wire fraud. I can also complain to the state of Colorado, headquarters to this sleazy bag out fit, and the province of Ontario. I can also forward the complaint to the Canadian Embassy in Washington. But before I create a diplomatic incident, I will call them up and ask for a polite, handwritten apology. Then I’ll buy 100 shares of their sorry penny stock and make them put a shareholder proposal on their next proxy. Something about “Firing any employee who slams, crams, or commits fraud, or knowingly allows it to happen.”

God, I love it when a plan comes together!

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