"I Have a Beef With Big Companies"
By Capt. Fred Davis
Published: Thursday, July 8, 2010

I “recall” last winter when I had to take time off for surgery: I was told I could very well lose my memory. On the contrary, my memory seems improved, but I believe many large companies who deal with older citizens count on them losing their memories. Many businesses don’t want you to remember things like when you used to make a phone call to them a person would answer. And, when you called, you were not asked what language you wished to use. Not only were you not asked for a language choice, you generally could understand the person who answered the phone. The reason for this was a person had a full-time job answering the phone and perhaps doing other office work. If you called often, they may have even recognized your voice.

I’m very disappointed with the phone companies. My cell phone company claims they serve 97 percent of people in the U.S. I think 90 percent of us are unable to understand our bills. The company tries to help by changing them, to make them easier to read, which makes matters worse. Most of the 90 percent of us don’t like to admit we can’t comprehend the billings, so the company routinely collects extra amounts.

Case in point: I received a bill with a $7.50 charge for one information call listed on it. The $7.50 charge broke down as: $4.99 for directory assistance, $1.55 for a carrier assistance fee, .60 cents for a federal universal service fund fee, .17 cents for a state communications tax fee and .19 cents for a local community tax fee.

I called to inquire, and eventually got a person who explained the charge was from another company and advised I call them. When I eventually reached a person at that company, they told me in order to use their service, I must have dialed 10-15-15-800 and the fee then was added to my phone bill.

When I explained to the person neither my wife nor I had ever heard of such a service, nor had we dialed those numbers, the person immediately responded, saying they would send a refund check in the mail because the billing already had been submitted by my cell phone company to my auto-pay bill service.

I wonder how many people with auto pay convenience get extra charges placed on their bills.

When I mentioned the event to my daughter, who is CFO of a major Federal Credit Union, and said I thought older people were more likely to use auto pay and therefore get taken advantage of, she objected, saying that was not the case. She explained many people of all ages enjoy the advantage of not having to cut checks and some lenders actually require payments be made via auto withdrawal.

As I see it, we all need to carefully monitor our billings, as complex as they may be because for whatever reason, extra charges may appear on them. Another recent encounter with my GIANT cell phone company occurred when they bought my old cell phone company. I was in Florida when I had trouble with my one-year-old phone, so I called the service number listed. After talking to four different people for more than two hours, who each did adjustments to the phone, I was told the phone was defective and I would have to visit a corporate store to receive another phone.

I made the 60 mile round trip, spent a couple hours in the store and took home the new phone. I had explained I needed the phone because I was making a trip out of state in two days. The phone worked less than a week. Now I was in Phoenix, but the phone company was there for me. I called a corporate store, having learned they are the only ones who can actually do anything for you. They said bring the phone in and they would check it out. A young man worked on it about five minutes, then announced the less than two-week-old phone was defective and he gave me a new one. I guess this proved it was not my lack of tech ability regarding use of the phone.

The new phone did not work well either and had a game in it that I had in my old phone that was an update, of which I did not want. We later learned the phone should have been charged a full 12 hours before use, which the corporate tech failed to tell us. When we returned to Florida, we traveled back to the corporate store where we had received the prior defective phone. We asked how long we could expect the battery to hold a charge and were told 2 to 15 days. We explained we could not get ours to hold for a day. We still did not learn about the 12 hour rule, but were assured we could get a new battery because the phone — obviously — was still in warranty.

The problem: They were out of them but could order one and we could, of course, make the 60 mile drive to get it. When we inquired about the game that had been switched, the tech said he could take care of that for us and an hour later we were on our way with an almost-defective phone because we never knew when it might lose power. At this point, the folks in the billing department, who were just as accommodating as the techs, owed us $ 150. We are now back in Michigan and will need to visit another corporate store to pick up our battery, which will no doubt need to be ordered.

I have learned a lot about phone service recently, such as when you are in a large resort hotel and call down to the desk, you will be talking to someone in India. To resolve an issue, you must present yourself in person and, of course, wait in the very long line.

It is very difficult to reach anyone directly by phone, most of them are answered by machines and you must perform all of the prompts correctly or you are ditched. As if that is not a big enough pain in the butt, calls you receive often are placed by a machine that instructs you to wait for important information.

If you are lucky enough to be paying by the minute, this maneuver gets expensive.

I’m sure phone companies are not the only ones we all have to watch out for: Big business is just BIG and very uncaring and the little people get trampled.

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