Saturday, January 18, 2014

On my relationship with Ma Bell


Oh oh, telephone line, give me some time
I'm living in twilight

Jeff Lynne

I miss the old days of the telephone world.


You know - busy signals, no messages.

Visiting friends in the country who were on party lines and listening to others' conversations.  Not that my best friend Barbie and I ever did that...

Well, maybe now and then.

In the old days, New Brunswick had a telephone company, NB Tel.  Well run, transparent relationship with customers.  Oh it was a monopoly in those days, and you would be right to say "Wendy - it can't have been all wine and roses and anyway, didn't your father pay those phone bills, not you?" 

But as is the way with all things of our postmodern telephone world (postmodern of what?  good question!  Postmodern of conglomerates in this case, not cell phones), NB Tel was bought by Bell.

For our house phone (are we the only ones left with a house line?), we left Bell last year after an increasingly frustrating relationship with the company, and switched to Rogers.  However, we still have two cell phone with Bell until those contracts expire and then we will leave for ever.

Why?  Because no one, themselves included, could read their phone bills.

It is apparent to me that the new world order involves bills which are so complex that they are undecipherable.  We would get bills, question charges and then spend 2 hours on the phone with personnel that passed us back and forth, back and forth.  The home phone people could not talk to the cell people and vice versa.  No one could explain certain charges and we were told on more than one occasion that we should just trust Bell Aliant.

At one point, the bills and overcharges (because we and they did mutually discover that they were double-charging us for some things) required me to make a matrix of the last 6 months of phone bills!  Now I am currently gainfully transitioning in the employment area so I could devote the 2 hours that was required to make the grid and follow the money and bill trail.  I felt like a forensic accountant or a NSA agent, digging, digging, digging, and for what good end?

As a caveat, I must say that I have a beautiful smart cousin who works for Bell Aliant and I think they ought to put her in charge of making the bills simpler.  And yet, I am not convinced that they would want to do that at all, since the complexity had resulted in us overpaying on quite a few occasions...

Fast forward to this week.  I asked Bell Aliant to return to mailing the cellphone bill for my kids' phones, as there had been some confusion and a previous payment had been missed and I did not want that to happen again.  They said they were happy to do so.  I was happy to hear that they were happy.  Happy, happy, happy.

Then the bill arrived.  The first 7 pages (excessive amount I would think) were relatively straightforward.  It was the 66 pages that followed that made me stop and say "WTF, Bell Aliant".  You see my kids have unlimited texting plans.  Good stuff.  And Bell Aliant felt it was necessary to print off, and send me 66 pages listing all of their text messages.  All of which cost me nothing.  66 pages of 0s:


This monstrosity came in a large envelope.  My phone bill was 73 pages long.  We can all appreciate what the paper and postage would have cost.  Now I know why my bloody bills were so high. 

I am so gobsmacked now that I don't even want to call some customer service person who will be nice, but will in no way, shape, or form be able to address the stupidity of this kind of thing.

Is it just me, or are we seeing more and more of this kind of thing - companies that send bills that require PhD's to understand? I have even contemplated drafting a mock bill template for their consideration, one written in plain English and that the average consumer would understand.  But something tells me I would get nowhere.

I am not a crank, but I am officially cranky.  And you win Bell Aliant - I am calling and getting back on an electronic bill.  But you kind of suck, too.

I'll be back later with something more cheerful, but in the interim, how are you making out with these kinds of companies?

Have a great morning and stay safe out there!

 

46 comments:

  1. I am not overly fond of our phone company either. But, with the number of power failures we have because of downed trees a land line will always be necessary. Mobil phones eventually need power. I am currently looking into bundling my land line with my internet/cable provider to save a few bucks. As far as Mobil phones go there is such competition that they really can't screw you especially now that you can keep the same phone number no matter what company you are with. I receive all paper bills and have never gotten on more than a few pages long. Sounds like a new soft ware program or a new employee. Do hope you enjoyed your Friday cocktail!

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    1. BB, unfortunately in Canada we have a massive telecom tri-opoly and all the US companies who might have come to "help us out" have dropped out (not enough pop., massive federal regulation.) So we do also get mobile madness.

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    2. It is crazy! We had a dinner party for 8 last night and it was kir Royales!

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    3. I was pleased to be part of the dinner party!!! GREAT time had by all!

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    4. Thanks Nancy - we did have fun, didn't we?

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  2. Yikes, 77 pages! Well I am not surprised, I used to work for telecom companies and they are not the most intuitive or logical of entities.
    I miss the days of house phones too, before all the gadgetry was invented. In the old days, we used to routinely call the operator to make emergency breakthroughs if we got a busy signal calling friends, so we could talk about something vitally important, such as boys, hair, etc lol! We were idiots...

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    1. Oh my god Cate! I remember that! Do they ever still do that? Could they even do that now?

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    2. Ha I just noticed I can't add! Lol!! Where did I get 77 from??

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  3. My Grandma Jean once got into a fight with Bell and it was epic. I think it was about her satellite television bill? Anyway after talking to anybody she could and trying to get answers she finally became so frustrated she screamed down the line at them: "you'll be hearing from my lawyer!". Then she phoned MrBP, who as you know is an environmental lawyer and who also never deals with a bill or admin task of any kind as he has me AND a personal assistant at the office. Anyway he spent many hours on the phone for Grandma Jean with Bell sorting everything out. He decided in the end that Bell was the stupidest company ever.
    We don't use Bell for anything. And that 73 page phone bill is a crime against trees! What ridiculous waste!

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    1. haha good for Grandma Jean freaking out over the bill! I think some companies just bank on people not bothering to waste time sorting out the bill and they will just pay whatever charges are on the bill and be done with it. I work for a lawyer too and one time, years ago, Hubs got massively charged for something he shouldn't have -- I think it was with Air Canada, they wouldn't refund him for some stupid charge that he wasn't responsible for, so I complained to my boss about it after Hubs was getting nowhere and he said if you have problems, tell them you will be "referring this matter to my lawyer". So Hubs did that and miraculously, the charge was reimbursed barely an hour later. Good thing! I didn't really want to get my boss involved with fighting with Air Canada....lol

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    2. Yay grandma jean and me. Bp! I have had my go a rounds with them, too.n this is so ridiculous it seems there is no point. Though I may forward this blogpost to the CEO and ask if they are that thick...

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  4. Bell is really the worst. And when you call you have the sense that they're all sitting at cubicles with their desks and hallways full of enormous mounds of paper and that they digging through trying to find your file.

    I closed my last Bell account in 2005 and will never ever open another with them. They are a thousand times worse than any other provider.

    Bon courage, Wendy!

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  5. This post seems so wonderfully old fashioned - that's how fast the world is moving now. I hardly ever use the phone and it never rings, it's really just there for emergencies. If it rings we feel on the verge of throwing up because " it must be mum needing help" I don't use my mobile either, it's for pics and emails - hang on, might have to go see if my voice still exists.

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    1. I am the same way about the land line, I loathe it. I spend all day at work on the phone, so it's the last thing I want to deal with when we get home in the evenings and I never answer the phone, I make Hubs answer it. :) If I had my way, we would get rid of the landline completely and just use our cell phones, but our parents still call our landline so I guess we have to keep it....for now....

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    2. LR, I do fall in the BB camp re. power outages and land line. Maybe because we have had so many in my region already this winter. But I hear you, and telemarketers make it worse as well.

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    3. I love Face Time but boy does it make me want to book a face lift, hinging jowls and a double chin on a Lurch shaped face.

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    4. We also have a do not call system in which you sign up and telemarketers are not allowed to call for three years, I think, and then you sign up again. This does not prevent charities or companies you already do business with from calling. But then, all you have to do is say "take me off your list" and they are required to do so. Nothing like getting a call in the middle of the night and the initial panic that brings just to find out sister butt dialed you.

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    5. Really - I may have to go all Norma Rae on their asses....

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  6. PARTY LINE (NO-BELL PRIZE?) Hang in there Wenders! Rogers is better than Bell (I am in the Abby and DBP's Grandma Jean camp.) But not by all that much. We are on paperless billing and when DH needed paper bill for tax proof last year that was epic. I had an awful go-round with Sears appliance customer service start of this year (Clear why they are folding as a retailer.)

    I basically believe a lot of companies think that if they bury you in a blizzard of paperwork and keep you in 7 circles of voicemail hell you WILL just go away. The "who has time these days" model. Plus now so many people have auto-pays from their accounts, they don't even realize until after the co. has the money.

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    1. Agree - they count on this! I am convinced of that! Honestly, I just could not help starting to voice this publicly. It is atrocious!

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    2. I have had countless conversations with Bell and with Rogers regarding landlines and cell phones (and cable tv). This last round, Bell won. Both came through with discounts but Rogers was trying to blame me for their lines being too close to NB Power lines so it was my responsibility to get them moved (even though we had the lines long before Rogers hung theirs)! NB Power . . . now that is a whole other conversation.

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  7. No - Bell prize - too too clever Get Fresh!

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  8. Well, how's this: last year at a certain point our bill (email) didn't arrive at the usual time. My husband called and was told, it's ok, the bill has been paid. We thought that perhaps we had a credit somehow, so left it. Next month same thing - no bill, husband calls, bill has been paid. It eventually transpired (after, naturally, many calls) that somehow our bill had been merged with another person's bill, which they had been paying for a while until they eventually queried it! It took a while to sort it all out and of course we then had to pay several bills at once.

    My husband wants to drop the land line when we move, but I'm not so sure. You often have to give a phone number (when ordering etc.) and that number can end in the hands of telemarketers - I'd much rather that we missed them on a land line than to be bothered by them on a cell phone that you have on your person all the time.

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    1. Patricia - we debate that constantly! Glad we are not the only one wondering what is best AND fighting with the utilities!

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  9. Oh my!!! Well, one thing that you post brought me is the satisfaction to see that you can have this kind of mess all around the world :-)
    Have a fab weekend Wendy.

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    1. Yes, Canada is as screwed up as Europe on these issues!

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  10. Wendy your blog certainly resonated with me. I have one of these bundle things but have no idea whether I am paying too much because it's the wrong package. I suspect I am, but few clues in the incomprehensible bill offer any kind of proof, which I am pretty convinced is the way they like it. It's so telling though that just about everybody you ask says they are with Bell and/or Rogers because they got fed up with the other. That's what I find anyway. We are all with the providers we are with by default - because we see them as marginally better than the other - the lesser of two evils. What's this say about the industry?

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    1. Duncan - you are right on! I really wish they would like a real person help them design their bills.... We have been back and forth a couple of times!

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  11. I like your idea of sending them a mock bill template for their consideration. I cannot believe they sent you a 73 page bill. Incredible!

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    1. Hi Barb! It is true! I really find it unfathomable!

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  12. I have Sprint mobile (my only phone) despise them and have for years but they've got a noose around my neck as I couldn't bear to pay the cancellation penalties and then spend all the time necessary to set one up with someone else. About every other year or so, I get lathered up, call their customer service, and give some flunky in Bangalore a good ass-chewin',

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    1. My God! Oppressed phone company customers unite!

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  13. Wow, that's ridiculous! A 70+ page bill, are they crazy?? Last year, we switched from Bell to Rogers phone, which means the phone goes over the cable line. However, after the ice storm and the power outage, we were thinking twice about the switch - without power, the cable (and therefore the phone) didn't work. The cell phone service didn't work either because the cell phone towers in our area didn't have power. That is still one big advantage that Bell has over Rogers, having telephone land lines that are independent of the power grid. Unfortunately, with climate change, ice storms and other extreme weather events are going to continue to happen and Toronto's infrastructure is crumbling. We had 2 major blackouts last year and I am sure more will happen in the future.

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  14. wow...that is truly insane! Surely at some point in the chain there is someone thinking to themself 'hey, those customers with free texting plans...we should really change the billing template so there is only a summary that appears when no actual charges have been incurred for a service". Yeesh.
    We keep a landline 'cause it's handy to always have a phone (even when the power is out, thank you ancient rotary!) but just recently gave in to the whole Fibe thing. Have yet to see if it was a mistake! But it's kinda nice to have cable tv for the first time in my life...

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    1. Ha! You would think so, wouldn't you? Cable TV - a necessary luxury for me!

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  15. One word for Wendy: paperless. :)))

    I have Rogers, and trust me, those aren't any better. In act, I don't like either cell phone providers in our area.

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  16. Crazy! We, too, keep a landline. It has always come in handy because inevitably the power will go out. My cell phone will be dead. And I will be grateful for my stubbornness. I agree that calling would get you absolutely nowhere.

    Jenni

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  17. We dropped our landline last year. Too many secret charges and we weren't using it at all. We also realized we didn't have a phone to plug into the wall, should the power go out and we need the line. lol Smoke signals it is!

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Kindness is a virtue...