Why are companies so hard to reach?

October 6 2008 by Ellen Roseman

When you call a large company, you often talk to a call centre. Their staff can’t connect you to any senior executives, since they’re not given any names, phone numbers or email addresses.

As a result, consumer problems take longer and longer to get resolved. And consumers are rarely offered compensation for all their time and effort.

I’m furious to see companies insulating themselves from complaints. They’d rather not speak to their customers, except through low-paid, transient workers employed by someone else.

Lately, I’m getting more complaints about lack of access to key decision-makers. Rogers, Bell and Home Depot are mentioned a lot. (I also get such complaints about the Toronto Star’s circulation department.) Only if you’re smart and aggressive can you find out who’s in charge.

Here’s what I do. I search for company news releases, since they usually show a contact name, phone number and email address. Sometimes, they list an outside public relations firm. Since I’m in the media, I get help ASAP by asking the publicist for help.

This may not work for the average customer. But you can use these news releases to find phone numbers that go to real company offices, not call centres. And once you find the formula for company email addresses, you can email the president or vice-president directly.

So, here’s my plea. If companies keep dumping their problems on call centre staff and making their key people so hard to reach, let’s make sure they don’t get away with it. Secretiveness should not be rewarded.

I’m asking customers to break their silence and share information about how they managed to succeed with their complaints. Help others stop wasting their time.

Check out the story below from a customer who wanted to tell his bank what he thought of a heavy-handed credit card marketing campaign. Alas, the vice-president who signed his letter couldn’t be reached, but he found her on his own — ending up with both an apology and Aeroplan points.

28 comments

  1. Terry

    Oct 6 2008

    I think companies make it so hard to find the people “up top” because they don’t want the stress of dealing with people. They make decisions and they will live with the consequences, but only when they see them reflected in reports and financial results.

    Most Execs don’t want to hear from the people because, let’s be honest, how many people are going to call and say “I love your product/service!” They would much rather pay people minimum wage (or less by off-shoring) to take “the heat”.

    That is why the small “mom & pop” businesses really are much better, even if they cost a little more.

  2. Ram

    Oct 6 2008

    DC,

    I had the same experience with Rogers. I received a letter in the mail yesterday that my 15% discount is no longer available from November. I need to call Rogers for a 2 year commitment and add one more service to get the discount.

    A friend of mine also had a similar experience and when he called he was given the grandfathering story that Tash mentioned.

    I thought of calling Rogers but dropped the idea because it isn’t worth my time waiting anywhere from 30-45 minutes to speak and getting transferred a few times. I have better use of my time.

    I guess Rogers is able to sneak through price increases like these and get away with it because of lack of competition. The market is not as open as in other countries and a few companies control the marketplace.

    I am thinking about switching to Bell, but don’t how their pricing structure will be. Alternatively, we as consumers could see what services we could reduce so that we pay no more than what we paid earlier.

    I will think long and hard before switching my coffee shop, my bank, my grocery store, but won’t bat an eyelash before switching my utility company.

  3. K S

    Oct 7 2008

    To counter Rogers’ dreadful attitude to customer service, I got hold of the President’s phone number a long time ago. I’ve used that number many times since then and speak with his assistant (several different ones over the years).

    I have to say that the President hires wonderfully helpful people, who invariably rectify issues promptly.

    The downstream employees are a pretty toxic lot, but that’s more to do with company management and training style.

    And yes, I’ll switch as soon as it suits me. They have my money but not my loyalty.

  4. Jay

    Oct 7 2008

    I had big problems with Bell Expressvu. The guy that came to install my system called me and said that he was 5-10 mins from my new place (this was in Jan ’07).

    I was still at my old place and clearly told him that I had to drive to my new place to meet him. He clearly told me that he was on a section of the highway right by my new place. So I drove out and arrived there on time at 3 pm, only to wait 2 hours!!!!! It was also on my birthday and I had plans.

    This guy arrived just after 5 pm intoxicated. It took him 2 hours to install a very simple setup. I got very fed up with him after explaining simple things over and over again. I kept telling him to just plug it in and let me deal with it, because he really couldn’t comprehend simple and (most certainly) common requests.

    I realized he was stalling when he had me sign the invoice. Just as I handed it back to him, I realized that he put “arrived at 3 pm and finished at 7:30”. It was 7 pm at this point.

    He used my washroom and left urine on the seat and didn’t even flush. Then 20 minutes later when my sister arrived, he said hello to her and went to the flush the toilet! Unbelievable!

    To sum it up, I got the total runaround when I complained. They said that it’s not their fault because they contract out the installations. She gave me a $15 credit to put towards movies. It was ridiculous and I refused it.

    FAST FORWARD

    I decided to cancel the service after my contract was up since I was moving (now Feb ’08). I called their number and each time I spoke with someone and told them that I wanted to cancel, I was given the same line: “Why do you want to cancel? If you’re moving, we can transfer it.”

    However each time, I CLEARLY stated that I was not interested, the person said “I’m not authorized to cancel accounts. Let me transfer you.” This happened **4** times.

    They double billed me many times because their “promotion” somehow didn’t get applied to my account. There’s too much to write here, so I’ll just say that I was on the phone for 4 hours. Don’t believe me? I’ll send anyone my phone log from Telus. Mind you, I was also requesting to speak to a supervisor because I was thoroughly annoyed at the company, but 4 hours to reach a supervisor is astronomically long.

    I will never purchase a Bell product/service in any way shape or form.

  5. Jay

    Oct 7 2008

    …Continued (Bell Expressvu and sympatico)

    After I settled my account and paid, I received a phone call from them a few weeks later saying that I owed $91. I actually gave my credit card number to the supervisor to process and finish everything.

    I told the very rude lady that I paid and have the credit card statement to prove it. She told me that I paid the wrong way and that I had to direct it to another department.

    I told her that the money is in Bell’s company and that the flaw in their company’s payment system is not my problem. I couldn’t even believe that she was asking me to pay again to the correct department after a supervisor supposedly settled my account.

    So their proposal was for me to pay again and then call in to reverse the other payment. How stupid is that? She even said, “Sir, this is not my fault. Are you blaming me?”

    How can words like that be said? She obviously had an elementary school education, so it was pointless to continue.

    A few weeks later, I received a letter from a collection agency. I PAID EVERYTHING THAT I OWED, YET BELL STILL SENT MY INFORMATION TO A COLLECTOR. HOW CAN THIS BE LEGAL?

    The money is probably floating in their system somewhere, but how is it my problem?????

  6. Lior

    Oct 7 2008

    Tash from Rogers:

    “This rewards customers with richer savings. The more services taken, the deeper the discount. For example, people with 4 services get a deeper discount of 15%.”

    I reckon basic mathematics is not an applied emphasis when you work in customer service for Rogers. Your previous plans provided 15% discount for 3 bundled services. Your new plan offers the same percentage of discount but for 4 bundled items. The discounts are indeed “deeper” because you are getting paid for an additional service, and the more money is spent on that service, the bigger the discount. There’s nothing “richer” about that type of savings except up-selling more services to the customer. Those who swallow what you sell them will see a slight discount on their overall bill. Overall advantage: Rogers. Not the customer. If you don’t mind me saying.

  7. Lior

    Oct 7 2008

    I absolutely admire you, Ellen. It’s funny how the same companies are always in the headlines for their poor customer service. Some of the issues expressed so far are not ill intentioned by the front line reps, but rather reflects a company policy of poor training and selection.

    People who work in customer service for such big companies are rarely passionate about the work they do. Imagine yourself getting a mere $14 per hour to sit in a cubicle in front of a computer the entire day listening to customers whine and complain about their billing issues, tech support issues, missed appointments, etc. People do this kind of work for the money rather than the true purpose of the job: to essentially be the main link between the company and the people who keep it in business: their customers.

    Many of the companies who are mentioned regularly on your blog, instead of taking it upon themselves to rectify their faults, are completely ignoring customer complaints and only send out their PR people whenever the company’s name is in the news. Until that attitude changes, Ellen, you will have your hands full. Perhaps once shareholders will start demanding from executives that customers will be treated in a respected and effective manner instead of timing service reps about how many calls they can take in a given time period, maybe then customer service will be what it once was.

  8. jamie

    Oct 8 2008

    As just an ordinary consumer, I’ve also done the search for a news release and used whatever email address is on it to get a response, after none at all came using the advertised contact.

    It recently worked for Walmart after they failed to respond at all to multiple submissions of their webform. It’s always gotten far better response from futureshop/bestbuy than their useless outsourced call centre.

    Loblaws, on the other hand, seems to have done an incredible job of blocking any way to contact anyone of importance. Email addresses for execs seem to exist in the same format as others, but they reject attempts to reach them.

    Since my complaints to them, I’ve noticed a number of forum posts from people who sent complaints to Loblaws and never got a response at all. Attempts to get around their front line of defense by snail mailing to the top are ignored altogether. Incredible, considering the competitive position they are in.

    For problems at a bank, write to their ombudsman at the first sign of trouble. While they won’t do anything until you’ve followed up the chain of command, having your letter directed from the ombudsman down seems to make the recipient jump a lot faster then when they are contacted directly.

  9. DC

    Oct 8 2008

    I agree with you all about Rogers….and in response to Rogers’ spokeswoman Tash Barkey’s comments “The 15% flat rate Better Choice Bundle program expired a number of years ago. We have been grandfathering customers until their 2 year term expired. We replaced that flat rate program with our current discount program (2 services = 5%, 3 services = 10%, 4 services = 15%). This rewards customers with richer savings. The more services taken, the deeper the discount. For example, people with 4 services get a deeper discount of 15%.”

    Sorry, Tash, but you and Rogers need to go back to elementary Math class….I was getting a 15% discount for TWO services with NO TERMINATION OR END DATE – there was no 2 year contract…I had these 2 services since early 2002!

    I, like others, will be looking for another service provider as soon as the discount expires. Or as someone mentioned, eliminate any “extras” and just pay for the very basic so Rogers isn’t making much, if anything, off of you after they changed the rules to suit their profit books.

  10. Lior

    Oct 9 2008

    DC: It may be a good idea to call Rogers first and try to work out a new deal. They’re quite flexible in that respect.

    Just make sure you have your numbers ready from the competition. You can even make up some numbers by studying some of the deals the competition is offering and then call Rogers to terminate your services.

    Before they close your account, they’ll put you through to their “customer retention” department who will work out a deal with you in a last ditch attempt to get you to stay with them. But make sure you deal only with that department. Don’t let any other type of agent deal with this because that’s not their job. If you can, keep us informed.

  11. LC, less frustrated with Home Depot

    Oct 9 2008

    Hi Ellen, the day after I wrote to you and received your response, Richard Schweyer, Market Service Manager for Home Depot, contacted me by phone. He explained that he had taken over my project, and would view my home himself, and bring in his best crews to complete the job.

    He had the bulkhead repaired last week, and today he sent photos of the kitchen and bathroom cabinets back in place. Home Depot, however, does not have the light rail installed in the kitchen because he said the store had misplaced it.

    His crew will have to come back again when the railing is delivered to the store. Although he said he will expedite this, it will probably take a few weeks. If history repeats itself, it could be six weeks.

    I will be going up to Collingwood this weekend to review the work. I am to let Richard know if there was anything that wasn’t completed. Hopefully, they haven’t left it a filthy mess.

    I really appreciate your assistance with my issue. I am sure if you had not forwarded this on, I would still be without a kitchen or bathroom and an unlivable condo.

    My concern is not only for myself but also for other unsuspecting consumers who give their money up front to Home Depot and may go through what I have endured or worse.
    Paying taxes and utilities on a home you can’t use, membership fees for ski clubs that you don’t use because your home is not suitable to live in, is deplorable.

    Home Depot should be made accountable for these unacceptable conditions, and apparently they are not.

    I wish all consumers about to use Home Depot for renovations could be warned of their incapability of completing the job on time and done properly. I certainly will never recommend them, or buy another item from their stores. Again Ellen, I truly am grateful for your help.

  12. Sas

    Oct 11 2008

    Why are companies so hard to reach? It is because they are so big, and lawfully allowed to do so with little or no consequence. The system was set up for the low cost products and service that consumers want! Human intervention is the exception.

    As a consumer, I had my fair share of frustration with bad services and products from all the above-mentioned companies. The idea of customers switching from one bad service to another is such a disappointment. Consumers are like fish in the bowl. It is up to the them to find the lesser of the evils and test your tolerance with their service.

  13. MikeP

    Oct 11 2008

    When I lived in Nova Scotia, I was an MT&T customer, both for home and my small business. I had a friend who had some odd things on his phone bill that wound up totalling about $15,000 in one month – calls to Russia he didn’t make using a calling card he didn’t have, etc.

    I tried to help him sort these problems out, as he was having trouble getting anybody to talk to him – his being deaf probably didn’t help any. I tried calling them myself a couple of times, only to be put on hold for 15-30 minutes.

    Eventually I got tired of it, and paid my business bill (about $400 that month) with a cheque with “PAID UNDER PROTEST” written in the memo field. I wrote up my and my friend’s experiences in a straightforward letter addressed to a VP of the company, including a photocopy of said cheque. I included my numbers for both accounts, as well as my friend’s, and then… I looked up the VP’s home address in the Registry of Joint Stocks, which was then online and included such information. I sent my package to that VP via registered mail.

    Within 3 days, two technicians showed up with a police officer and an MT&T Security fellow, wanting to talk to my friend about the billing issues he had. I called him up, he came down to my store, and they retired to the police station across the street. He returned an hour later, beaming and saying they’d sorted the issues out. I later got a written apology with a hand-signature (no rubber stamp) from the VP.

    Best $15 or so I’ve ever spent on a registered letter.

    Unfortunately, such information is no longer readily available; the NS Registry of Joint Stocks took all that information offline.

  14. Tammy

    Oct 21 2008

    Hello! I thought you might be interested to learn that I had an unpleasant encounter with Bell Canada as many have described here. My approach is to research the executive offices and call the Vice President of Customer Service’s Assistant. They are usually displeased that a customer has experienced such a lack of service and will hasten to remedy the situation.

    Try this phone number to resolve issues with Bell Canada. Bell Canada Executive Office of Customer Relations:

    1-866-317-3382

  15. GA

    Oct 31 2008

    Anyone know how to contact Virgin Mobile Canada? Calling their ‘customer care’ line accomplishes nothing – you get a promise that someone will call you back within 24-48 hours, but no phone call.

    They do not provide an email address on their website, merely a way to submit an email through their website.

    Since my problem was the fact that I was unable to access their website to top up my prepaid balance, which has now expired (their way of saying they are stealing your money), this was of no use to me. I lost over $85 due to their website difficulties.

    By the way, Virgin Mobile, your ‘cute’ error message of “Houston we have a problem” only serves to irritate an already exasperated customer.

  16. wes

    Apr 14 2009

    Listen, I myself am very anti-corporation on many levels that I will not begin to get into right now. But I must comment on a few of the complaints about cellular networks.

    We all hate them, this is true. But I think most of you honestly deserved what you got. I can tell by reading these comments that nobody here actually read the contract agreement they signed to.

    If you were mortgaging property, I am certain you would read every line, or at the least, have a lawyer do so. People underestimate the complexity of cellular agreements. I can attest that nobody, and I mean nobody reads them properly.

    It is not a matter of agreeing with the contract at this point, because you do not even know what to agree with.

    I say this with confidence because I worked for one of the aforementioned carriers for years doing sales, and NOBODY took the time to read through the contract. It is a three year commitment under normal circumstances, and people do not take that seriously enough.

    If you find out, after the fact, that the contract you signed is disagreeable, that is your own fault. If more than one person responds to this and tells me that they actually read EVERY LINE of their cellular agreement, I will call them a liar.

    I activated somewhere in the realm of 2,000 users in my time, and maybe 5 people took the time to read the entire contract, absolutely zero exaggeration. Period.

    I challenge any other person in the country who has done sales for a telecom provider to state otherwise.

  17. Tom

    Apr 22 2010

    for all those Bell Mobility customers who experience such poor customer service, here is the email of VP of that dept.

    Feel free to contact Cameron McQuaig at Bell Mobility. His Email address is cameron.mccuaig@bell.ca.