Who’s on my speed dial?

May 4 2007 by Ellen Roseman

Here are the names of companies to which I send frequent complaints from readers. But I rarely call them, nor do they call me. Email is more efficient.

Bell and Rogers are probably tops, but Telus Mobility gets its share. Direct Energy is big in home heating plans and energy contracts, but its long-term gas and electricity rates are way above the current utility rates — and it rolls over contracts automatically if you don’t pay attention. Enbridge Gas complaints are steady.

Sears has some unhappy customers, especially when their letters to the president’s office get no response. The Bay recently outsourced its credit card administration to GE Money and that’s caused a few glitches, enough to elicit a big apology on the monthly bills.

Home Depot is quiet lately after several reports of botched installations last year and complaints being rerouted to Atlanta, the corporate head office. Canadian Tire complaints have dropped off. Future Shop and Best Buy keep me busy, while Staples is moving up. The manufacturers I talk to most often are Dell, Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard and LG Electronics. Don’t forget Whirlpool, which seems to have fumbled a huge Maytag dishwasher recall. Customers couldn’t get through at first, then were left fuming while they waited to get parts and had to wait dishes by hand.

Banks seem to handle things well, though I get frequent queries about their credit card fees, interest calculation methods and heavy-handed promotions. Why tell us to take a holiday from paying bills one month and then say that regular interest will be charged? Why send out unsolicited credit card cheques that act as bait for identity thieves if they fall into the wrong hands?

Air Canada and Aeroplan are on my email list (but not WestJet). And while I often hear about messed up vacations, I know tour operators all have contracts that protect them from paying compensation when things go awry. People expect their out-of-pocket costs to be covered, but if they’re lucky they get a discount voucher to use on a future trip.

Finally, some fitness clubs go overboard with their billing practices. They get you on an automatic debit plan and keep taking your money even after you cancel. I don’t even handle those complaints any more. After writing too many columns about fitness clubs, I find they’re no longer newsworthy or interesting — and novelty is everything to a journalist. If you want a trustworthy organzation, join the YMCA.


  1. Ellen Roseman

    May 5 2007

    Talk about speed dial! Here’s an example of how Bell is trying to turn things around with speedy replies to my readers and a human face.

    At 1:30 this afternoon, I forwarded an email to Kevin Crull, Bell’s president of residential service, from a reader who found his recent dealings incredibly frustrating. Within an hour, his problem was solved — all on a Saturday afternoon.

    This is David’s first email:

    Bell can’t even get it right when they’re selling!
    A few days ago, I called Bell customer service to take the phone at the cottage off “Vacation Suspension.” Did you know about this, by the way? For $50, they will suspend service until you need it again. I get the cottage phone turned off at the end of October and start it up again in early May — $50 versus about 5 months at over $30 per month.

    Anyway, that went fine — and then the service rep gave me the pitch on ExpressVu. Sounded good, but I needed to check back with the family CEO (my wife). She liked the idea. So yesterday, while driving to the cottage, I tried to order it.

    First, you have to deal with “Emily”. I got through that OK the first time, then the lady said “hang on just a minute” — and I was bounced back to the beginning of “Emily” again. So I tried again and got a guy this time. He told me none of my phone numbers came up as valid — not the cottage, not the house, not my cell number. I told him it had worked fine when I’d called earlier in the week. He said “Oh – you’ve come to the wrong department. This is ExpressVu Customer Service.” I
    told him it wasn’t me that had come there, it was Emily who had put me there. That conversation deteriorated and I hung up.

    After ten minutes to cool down, I tried again. Remember, this is all while I’m driving on the 401 between Pickering and Bowmanville — not the easiest traffic in the world on a Friday afternoon. This time I got the sales department again, and we got further into the conversation — until the lady said there was a $50 deposit, which they could bill to
    my phone number if I would supply banking information, or they could bill to my credit card. I told her I was in the car and could not do a credit card since it was in my bag in the trunk. As to banking information, I’ve been a Bell customer since May of 1970, in six different addresses in three different cities — that’s thirty-seven years of continuous payments with no problems. They don’t need my
    banking information.

    She replied that this was a “different company — ExpressVu”. Not yet it’s not — it may well be, after the takeover and
    breakup, but not yet. I told her this was turning into a bad customer service experience and hung up again.

    I still don’t have ExpressVu, although I’d like to get it.


    This is David’s second email:

    Wow! The power of the fourth estate! You e-mailed me around 1:30 that you had sent my note on to your contacts at Bell. By 2:00 or so I had a call from someone at Bell’s executive offices, and by 2:30 I had a call from an ExpressVu customer service/sales rep.

    I still had to give them a credit card number, but at least this time there was an explanation that the deposit is refunded as soon as the account is activated.

    Thanks for your help. Today’s conversations were much easier — of course, I was not as stressed as while I was driving on the 401.

  2. Monty Loree

    May 6 2007

    Off Topic:

    Hey Ellen,
    Thanks for participating in the Canadian Tour of Personal Finance blogs! I’m looking forward to your post.

    BTW… if you want, there are Tour Badges and banners for participants

    Also, if some of your readers are personal finance bloggers and want to participate, they can register over at Canadian-Money-Advisor.ca

    I’m glad to see another blogger talking about Consumer Issues. We deal with collection agencies, credit bureaus, etc on our site. Like yourself, we get great satisfaction in helping people to take control with these agressive financial companies.

    Look forward to your Tour post!


  3. To David

    May 7 2007

    Do you not think your phone call to order Expressvu could have waited until you were off the 401?

    Jeez man, get your priorities in order. Concentrate on the road!

  4. Joren

    May 9 2007

    I thought you might like to know that when I got my cell phone bill today, i was overcharged $25.
    All of a sudden I’m being charged for unlimited weekends and weeknights. I was getting this free up till now.

    Called them and they claim that the plan I was on no longer exists. Or that particular promotion no longer exists. When I asked why they couldn’t send out a letter advising people of this, she claimed that they were told there was.

    She said if I wanted to stay on the corporate plan I’m on now, I could get a discount on the weeknights and weekends thing – paying extra for it, OR switch to the current corporate plan (with promotions) and get what I’m getting now – for what I’m supposed to be paying now.

    Oh sure, the plan she put me on costs .75 cents more in one place and .75 cents less in another but includes weekends and weeknights.

    If this makes no sense to you, you’re not alone.

    Kills me how they can arbitrarily CHANGE your account without telling you, and then try to make you feel like they’re offering you great customer service by giving you what you contracted for in the first place.

    At the end he gives his name, employee number and then asks “have I provided you with excellent service today?”.

    What a load.

  5. Telly

    Jun 1 2007

    About two years ago, I signed up for a special Bell deal – home phone, internet, satellite. One click of the mouse. An app’t to have someone install the satellite dish is just a week away.

    After attempting to install the dish (for about 10 mintues), the technician tells me there’s nothing he can do to get a signal…too many trees. Oddly enough, when the Star Choice installers come over a month later, they get a signal, no problem!

    So without the satellite, I decide the “deal” is no longer a deal. How could it take a mouse click to order and 4-5 phone calls and 2 billing cycles to cancel? Apparently I couldn’t cancel the satellite and internet because the home phone was in my husband’s name – he needed to call. This seemed strange to me since the charges were billed to a credit card in my name. (It’s ok to charge on this but not to reimburse a charge?) Also, I needed to call each of their units individually to cancel each component. What a pain. I’m glad to no longer have to deal with Bell for any services anymore!

  6. Janet Billins

    Feb 17 2008

    My 86-year-old mother has a Sears credit card and has had it for years. Last year, she had a credit on her card of $60 after several months and Sears charged her an administration fee of $20. There was no notification to her beforehand.

    My mother has hearing difficulties and doesn’t drive. She lives on government pensions without any other supplementary income. She lives on her own and treasures her independence.

    My sister contacted Sears on her behalf and explained the situation, but the $20 was not returned. Their attitude was too bad, they did send a letter asking my mother to remove the funds . But this letter to my mother was never received.

    This happened last August and my mother has not taken any further action. She’s not the type to complain. To me, it doesn’t sound legal or fair for a large corporation to decide to penalize a pensioner for having a credit balance. I am sure if she owed money, they would be charging their 18% interest.

    How many other seniors has Sears charged?