Dumb and dumber: A phone line fail and the bill that wouldn't go away

Stupid mistakes by both customer and vendor drag out a simple phone service request much longer than a techie can tolerate

It's sad but true: In business, you can't trust anybody, especially outside vendors, and it's imperative to document everything in case the situation goes haywire. Along the same lines, you hope you can trust your own coworkers to keep their own paper trail -- but it might save a lot of grief to be wary. Why am I imparting this advice? Because I'm living the nightmare.

I work at the headquarters for a large corporation, and several years ago we negotiated a contract with a major phone vendor whose service we used at the headquarters location. We also had two remote locations several hundred miles apart bundled into the contract for additional discounts, though they were in different states.

[ More in IT careers: Negotiating and patience are keys to landing a landing a fair IT salary. | Get your weekly dose of workplace shenanigans by following Off the Record on Twitter and subscribing to the Off the Record newsletter. ]

Several years passed with only minor problems that generally were remedied in short order. During that time, the phone vendor was bought out by a larger company, but it seemed to have little effect on service.

But as we neared the end of the initial contract, call quality at Location A began deteriorating. Since a permanent fix seemed to elude the vendor, we exercised our option in the service-level agreement to discontinue service at the location. We rolled the numbers to a new vendor. Then the employees at that site pulled the old vendor's equipment off the wall and returned it in the prepaid, pre-addressed box supplied for the return.

I watched the monthly bill decrease as the final charges for service at Location A were tallied. After two months, we were down to only one remote location on the bill and no more computations.

But a few months later, the same deteriorating call quality hit Location B. Since we are a sales-oriented company, phone connectivity is extremely important. We decided to get a new vendor for this location also.

We contacted a new vendor, and the numbers were ported with no problem. The old vendor again provided a box for the equipment to be sent back. I began watching the old vendor's bill, relishing the day I would finally be clear of this duty. The next month's bill had a partial charge for a half-month's service, and the following month had a negative amount, as the vendor computed it now owed us $5.90. Since we still used the old vendor's service at HQ, the amount was to be credited to that account.

But the next month's bill set off alarms: We owed almost $800. I was on the phone immediately. The phone company said it had never received the equipment from Location B.

I contacted the location and discovered that someone had thrown out the prepaid box from the old vendor. I demanded to know why. Because it was empty, I was told.

I recontacted the phone company and had a new box issued. Several days later, I called the remote location and made sure the device was dismounted and packed up. I was told it was, and pickup was scheduled for the next day.

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