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

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I was starting to feel like a free man. I watched the bill online and a few days later saw it once again go negative as the phone company received the device.

The next month we got a bill for the same $800. It had now been 16 months from the Location A's disconnect and four months after Location B's.

Of course, I contacted the vendor again, who claimed it never received the device from Location B. I directed the rep to the bill and stated we had been credited for it. The vendor asked for the tracking number of the package. I called the employees at Location B to find out what had happened. I got two terrible answers: They didn't think to record the shipping numbers since the box had been provided by the vendor, and it was with a different shipping company than they usually used.

I choked back unsavory words and called the vendor again, explaining what I'd found out and saying I did know the date the box had been picked up by the delivery company. The vendor promised to do the research, which resulted in a return email stating sorry, the box from Location B had been received; it was the first device of 16 months ago from Location A that never arrived. I again referred to the bills from that time period and showed the credit for the month following termination, indicating the device had arrived. The vendor said it would get back to me.

The next email from the phone vendor said it had done further research, and it was indeed the device from Location B, rather than Location A, that was never received. I started figuring out if we could track a package without a tracking number. The delivery company was able to give me the pickup time, weight, delivery date, and delivery signature.

The next day I received a notice from a collection agency -- the vendor had turned over our account to the debt police. Needless to say, my temperature was rising. A few hours later, I received another email from the phone vendor, stating that without a doubt the missing equipment was from Location B. I disclosed my "proof" from the delivery company, hoping I'd trumped them.

But the phone company said they were mistaken again, and it is equipment from Location A that was never returned. I escalated the case to an account manager for the phone vendor, who said he deals with these problems all the time -- which brings me no relief as I just want it to go away. While I was on the phone with him, he was able to verify the return of the device from Location B, but couldn't verify the return 16 months ago from Location A.

We were stuck in limbo for weeks with a bill for $800 and a collection agency waiting to pounce. Imagine my relief when the vendor finally emailed with news that it did determine both devices have indeed been returned and our account is to be credited. One hurdle down -- now we await the vendor's accounting department to call off the collection dogs.

Employees at every location have been re-instructed on the importance of logging tracking numbers and other pertinent details for all outgoing material, regardless of vendor or supplier. And I'm reminded to make sure expectations and instructions are communicated as clearly as possible. Because it's true that the devil is in the details.

This story, "Dumb and dumber: A phone line fail and the bill that wouldn't go away," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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