Bad customer service? Talk to the CEO

This month, I started getting collection calls. Apparently my Internet provider wanted $61 for a modem that I returned last May. I'd been trying to resolve the problem for months, but nothing seemed to work. No matter how many times I asked to speak with a supervisor and was promised that the matter would be taken care of, that “I'll be the last person you'll have to talk to,” I was getting nowhere.

During the umpteenth call, I began to wonder if I was in the first circle of my very own inferno. Maybe I'd been damned to an eternity of crappy, staticky on-hold music, interrupted only by the assurance that my call was very important. Damned to repeat my story over and over to people whom I began to suspect were dwelling somewhere in the eighth circle.

Eventually, I hit a wall. The last supervisor I spoke to said that since I couldn't prove that I returned the modem, I had to pay for it. So now what?

What the Pros Say

“I always advise people to send collection companies a letter through certified mail that states that you don't owe the debt, to stop calling, and that you're refusing to pay,” says John Smith, president of collection company FMS. By law, the collections company has to stop calling you. “They can call back one more time to explain why you owe and notify you that they're going to sue you,” Smith says.

That would take care of the collections calls, but what about my credit? “You have a right to dispute any debt on your credit report,” he says. And if the collections company reports the debt on behalf of the Internet company, they're required to include the fact that I've disputed the debt too. “It depends on the rest of your credit, but if you have good credit, a $61 debt isn't really going to hurt you, even without filing a dispute,” he says.

So, I wasn't going to pay. Yes, it was only $61, but it was the principle of the thing. I didn't owe this money.

Going to the CEO

As I complained about the situation to a friend, he suggested that I email the CEO. “Yeah, right,” I thought. “I'm sure the CEO will really care.” Not that I even thought he'd get my email in the first place. But since I had nothing to lose and no better ideas, I gave it a shot.

After a bit of Googling, we found email addresses for the CEO and the vice president of residential services at Internet R' Us*.

Here's the email we wrote:

Dear Head Honcho,

I've been a satisfied Internet R' Us customer for the last eight years, but I have run into a problem and I need your help. I recently moved. During the process, Internet R' Us “lost” the records showing that I returned my old cable modem. So our old account, #000000, was sent to collections for a modem that we returned in May of this year. Despite numerous phone calls to Internet R' Us, we've been unable to resolve the issue.

Here are the details:

MAY 2013. I went to the Internet R' Us location at 100 Main Street to start Internet service at my new address and return the old modem. I informed the rep that service at the old house was supposed to be disconnected, as well. However, Internet R' Us did not disconnect the service at my old house, and since we're on autopay, we were double-billed for a couple of months before we noticed.

SUMMER 2013. After several calls to Internet R' Us, the double-billing issue was finally resolved. One of the managers I spoke to said that he did see that the old modem was returned and that the old service should have been disconnected months ago. We were issued a credit on the new account for the months we were double-billed. This part was resolved.

SEPTEMBER 2013. We received a collections letter, claiming that we owe $61 for the old modem. We called immediately to explain that this equipment was turned in, and the collections company transferred us to Internet R' Us. Internet R' Us said that they would open a ticket and call us back to let us know if they found the equipment.

THE PRESENT. Internet R' Us never called us back. In the meantime, we have been getting daily collections calls. We reached out again to Internet R' Us to try to resolve this. We spoke to a manager and were told that there was no record of the ticket, but that a ticket would be opened, and we would receive a call back by Friday of that week. No one called, and the collection calls continued.

On Monday, we called again. We spoke to a supervisor named Maleficent who told us that we hadn't provided the date the equipment was returned (we had never been asked for this). She also said that we had to provide proof that we returned it (a receipt). I no longer have the receipt because May was six months ago, so she offered to open a ticket. She said she'd speak with one of the other managers I spoke to in the past, have him look over the call scripts, and would have the warehouse look for the modem, but she would need us to give her at least until Saturday to do all of that. The next day, she left a message saying that they couldn't locate the modem and she was making a note on our account that we owed the $61.

MY PLEA FOR HELP

I have been a loyal customer for eight years. I always pay my bill on time, and I returned all my equipment properly in May. It doesn't seem fair to me that I am being billed $61 for equipment that I returned properly. I also think it's unfair to be getting daily collection calls because of an Internet R' Us error. Can you help me resolve this situation?

Thank you,

April Dykman
555-555-5555

Let's look at the letter more closely. My friend, who had spent a few years handling customer complaints, says that letters that get results do the following:

  • Start with the request and end with the request. Don't delve into a long story and make the CEO hate you. Tell them how they can help you. Do it again at the end.

  • Stress your loyalty. Say it twice, once in the beginning and once at the end.

  • Don't make threats to leave. You're loyal, remember?

  • Don't complain. My inferno theory? Complaining. Also, it makes your letter entirely too long. Also, no one cares except for you.

  • State facts. The only personal opinion in this letter is that I don't think it's fair to be charged for equipment that I turned in, something that anyone would agree with (except for Maleficent, of course).

Five minutes after I emailed the letter, Mr. Honcho emailed me back. “I'm on it, and my apologies for this experience,” he said. “Someone will be reaching out, and I will keep an eye on things until resolution.”

An hour and a half later, I received a phone call from the head of the regional branch of Internet R' Us. She apologized and assured me that I would not owe $61 and that the collection calls would stop.

I was whoaing like Keanu Reeves. It actually worked.

The lesson: If you aren't getting anywhere with a supervisor, go higher up the corporate ladder. Even big-shot execs aren't out of reach.

*Names have been changed only because the matter was satisfactorily resolved. Originally, I planned to write a post that not only named names, but surely would have landed me in the “black sulkiness” that is the fifth circle of hell.

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Michael
Michael
7 years ago

I’ve had great luck doing this with multiple companies. More often than not, you’ll wind up in the hands of some sort of “executive customer service” team that has superpowers relative to the low level reps that you get when you call the helpline. Another option is to just call. You can get the number for corporate HQ of any publicly traded company by going to the company profile page on Yahoo! Finance. You’ll usually get some sort of switchboard operator so you’ll need to “briefly” explain the situation and say that regular customer service reps have been unable to… Read more »

Miss Growing Green
Miss Growing Green
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael

100% Agreed. I’ve done this before, and it definitely helps to speak to a higher-up. The standard reps that answer the phone just don’t have the power or know-how to help with complicated issues sometimes.

I think 95% of people give up because they are frustrated and don’t put the time in to figure these things out.

Brian @ Debt Discipline
Brian @ Debt Discipline
7 years ago

I deal with these escalated complaints often at my job. I think most people don’t want to take the time or effort to follow up, but they should because escalating it to higher management will yield results.

AJ
AJ
7 years ago

I’m so impressed – brush your shoulder off. If I ever have this problem…I hope I won’t have to, but I might just be daring enough to try it!

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

I’ve done this a few times now, it’s been so effective to the point that if I am escalated once to a manager and there’s no resolution, I’m straight up the ladder.

My time is valuable and I don’t need to waste it fixing broken corporate processes.

mike
mike
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt

The beginning of the story made me remember a great point on the value of time from the book The Last Lecture. You need a phone that has the speakerphone function, when you are on hold just switch to it and do something else while waiting so you aren’t wasting your time.

mdhutch
mdhutch
7 years ago

I too have had to resort to contacting a company executive. If you remain respectful, the issue should be resolved in a rather efficient manner. My example involved a local appliance store whose in-store staff were simply a comedy of errors: incorrect measurments, “forgetting” to place the order for the appliances, breaking the appliances once they were delivered, losing our file indicating I had paid in full for the items, local store manager telling me one story but sharing a completely different story with the corporate office. After numerous attempts to remedy the problem locally and with the customer service… Read more »

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

Good for you, April! I think it is important to pursue these things even though it is a huge PITA. I think some companies use incompetence & extortion as a business model. They will do so as long as they get away with it.

Priswell
Priswell
7 years ago
Reply to  Babs

This reminds me of various articles on the ‘net discussing whether it’s worth it (in pay per hour) to deal with customer service to get refunds and settle other money related mix-ups by various companies. Some say “I make $XX.XX per hour and it’s not worth my time”. It’s not always about recouping a stipulated amount, sometimes it’s about keepng a business on the straight-and-narrow, and not “using it as a business model”.

Mrs PoP
Mrs PoP
7 years ago

This is almost exactly what I ended up doing with my internet provider in 2007 – though it was over non functioning service (it would go out every time it rained and it was the rainy season!), and I was stood up multiple times for appointments with technicians. I found the CEO’s email, along with the VP of customer service and sent one last hail mary email. It worked. The CEO responded VERY quickly and within an hour I had the cell phone number of a local customer service rep who answered directly to the VP of customer service. I… Read more »

Erin
Erin
7 years ago

As someone who works in customer service – good job! But, I would caution folks to only do this after having tried the traditional route at least twice. Sometimes weird things happen and things get lost in translation. The customer service rep you are dealing with is a person too and has a life, family, friends, stress just like you do. Give them a second chance. Now, I will say this – we are not a large company. I talk to our CEO everyday and I am both the low-level and high-level customer service team. We want to make you… Read more »

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
7 years ago

Kudos! Persistence is key to dealing with bad customer service. Escalating the issue is sometimes necessary.
From a self-help perspective, for people who have access to technology, scanning the receipt and sending it to your email is an excellent way of having a backup readily available.
Preserving time and energy for high value activities is critical on the road to financial independence. This type of thing is an energy drain and time suck.

Matt at Your Living Body
Matt at Your Living Body
7 years ago

I’ve had lawyers send letters out to the main customer service department. They really freak out when they get a letter with a lawfirm on the header.

Beth
Beth
7 years ago

Having been a customer who was screwed over a time or two, I do understand the desire for a little revenge — but as someone who has worked in customer service, I know the person who usually gets the abuse often isn’t the one who actually deserves it.

I think April’s approach is a sound one. Be factual. Leave emotion out of it.

Scondor
Scondor
7 years ago

I used to manage a customer service call center and the letter written is an excellent example of how to approach a situation. It is often a thankless job where you deal with irate people who act rudely on the phone in ways they would never act in person. I would urge everyone to write a similar letter to the VP/CEO if you receive efficient or excellent customer service, and name specific people who helped you. It may take a while to come back around to you, but we kept notes in your account, sent extra holiday promotional coupons, and… Read more »

Done by Forty
Done by Forty
7 years ago

That’s an incredible story. It’s amazing how differently employees act when a response is coming “top down” instead of “bottom up”.

Well done, and I think I’ll steal this idea the next time I have a customer service issue that can’t get resolved.

Ely
Ely
7 years ago

My husband did this once. I forget what the issue was, but it had been ongoing for weeks. One brief email to the CEO, and he had a resolution and an apology within a day or two.

june
june
7 years ago

Great story. I had an economics professor who advised the same thing. And I had an opportunity to do that. I complained to the president of the university about that professor! He had made several disturbing sexist remarks about the secretary who had typed the final exam. It was really awful. I kind of sqeaked out a “that’s not very nice”, but in hind sight wished I had just walked out of the final. So I wrote the letter to the president, dean, dept. head, and professor himself. I got several apology letters including one from the professor

Juli
Juli
7 years ago

Is this Comcast you are talking about? It must be, as surely there can’t be mulitple providers that are this bad!!! We cancelled our Comcast cable and internet, and they sent multiple bills saying we never returned our fancy tv remote. Yes, I assure you we did. DH called multiple times and was assured it was getting taken care of. Once we got the collections letter he called them again, and thankfully that time it actually did get fixed so we didn’t have to go all the way to the top, but that would have been the next step.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Juli

I was just thinking the same thing!

If it is Comcast then there’s still a 50 percent chance that she’ll get a bill in the mail next month and have to start the process all over.

Ray
Ray
7 years ago
Reply to  Juli

Same thing happened to me! They billed me for service and an “unreturned” modem after I had closed my account and moved to a new apartment. I wrote letters and had letters written from my previous landlord–never worked. It has been the only blemish on my credit for my entire life. Comcast sucks!!

Kristin Wong
Kristin Wong
7 years ago

Yes! I had a similar experience with my Internet company. Frustrating customer service, so I just emailed an executive in my region, and she followed up with a phone call and the matter was fixed in minutes. Oh! And once, I couldn’t access my online banking and I half-jokingly complained about it on Twitter and my bank responded swiftly and helped me with the issue. That was nice.

Babs
Babs
7 years ago
Reply to  Kristin Wong

That reminds me. I was having a terrible time with a business phone account & getting nowhere even though I supposedly had a dedicated account manager. I was online & I saw the link to the satisfaction survey. I usually try to fill those out & give good marks, but not this time. It was a cry for help & I did get a quick & satisfactory response.
FWIW my niece who is in PR recommends Facebook.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago

It’s always the little things! Remember the time I was sent to collections over $4?

Ken Litko
Ken Litko
7 years ago

Despite what you see on CNN… CEO’s do care.

Ken Litko (CEO)

Tracee
Tracee
7 years ago

I would also recommend submitting a complaint with the BBB. I had a problem with a certain flower delivery service (they said they delivered my flowers to an address that didn’t exist). After many hours on the phone and much frustration, I accepted that I was up against a brick wall and looked for an alternative solution. I got on my computer and filed a complaint with the BBB, and within 30 minutes, I received 3 emails and 2 phone calls and my issue was resolved.

Sharyn
Sharyn
7 years ago

I sent concise, well-written, certified letters to the CEO and Executive Chairman of Ford Motor (one to a published home address, which was never acknowledged by signature) and never heard anything from either of them. Guess I could have tried the phone, but considering my already-extreme frustration with their unresponsive CS department, I probably would have wanted to jump off a cliff after a phone call.

Sharyn
Sharyn
7 years ago

For that matter, I never heard back from Consumerist of the Haggler at the NYT either.

Spanky
Spanky
7 years ago

I had a manager from compass bank promise me he would remove monthly fees from my account until I could get setup with an account with no fees. He didnt, and this led to overdraft fees. Wouldnt return my calls, made a big hassle out of closing my account. After the complaint team didnt help me, I asked to be escalated. I got an executive assistant who resolved my problem in moments and refunded my money.She obviously could understand what I was saying and had the power to resolve it. I always try to escalate calls as fast as possible,… Read more »

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
7 years ago

This happens all the time, even in job related issues. I had an IT problem that everyone at my office tried to solve. We had 3-4 people calling IT in multiple languages a few times a week trying to solve it. My supervisor 3 times over got a hold of the problem, copied the CEO (who she knows) onto the e-mail, problem solved in 24 hours. Yeesh.

erika
erika
7 years ago

Any suggestions as to how to find a CEO’s email address or other contact info? I’m having a major problem with an appliance I purchased at Sears – an electrical fire type of problem – and although it is 4 months past the manufacturer’s warranty, I don’t believe I should have to pay $350 to repair their part that spontaneously burst into flames. I have called customer service 3 times and been escalated up the chain, but have only been offered 10% off a new purchase, which is not an acceptable resolution to me. I’ve tried searching online, but maybe… Read more »

Mike
Mike
7 years ago
Reply to  erika

Erika, try this:

Leena Munjal
[email protected]
Senior VP Customer Experience

Can’t find Lambert’s anywhere which says enough about him on its own – a good CEO never hides from the customers.

Good luck!

erika
erika
6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Mike –
Thank you for the info! I contacted Sears HQ this morning and spoke with “Executive Customer Service” (as suggested by the first commenter on this post), but they did not offer me any more than regular customer service did. I just sent an email to the address you provided. Keeping my fingers crossed for a helpful reply!

Becky @ RunFunDone
Becky @ RunFunDone
7 years ago

I’d never think to contact the CEO. I’ve been pretty successful with pulling the, “If you do not resolve this issue, I will be reporting it to the Better Business Bureau, as well as posting it on any internet review site that I can find.” I have never had to do either of these things, because though they won’t resolve things when I’m polite and patient (for the first 5 calls or so), they start moving FAST when BBB and bad press are threatened.

Mark D
Mark D
6 years ago

I currently have an issue with Virgin Mobile. After repeated contacts with their Customer Service Dept, I wrote a letter to the President of the company and 30 days after he received the Certified letter, I have yet to receive a response from him or any of his subordinates. I then contacted the Better Business Bureau, which promptly forwarded my complaint to Virgin Mobile. All Virgin Mobile does is try to justify their position and blame everything on me, despite the fact I have provided them with written documentation that refutes their position. I am currently waiting to see if… Read more »

Ian Zafra
Ian Zafra
6 years ago

Hi April! I’m really impressed with how you handled this situation. It’s not something that many people would have thought of doing. A lot of big companies can learn a thing or two from this entry.

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