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Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Probably every day or hour, some big corporation does something that leaves a peon consumer feeling squashed like a bug. Such episodes can resemble both Kafka and Seinfeld.
That’s how Barbara Calvert feels about her recent tussle with both Comcast and Verizon. It concerns how she lost her telephone number of 27 years, the hassle she endured to get it back, and the minor problems that persist.
Calvert is 73 and lives in Hardy with her husband Cecil, who used to own an excavating business. He has a heart condition, and Calvert has found herself calling 911 for him a number of times just in the past year. On Feb. 23, she picked up her home telephone to call her son.
“It was just as dead as a doughnut,” Calvert told me. “There was no buzzing, nothing.”
That afternoon, she called her phone company, Verizon. The customer service rep didn’t know what had happened and was no help, Calvert said.
“I called them again on Sunday. The lady told me she didn’t have to tell me anything.”
Calvert is no shrinking violet. She called again, and again. She enlisted the aid of her daughter, Sandi Saunders, and her sister-in-law, Jean St. Clair. They’re pretty feisty, too — the kind of people you don’t want to rile up.
Over the next couple of weeks, the trio blitzed a Verizon customer service line with calls — probably 30 or more. That makes me feel just a bit sorry for Verizon.
During one of those calls on Feb. 25, a Verizon rep told Calvert, “You’re no longer a Verizon customer. You’re a Comcast customer.”
It turned out that Comcast had seized control of Calvert’s phone number and assigned it to a new Comcast customer in Vinton. That man had been a Verizon customer for 30-some years and wanted to switch his phone service over to Comcast. And that’s where the problem originated.
His phone number was only one digit off from Calvert’s. In taking his order and changing the account, a Comcast clerk mistyped his number and put in Calvert’s instead. (I called the man and left a message but he didn’t get back to me.)
And that’s how, with the flip of a switch in telephone company limbo land, Calvert’s line went dead Feb. 23. It also explained why, in the days preceding the problem, Calvert had gotten a bunch of calls from Comcast.
“They must have called eight to 10 times,” Calvert told me. “They kept saying, ‘We’re coming out to your house to complete your order.’ I told her, ‘Ma’am, I haven’t ordered anything.’ ”
But if it was easy for Calvert to lose her number, getting it back was not. According to Saunders, Comcast “released” the hijacked telephone number Feb. 26.
Saunders called Verizon and demanded they restore Calvert’s land line service. They did, with a different number. “They literally said to me, ‘well we can’t just take someone’s phone number!’ ” Saunders said. Of course, that’s exactly how Calvert had lost hers.
Saunders kept calling, trying to help get her mom’s old number back. Those calls were like pulling teeth, Saunders said. Once, she was on hold for 30 minutes, until the line went dead. Calvert said she was on the phone for more than three hours with Verizon one day. Most of it was also on hold. Her cellphone battery died during the call.
Calvert complained to the State Corporation Commission, and called a Verizon technician who’d left his card at her house when he did some work there a couple of years ago. Saunders wrote the Federal Communication Commission.
All that tree-shaking must have had some effect. Calvert’s old number was restored March 4. Comcast sent a letter of explanation with an apology. Verizon sent a letter of explanation, too, without an apology.
But when Verizon restored the service, it was in Saunders’ name; it had a bunch of extra features Calvert didn’t want, and the bill had jumped from $44 a month to $84, Calvert said.
By Tuesday, most of that had seemingly been straightened out, too. Saunders’ name still pops up on caller ID when Calvert makes phone calls to others, Calvert told me.
Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell said such cases are rare; usually they can be fixed in 48 hours. In this case Comcast was rejecting Verizon’s effort to get the number back, Mitchell said.
He called Calvert’s and Saunders’ experience with customer service “regretful” and said Verizon will be reviewing that and taking action where appropriate.
“This was an isolated incident and we apologize to Ms. Calvert for her experience and thank her for her patience while we worked to correct the matter,” said Comcast spokeswoman Alisha Martin. “Once we became aware of the issue we began working immediately with Ms. Calvert’s provider to resolve the issue.”
Saunders doubts it would have been resolved without pressure from the government agencies. Chalk one up for them — and for Barbara Calvert, the senior citizen who’s no shirker when it’s time to put on a squeaky wheel act.
I reckon those companies have learned a valuable lesson: Don’t mess with her again.
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