Putting the Customer Back in Customer Service

"I called to get help and after they put me on hold they sent me to someone who couldn't speak English,” I was told by a woman at the fireman’s corn boil.

She was frustrated by the cable company’s response to her call for repairs.  “I waited and waited for them to come & fix my cable. It took them three or four days to get there.”

Outside the lutefisk church dinner another woman spoke with me about how she was being charged for a service she didn’t order.  “I told them to cancel the service I didn’t order.  They said I was only being charged a penny for it but now the special offer was over. They were going to charge me $20 for it. Months later when they finally took the charge off my bill it only dropped $11.”

She wanted me to do something about it and I suggested I would help her file a complaint.

Instead of fighting through the confusing and foreign complaint process of the telecommunications company, I recommend people turn to our consumer protection experts at the Department of Ag, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP).

Telecommunications is one of the top areas of complaints received by the DATCP Bureau of Consumer Protections.  Officials reported in 2009 they received 1,435 written complaints about telecommunications.  And they encourage anyone who has struggled with their telecommunications provider to file a complaint.

Consumer Protection officials remind us to keep good records and have those documents ready when filing a complaint.  Those records include such things as any written communication, sales receipts, billing statements, repair orders and any notes you’ve kept regarding the problem.  All the information you provide will help Bureau officials resolve your complaint. 

The Bureau of Consumer Protection also has Consumer Fact Sheets that provide you with very helpful advice from experts on a wide variety of topics including telecommunications.  For example one fact sheet describes your rights as a cable subscriber provided by state law.  These fact sheets help consumers protect themselves.

Your rights are also protected by the DATCP Telecommunications Rule.  Bureau officials wrote the new rule to protect consumers by requiring cable television and telecommunications companies to make clear disclosures before billing their customers.

According to the Bureau, the rule prohibits a tactic called a "negative options billing" - which victimizes many including the woman I met at the lutefisk dinner.  This tactic involves billing for a service, such as a movie channel, which the consumer did not order.  Instead consumers are told they must cancel the service if they didn’t want it.  The rule also prevents this same billing practice from happening to your phone service. 

The rule also makes it illegal for a telecommunications company or cable service provider to charge a cancellation or disconnection fee for any subscription unless the fee is disclosed in the subscription. 

During my first term as your State Senator I tried to give DATCP more authority to write rules that put the power on the side of the consumer instead of the telecommunications companies.  We have made progress but work still needs to be done.

Taking the time to file a complaint is time well spent. Documenting the problems helps us justify the need for stricter laws. Reporting scams may save another poor soul from falling into the same trap. Plus getting it off your chest may also help you feel a bit better.

Wisconsin residents can file a complaint with the Bureau of Consumer Protection by calling 800-422-7128 or emailing DATCPHotline@Wisconsin.gov or by completing the online Consumer Complaint form.  The online form can be found on the DATCP website at www.datcp.state.wi.us .  If you wish to mail in a complaint, the address is Dept. of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, Consumer Information Center, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI  53708-8911