Here’s my nomination for worst customer service story of the year — both for the customer and for me, trying to learn what happened.
Elizabeth Cordry of Fort Worth died Jan. 27 at 85. Yet her month-to-month contract with satellite TV company Dish Network threatened to live forever.
After her son, Robert — who lived with and cared for his disabled mother — buried her, he paid her utility bills and canceled the accounts.
On Feb. 21, he called Dish and informed the company that his mother had died. He recalls that the customer service rep told him, “Well, if she’s deceased, you’ve got to send a death certificate.”
He told me: “She didn’t have a contract. Most of the contracts are for a year, but it was a month-to-month deal. We had the right to cancel that thing as far as I know.”
After that, he received robo-phone calls and more bills.
He called many times, once asking a rep, “What do I have to do? Go to court to get off the Dish bill?”
On one bill, he wrote on the unopened envelope “DECEASED. Notified of disconnect.” He mailed it back.
The debt was passed to a collection agency, which demanded $180.
He called: “I kept telling them the same thing, and it’s like talking to a wall. It was really on my nerves. Her house is in probate. We’ve got a lot of balls up in the air. We don’t have time to argue with them.”
He contacted The Watchdog Dave Lieber.
I passed his complaint on to Dish. Robert Cordry got a call from the company.
“They canceled the debt,” he says. “They said they’d give her a $25 credit if she wants to hook up again.
“I said, ‘She’s deceased. What good would that do her? What’s she going to do? Come back and use it?'”
After I wrote Dish for further comment, spokeswoman Allyson Mylrea sent me this:
“Here is our official statement re: Mr. & Mrs. Cordry.” (Note from The Watchdog: Mother and son were NOT married.)
“Dish Network sincerely apologizes for the inconvenience to Mr. Cordry. Once we were made aware of the issue, we immediately reached out to him in order to correct the situation. We have since refunded his money and waived all cancellation fees and charges he would be assessed. Please let me know if you need anything else.”
I had more questions: Why did this happen? What is the company policy? What should customers do to avoid this?
There was no response, so I wrote again: “I am concerned that I haven’t heard from you despite repeated attempts to talk to someone in the press office before I hand my column in for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I always want to talk to all sides in any story before I go to publication out of fairness and my earnest desire for accurate information.”
Mylrea wrote back, “You can call me. However, I will let you know that I am not allowed to go into much deeper details of the issue. In these types of situations, it is only up to the customer to provide specific details on the resolution and details of the situation.”
I called. She didn’t return my call.
I sought guidance from John Riggins, president of the Better Business Bureau at Fort Worth. He looked up Dish Network’s record: 13,000 complaints nationally in three years.
The BBB website reports that last year Dish settled a claim with 46 states, including Texas, charging the company with unfair and deceptive sales practices.
Companies with low profit margins tend to scrimp on customer service, Riggins said. Reps have scenarios to read back to customers, and they often don’t have authority to go beyond that when situations may differ. If someone dies, the script might state, “Send us a death certificate.”
He continued, “In this day and age, it’s easier to go public than it ever has been. You’ve got the Internet, blogs, reporters, a lot of different ways.”
That gave me an idea. I went to my Twitter account (@DaveLieber) and tweeted this:
“DISH Network media relations: Are you there?? You ignored me for days as I write column on deadline ’bout poor customer service.”
Many companies monitor tweets that mention them. Within minutes, Mylrea e-mailed me: “Just saw your tweet.” She was sorry she didn’t call me back. “I didn’t have time.” She repeated that she couldn’t share details.
“That’s your decision,” I e-mailed back. “And I will share it with the readers. My hundreds of thousands of them.”
Then I searched Twitter for other comments about Dish in the previous hours:
“@Joshe99 dishnetwork not now. I cancelled my service after 4 months of fighting with Dish network. I call that bad customer service.”
“@iMarkusAnthony Goodbye Dish network, hello DirecTV!”
“@jonrcrowell #Dish Network punishes loyal customers.”
“@zdove918 Never use Dish Network. Poor poor poor customer service.”
On the World Wide Web, that’s called the wisdom of crowds.
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Here’s Dave’s favorite:
betterme1 wrote on 5/29/2010 6:12:15 AM:
Here’s what I did when Dish wouldn’t quit calling me. I looked up what town they were in and I looked up their senior staff’s names. The VP of Marketing had an unusual last name, so his home phone number was easy to find. I then started my calls. I waited until after hours and I called his home and explained that from now on, if Dish Network called me, I would be calling him. He was furious. It was hilarious. It went on for several weeks because even HE couldn’t make the calls stop. He would try anything to get me to quit calling him. I explained that I was only returning his calls and that if he wanted to sue me, that would be his right, but I would sue back. And, since he was committing a crime, and I was trying to stop him from committing the crime, it should make for some interesting news. He was eventually able to stop the calls and they NEVER call me now. But, it was so much fun while it lasted.
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Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber
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