A History
of my Introduction to US West:
My Temporary Phone Company

My fiancee and I arrived in Arizona on August 14. Our family and our neighbors welcomed us warmly. Our local telephone company, however, did not. The following is a letter I sent them, dated Sept. 15 1998, and it details the trials and tribulations we had to go through just to get a simple telephone line.

To: US West, Complaints Department

To whom it may concern;

I am writing to you to complain about your company's inefficiency and shoddy service. I moved to the Phoenix area one month ago, after spending a year living in Japan. I called the US West 800 number on Friday August 14 to request new service. One month later, after many service appointments, flimsy excuses, and promises, I was still making calls on the cellular phone I was forced to buy if I wanted phone service any time this century.

I wanted two phone lines: a main line with call waiting and caller ID; and a second computer/fax line with no amenities. The woman I spoke with took down all of my information, told me that the main line's phone number would be 726 1675 and that the secondary phone line's number would be 726-1676. Then she gave me the bad news that they couldn't be hooked up until August 26th. She said we didn't have to be there for the service to be turned on because it was just a matter of going to the box and making the proper connections.

Two weeks without a telephone when you've just moved to a new place, having just gotten back to the states from spending a year abroad, is ridiculous. I went out and bought a mobile phone just to be able to make the phone calls to turn on my water, electric, and cable service. (All of which, by the way, were turned on in less than a month.)

The 26th arrived and so did our phone service. Well, part of it. Only one telephone number was activated. Unfortunately, the line that was activated was the computer line. This is all well and fine for making outgoing calls, but it poses a problem for incoming calls. We had already told all of our friends and family (Calling from the mobile phone at great expense, I might add) that our phone number would be -75. Now we had to tell them that although -75 was our theoretical phone number, -76 was our actual number for the time being.

I called the service number and explained my problem. The man I talked to said that according to my computer file, the service hadn't been completed and since it hadn't been completed, he couldn't put in an order for repair. He advised me to wait and have faith. I waited. I had faith. No new phone line developed.
My fiancee called the service line a few days later. The person he spoke with said that they would put in an order for service. They said that someone would contact us to set up an appointment. He gave them our -76 number, but for some unknown reason, they gave the service scheduling department my fiancee's father's number to contact us at. I had given this number as an additional contact number to the person to whom I originally spoke on August 14th. The scheduling department called my in-laws' house the next day, but of course, we weren't there. My mother in-law took the message and gave it to me later. She said I should call this service number and speak to either Angela or Randy, and that I could call the number collect. My order number was N16678922.

The next day, I took my phone in hand and dialed 0-208-478-0630. I told the computer that I wanted to make a collect call, and it told me to hold the line for an operator because there was a problem. The operator came on, and when I told her that I was trying to make a collect call, she said, "You can't make a collect call to this number." I said, "But they left me a message telling me to call them collect!" She replied, "Well, I don't know why they would say that because this number is blocked from accepting collect calls." Remember, this is a US West telephone number and a US West switchboard and a US West operator. If your company can't even get your own phone systems working properly, I don't know why I hoped you could get mine working.

Finally I dialed the number directly. I got an answering machine. "You have reached the US West Repair Service Scheduling Office. Yes, operator, we do accept collect calls..." I left them a message, giving my name, telephone number, and order number. This was Thursday September 3 or Friday September 4th. I never got a call back, so I called again on Tuesday September 8th. I spoke with Randy, and he explained that the reason that we had had only one phone line activated was because during the strike, since they were so shorthanded, they were just hooking up one line per household, enough to get as many people basic service as possible. It was just an oversight that they hooked up the secondary line instead of the primary line. He said that I was already scheduled for service that very day; the Arizona area had some workers who were willing to work overtime so they just scheduled as many places as they could, regardless of whether they had been contacted or not.

So, I canceled my Tuesday plans and waited, at home, all day Tuesday, but no one showed up and no new telephone number was added to our house. On Wednesday, September 9th, my fiancee called again. The person he spoke to said that the Arizona crew had been overbooked, and that if they hadn't come Tuesday, and they didn't come Wednesday, then they would certainly come Thursday and everything would be fine. Thursday came and went and we still didn't have a phone line.

In the meantime, we have been trying to get on with our lives. This is difficult with no telephone. My credit cards have been turned off on me because my credit card companies tried to call me to verify the new address and telephone number that I gave them, but of course they reached a recording saying that the number has been disconnected, so they started declining my credit cards. My fiancee filled out several job applications, giving the -75 telephone number as his contact number, expecting it to be up and running either Wednesday or Thursday. Now he has to go back to his prospective employers and explain that he made a mistake. He gave them the wrong telephone number, and could he please change his application but please don't hold this against him, he normally has his head together enough to know his own phone number. Our friends and family have tried to call and haven't been able to contact us.

On Friday, my fiancee called again. The person he spoke to had some bad news. He was incredulous. Finally he handed the phone to me. The woman told me that the guys who came out to set up our phone service ran into some "cable problems" and what with all the work they have to do and how difficult it will be to run the new cable into our neighborhood, the earliest time they could come and hook up our real phone line is October 5th. She said she was very sorry, but there was simply nothing to be done about it. October 5th was the soonest available date, and that was with a rush order.

Today, Monday morning, when we woke up, there was NO phone service. Someone came all the way out here, with their busy schedule, before 7:30 in the morning, and disconnected our only working telephone line. Why? Who knows. Certainly no one at US West knows. I woke up this morning to my fiancee arguing on the telephone with some woman, named Penny, from the service center. First she tried to tell him that it wasn't our phone line, and that we had been getting free service on the previous tenant's line. He pointed out that the phone had been our number, the one which was assigned to us on August 14th, and she had to admit that she was just guessing. Then she told him that she couldn't authorize a repair order because he wasn't the person named on the account. She forced him to wake me up so that she could try and sell the same story to me about how it wasn't really our phone line. When I, also, pointed out that it was our assigned phone number, she said "Oh, yeah" and tried another tack.

She told me that she couldn't help us because she worked in the department for people with service problems, but since we had no service, that's a different department so she couldn't do anything. I tried to explain that "no service" is a service problem, but she wouldn't believe me. Next, she tried to give me another explanation of why the phone had been shut off. "You know, you weren't even being billed this whole time. You're not even in our computer. Our computer says your service hasn't been completed, and we bill both numbers together, so if you don't have one you can't have the other. The guys that hooked up your line probably just borrowed the cable from someone else's house in the neighborhood that had their phone turned off, and when the new people moved in, their phone probably rang every time yours did, and they could hear you talking, but they couldn't talk, so they probably called us to have their phone shut off." She didn't mention anything about the "cable problem" that the other woman described.

Finally she said that she had moved our connect date up to September 18th from October 5th, for which I thank her, and then she said she was going to transfer our call to the no service department. By this time my fiancee was late for school. He spent another fifteen minutes on the telephone, explaining the circumstances to the new person, Amy. She told him that there was nothing that could be done and that there was no way we could get phone service before Friday.

"This in unacceptable!" He said. "Our phone was working two hours ago and someone came out and turned it off. I want you to get me in touch with the person who has enough clout to get someone out here to turn it back on." She offered to call the person with the clout and pass along our message. He resisted. He said, "No, I don't want to play transfer-the-problem- caller-around for three hours. I don't want to play wait-for-the-nonexistent-supervisor-to-call-me-back. You stay on the line with me, call whoever can fix this, bring your supervisor on line, whatever it takes, but you and I are going to stay on the phone together until this is solved." "Yes, whatever you say, sir," she said, and hung up.

He called again, this time getting someone named Christine in the repair department. He had to spend another fifteen minutes explaining the circumstances, now becoming very, very, late for school. After he explained, she said, "Your phone will be working again by 6:00 pm tomorrow at the latest, because of our Service Guarantee."

Needless to say, it wasn't working by 6:00 pm Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, I began calling again. First, I got transferred to someone in the billing office named Pat. I explained how I had been mistreated from the beginning and I explained that I wanted US West to reimburse me for the mobile phone service I used during the time that US West was supposed to have been providing me with phone service. She told me that if I had asked, US West would have provided me with a mobile phone at the time I set up my service, but that there was nothing they were planning on doing about it now. She told me that they could have set up call forwarding so that people trying to reach us at the -75 number would have been forwarded to the -76 number, but that there was nothing they could do now. I don't know why none of the people we talked to in the past two weeks were able to come up with these solutions until it was "too late."

I told her that Friday was not acceptable. "What about the customer service guarantee?" I asked. "Well, that only applies to your first line, which was hooked up on the 26th as promised." I pointed out that my first line, so far, hadn't been hooked up at all. "Well, there's nothing we can do about it," she said.

"I'd like to talk to your supervisor, then." "I can give her your name and number and have her call you back," said Pat. Having heard this line before, I said, "Well, I've been dealing with your company for a month now and I've been told that people are giving messages to their supervisors, but we never get called back." Pat started to get riled. "I will give Gay your name and number and when she gets the message, she will call you back."

"Fine," I said, "And can you give me Gay's number so that if she doesn't call me back, I can call her?" "Oh, now where did I put that number?" She said, and hung up the phone. What kind of customer service hangs up on its customers?

I called again, and got Chris in billing. I asked to speak with Pat again, since we had some unfinished business, but Chris said that there were about 600 operators in there and more in another office, and she had no way to telling who I spoke to and she didn't know any "Pat." I spent another fifteen minutes telling her my story, and she told me that I was not alone. She said that every customer who had signed up for multiple-line service during the strike had had one line turned on. She said that the computer did a diagnostic and when it found that only one line of a multi line set-up turned on, it went through and turned them all off. She said that there were hundreds, even thousands, of people like me all over Phoenix, who had had a line and then had it taken away from them. She said that Friday was the earliest that we could get phone service...unless we wanted to drop one of the lines off the order.

"What?" I asked. She explained that they had to do special wiring for two lines, which required more time and a crew of workers, who couldn't come until Friday, but that if it was only one line, it could go zip right through the computer and be turned on today. We took the second line off the work order, and my primary line was hooked up five hours later, 33 days from the date of my first call.

Throughout this entire ordeal, the majority of the people I spoke to on the phone were impatient, incompetent, and rude. They made up stories out of thin air about "borrowed cables," "cable trouble," and "over-booked work crews" when they had no idea what was causing the delays in service. My fiancee and I were routinely hung up on when we tried to speak to anyone in a managerial position. Every time we called, we got a new person who was unable to connect us with the person to whom we had been speaking before.

I demand that US West pay for the phone service which they didn't provide me during this period, from August 14th until September 16th. My first bill was for 96.20 and you may send me a check to the address above. I also demand a written apology, from an executive, for the way that your company deals with customers and their complaints.

I tell the story of my mistreatment to everyone I meet. I am sending copies of this letter to the Public Utilities Commission, the Better Business Bureau, the Arizona Republic, and local television stations. I am putting a copy of it on my webpage so that the entire world can learn the perils of having US West provide telephone "service."

I already have Cox@Home for my internet access, which is why we didn't need the secondary line anymore anyway. As soon as I can get Cox's new digital phone service, I am canceling my service with US West and I will never do business with your company again.


Phyllis Meek

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Last modified: October, 1998