Negotiating / determining compensation for Big Telco screwup?
April 10, 2016 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I own a business which is heavily dependent on the telephone. 5+ months ago, I moved locations and paid Bell to move me and kept my phone number. Everything seemed cool but every once in a while someone would chew me out for not answering my phone. Of course, I always answer the phone... When it rings. After an inordinate number of people complained in a single week, I called the phone company. They looked into it and admitted they'd screwed up. I'm going to call them to discuss compensation. Where to start?

I have literally lost tens of thousands of dollars because of this screwup and I am livid.

Basically, they say they "forgot to completely port the number" so, essentially, a percentage (which they either don't know or won't reveal) of calls were vanishing into the ether as they were being directed to my prior location, which is now occupied by a competitor. (Whether that competitors' phone was ringing as a result is unclear as they, obviously, have their own phone number.)

I deal in used vinyl records and buy everything from the public. When the phone rings, it's usually someone calling to sell me inventory. If I don't buy the inventory they sell it to one of my competitors.

The week of my move, I was expecting to do one of the largest buys I'd ever done. Tens of thousands of dollars worth of Jazz. The dude never rang and a competitor bought it. I assumed the customer was lying when I called him on it and that he'd just never bothered to call. Clearly he was telling the truth (I would have paid more than the competitor so the whole thing had never really made sense to me).

I also spend hundreds of dollars a month advertising that I buy records and that ad consists of my buying policy and my phone number. God knows how many people have called to sell me records (I buy several hundred per week receiving only a portion of calls) and never gotten through.

Anyway, Bell has admitted their error. The tech (who is on my side) who figured out what was wrong told me he marked the error on the ticket so that when I call billing they won't have a way to blame me.

Now, I'm sure that they're gonna offer me a pittance -- a month free or some nonsense. Obviously, I don't expect them to compensate me completely for lost business as there's no way to prove the figure, but I think a few months free phone doesn't cut it.

Also, every time someone complained about not being able to get through, I'd call the store and the phone would ring normally. I just kept thinking they were misdialling.

How should I proceed?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy to Work & Money (9 answers total)
You have two choices... accept whatever they offer, or hire an attorney who gets a percentage of your compensation. I suspect that you'll not bring in anything close to "tens of thousands of dollars" by handling this yourself.
posted by HuronBob at 1:53 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my state, this is (still) super regulated; what they "can" do is basically what they "must" do when it comes to making things right for the consumer. Check with your regulatory agency to see if they've already written up an exact procedure and what recourse you have.
posted by SMPA at 1:57 PM on April 10, 2016

I used to work for Bell. Don't bother trying to call customer service to deal with this. You're going to want to hire a lawyer and go through the legal department. Start with a demand letter, buttressed by hard evidence.

I used to get business people calling claiming that crap went sideways all the time and screaming at me to give them $$$$. They couldn't quantify it and they had the wrong person. I had no authority to do more than offer a small portion of a refund of the bill for the time the phone was out of service.

So if in fact you lost $10,000 in revenues/profits (huge difference between the two) you'll need to prove it six different ways from Sunday AND you may have to file suit.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:33 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It might be worth clarifying where you are. If you're still in Toronto, people's experiences dealing with US phone companies may be very different than what you're looking for.

I don't know what your regulations on voice are, but in the data world, failure to meet the quality of service requirement in the contracts rarely cover any kind of damages, just a refund for what they failed to deliver on. Check what's in your contract as well as local laws regulating it.
posted by Candleman at 3:30 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It is extraordinarily hard to prove opportunity cost (lost income) in court, especially when the telecom is (probably) not offering you any particular service level agreement/guarantee. It is extraordinarily easy to rack up lawyer bills doing so. You will not be able to get your notional tens of thousands of dollars without a lawyer. Without a lawyer, you will get a refund of the fees you paid during the months with messed up service - nothing more - because I can almost guarantee you your contract includes some sort of limitation of liability clause.

I suggest that you either immediately abandon your notions of getting significant compensation from the phone company or immediately start paying for a lawyer to pursue this for you. There isn't really a middle ground. You will have to pay for your lawyer whether or not you recover anything from the phone company, so be very careful about starting taking this down a legal path - you'd be taking a very high risk for fairly high cost for fairly low return.
posted by saeculorum at 3:39 PM on April 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Edit: If you don't have a SLA with Bell, you are on a "best effort" agreement with Bell in regards to service.
posted by GiveUpNed at 4:04 PM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I deal in the telco business, I would find it surprising if customer service would/could even go so far as to offer you a full credit for the last six months of "service". The telco world is full of "best effort."

Trying to chase down potentially tens of thousands of dollars in lost business is going to require a lawyer / lawsuit. As you have at least one instance of a potential multi thousand dollar purchase who might be willing to testify for you that they turned to a competitor after you didn't answer your phone to setup the final appointment/appraisal, this might possibly have a non-zero chance of success. But I imagine it would be costly and definitely not a sure thing.
posted by nobeagle at 8:37 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

After re-reading this question, I realized the OP is talking about missing a purchase of records, not a sale of records. Hence, the OP's lost income is doubly hypothetical - first, they would have to prove that the purchase would have happened if the phone system had worked properly, and second, they would have to prove that the purchase would result in a substantial profit for the OP.

That's verging on impossible and switches my recommendation to, "don't even bother with a lawyer, since even the initial consultation will waste your time and the lawyers' time."
posted by saeculorum at 9:04 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

So I called them and they offered a free month, which I wasn't happy with. I faxed in a statement of my case and 3 weeks later Bell credited me the entirety of what I've paid them since the move.

Thanks, all, for the advice.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 4:50 PM on May 13, 2016

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