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CUB offers tips to avoid horror stories

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With Halloween just around the corner, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) has released its list of the worst customer service horror stories, along with tips on how to avoid such nightmares.

"Halloween is a spooky time of year, but CUB hears frightening stories all year round," said CUB Executive Director Dave Kolata.  "As Illinois' leading utility watchdog group, we want to give consumers the information they need to navigate these dicey situations." 

Illinois consumers are invited to visit CUB's Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/cubillinois, to share their own customer-service horror stories by midnight Halloween for the chance to win $25 off their utility bills.  

For its 30th Anniversary, CUB went through its vaults of customer complaints and uncovered its most horrifying tales:

  • The mom who complained that in the process of getting new telephone service the phone company technician removed the thermostat and replaced it with a phone jack. The mom spent months trying to get the company to pay for repairs — and to keep her family warm.
  • The woman who was locked into an alternative gas supplier's five-year, $1.19 per therm rate — about 42 percent higher than the utility price at the time. The truly horrifying part was that the salesman closed this bad deal by posing as the female customer. State law requires that a third party verify that a person wants to sign up for a gas offer. The salesman was caught on tape speaking in a high voice, posing as the female customer, in a phone conversation with the third-party verification agent.
  • The gas customer who received a letter demanding immediate payment of an old bill only to discover that company correspondence, on official utility letterhead, had addressed him in a derogatory name: "XXXXXXX Bag."

These ghoulish tales may make customers want to hide under the bed, but CUB has tips to make customer service calls more "treat" than "trick":

Ask if you can record a conversation with a customer service representativeUnder law you have to let the person know you're recording, and it's a good way to keep the rep on his or her toes.

Be assertive. Don't be afraid to say, "I am only calling to get 'X.' If you are unable to provide it to me, could you pass me on to someone who can?"

Get clarity. Ask the customer service representative to repeat exactly your request. If you want a new service, confirm what the rep is signing you up for and what your initial bill and subsequent bills should be. Record the representative's full name, employee ID (if he or she has one), and time of the call.

Get social. Call the company's customer service number first, but if you get poor service you can always complain on social media. Companies hate bad PR, and Twitter and Facebook can be an effective forum for your grievance.

Stay calm. It's easy to lose your cool when you receive poor service, but it's important to keep calm. If you're at wit's end with a utility company, call CUB's Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556.

CUB, Illinois' leading nonprofit utility watchdog organization, is celebrating its 30th Anniversary. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, CUB has saved consumers more than $20 billion by helping to block rate hikes and secure refunds over the years.

 

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