CUB shares list of worst customer horror stories

Staff Report

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 about how to avoid such nightmares.

Halloween is a spooky time of year, but CUB hears frightening stories all year round,” CUB Executive Director Dave Kolata said. “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,, to share their own customer-service horror stories by midnight, Halloween (Oct. 31), 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, including the following:

u 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.

u 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.

u The retiree who was shocked to receive a call from a collections agency about an outstanding electric bill of $1,500. One big problem: The man was now living in a senior home and was being billed for service he had canceled years ago. CUB got the big bill — for “phantom” electricity he had never used — erased.

u The former phone company employee who endured three missed appointments and finally hooked up his own phone after waiting about six weeks to get service.

u 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.” The company apologized and reportedly fired the employee behind the letter.

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

u Know what you want. Prior to calling a customer service representative, know exactly what your goal is. If you want to sign up for a service, know the costs, components and terms. People often call thinking they know what they want, only to be misled by a customer service rep who offers a service that is similar but costs more.

u Ask if you can record a conversation with a customer service representative. Under 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.

u 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?”

u 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.

u 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.

u 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 its doors 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. For more information, call CUB’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-669-5556 or visit CUB’s award-winning website,

Posted Oct. 29, 2014

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