Aftermath of forest fire. / Photo by Ken Schwarz – Flickr Creative Commons

Question: My house in Fort Collins, Colo., burned to the ground during this summer’s wildfires, and I’m having some trouble with my phone company that I could use your help with.

I live in Sweden and have to do most of my communication by e-mail because of the time difference and international phone rates. I have been trying since the fire to reach someone at CenturyLink to discuss my situation. The people who answer the “customer service” phones do not have the authority to listen to my story and decide if they can or will help me.

I don’t know enough about the structure of CenturyLink to know what level I need to appeal to. My house and phone were located in northern Colorado. I called while I was still in Colorado and now have sent several e-mails asking to have direct contact with the person responsible for customer service in Colorado or someone in the corporate office.

Most of the “responses” have been automatically generated. Today I got one saying that I needed to call. They had obviously not even read my message.

I need a direct contact with someone who can listen to my story and possibly help me. I have no house, no phone and no possibility for service until I rebuild my house. In order to keep my number, I must pay vacation rate which is $15 to $20 per month for nothing. Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated. — Kacy Thompson, Fort Collins, Colo.

Answer: CenturyLink should have connected you with someone who could listen to your story and fix your problem quickly. CenturyLink is the third-largest telecommunications provider in the country, with a presence from Washington State to (ahem) Florida, where yes, it is my high-speed Internet provider.

The CenturyLink we know today is the result of several phone company mergers, and I only mention that because its phone company DNA is apparent when you deal with it.

My own experiences include being placed in lengthy “hold” queues where I’m subjected to the worst elevator music soundtrack ever, and finally being connected to employees who can’t really help me, and have to transfer me to another department that can. My emails are answered with form emails — or not at all.

Once I reach someone who I think can assist, they won’t give me their full name or an email address, only a nondescript station number and a first name. (Remind me again, what century is this?) It can be massively frustrating, even when your house is still standing.

Perhaps the worst part of all this is that often, you don’t have a real choice in a telecom provider. If you want phone service, you’re often stuck with CenturyLink.

Finding the contact information for someone at CenturyLink can be maddeningly difficult, too. The company doesn’t list anyone as a vice president or manager of customer care at the regional or national level. I would have tried shooting an email over to Maxine Moreau, CenturyLink’s senior vice president of network services. All email addresses at CenturyLink are [email protected] or firstname.lastname@centurytel.c[email protected], so Maxine’s is .

CenturyLink should have offered a fast way to get in touch with it after the wildfires instead of giving you the runaround. From Sweden, I would have escalated your request to a higher level as soon as you felt as if you were on a wild goose chase. You were entitled to a clear, fast answer about your phone line.

I contacted the CenturyLink on your behalf. It put you in touch with the right person in Colorado, and the company offered you a $170 credit to cover the fee to keep your number for the next 10 months. Best of luck rebuilding your home.