Help! CenturyLink sent me a modem I didn’t want

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When CenturyLink sends Mark Schrader the wrong modem, he calls for help. Is anyone listening?

Question: CenturyLink sent me a modem I didn’t order after I clearly stated before I signed up for its service that I would buy my own modem. I was forced to call CenturyLink in order to resolve the matter of being billed for leasing the modem I did not order, and I had to waste my time returning the unrequested modem via UPS.

After repeatedly calling customer service, I was assured the matter was resolved and that my account noted that I didn’t order the modem. My bills say otherwise.

Reaching CenturyLink is difficult. On several occasions, after I waited ten or more minutes, my call was disconnected on CenturyLink’s end. I never received a return call from the customer service department.

After I finally got through to a customer service rep, he passed the call to somebody else to fix the problem, who then repeated the same non-productive, robotic reaction as the person who answered the phone.

As a new customer, my impression of CenturyLink’s customer service support is that it suffers greatly from a lack of accountability. The automated system appears to be efficient at generating new customers or sales, but not for handling customers’ billing issues or complaints.

I want assurance that all modem lease charges have been removed and verification that my modem has been returned. I also feel I deserve several months of free Internet service as reasonable compensation for my time and frustration in dealing with this matter and for having to bring this to your attention.

Mark Schrader, Puyallup, Wash.

Answer: You’re in luck, because CenturyLink happens to be my Internet service provider, and you aren’t the only one who is frustrated with the company.

I’ve also spent long hours on the phone with CenturyLink, and have experienced the same thing — impossibly lengthy hold times, random disconnects, transfers to a different department that can’t or won’t help, and errors that always seem to favor the company, never the customer.

Your experience raises a bigger question. When a company tells you something by phone, can you trust it? Some would say it’s the equivalent of an oral contract, but unfortunately, there’s no proof the conversation happened. The company can record the call for “quality assurance purposes” but you don’t have access to those recordings.

The remedy isn’t to pick up the phone, but to contact the company in writing. You know the drill, right? Here are the names and numbers of CenturyLink’s executives. Why not share your frustrations with one of them?

In this particular case, it really was that simple. Although I was happy to help, your email to CenturyLink worked like magic. Within 24 hours of your sending a written complaint, CenturyLink adjusted your bill and acknowledged the return of the modem.

Do you trust what a company tells you by phone?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Jim

    E-mail by far is the better method of resolving a problem as you have something in writing.

    It does not work as well in big companies, but when dealing with smaller firms get the persons name and phone number if possible. My theory is that they think “This person has my name and phone number, I better follow through on what I just said!”

    But with big companies verbal promises are are normally put into the Pearl Harbor file…

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I have heard “we (customer service) don’t have e-mail” which I asked permission to record the call and a fax number so that I can fax what was stated in the conversation. If they say “No” then I ask for a supervisor.
    I always try to get the person’s name, phone number, employee #, department, location, etc. regardless of the size of the company.

  • Alan Gore

    I’m familiar with CenturyLink. It’s an old traditional phone company that used to operate under the name Qwest. Its adaptation to the online age was to introduce a reliable but slow DSL operation in its far-flung phone service area. Like all DSL, it uses your existing lines but can service only customers who are located close to a distribution switch. Since most users find themselves near the edge of the viable DSL zone, choosing the right modem is crucial. You’re generally better off renting CebturyLink’s own modem.

    The one way to get CenturyLink’s customer support to recognize you as a sentient being is to tell them you are switching over to cable. Customer Retention will make sure your problem gets heard.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    CenturyLink’s phone-based customer service is dreadful. I started using email via a very deeply hidden “Contact Us” form to resolve my last service-related issue with them. If you don’t buy your modem from them, the service tech who eventually arrives blames all the problems on your modem. Luckily I keep a written log of these calls and I pull it out and start reading it at the tech and he eventually figures out that I’m not going to support “your modem is the problem”.

    I’m curious in this case: the OP feels he deserves several free months of Internet service for his trouble. He’s being quite greedy in my opinion, but did he get any break on his bill as compensation for his “time and frustration”?

  • MarkKelling

    I had Qwest/Century Link DSL for over 5 years. Never had a single issue with it and got really good speeds. I signed up through a promotion they had with Best Buy where you filled out all the forms at the store and they gave you a modem package and a $100 gift card. Seemed like a great deal at the time. And no, I never got charged anything monthly for the modem.

    But then I had a problem. My phone line went dead. Took me a long time to find out a phone number and finally called the DSL service line because no one would answer the phone service line. They got me connected to someone right away. Then the first question asked was “Are you calling from the phone that is not working?” Really? After going trough the script for nearly half an hour, they finally agreed with me that the phone was dead. But they couldn’t get anyone out to look at it for 6 weeks! Turns out the last service person out to turn on service for someone in the area disconnected several other customers. I am no longer a customer of theirs.

  • MarkKelling

    Why would a company not want to charge you for something? It makes a lot of money for them. Many people just give up instead of pursuing refunds for these types of charges.

    A friend of mine was renting their Century Link modem (don’t remember what the monthly charge was) and had paid for a modem several times over. He got his own modem and not only did it have wireless, it also gave him a much higher speed throughput. But then it took 6 months of constant calls and arguments to get the billing turned off and a credit back. They claimed they never got the modem even though he went in to their service center and got a written receipt for returning it!

    Stories like these make me wonder how a company can stay in business.

  • http://www.jeffkolkerart.com Jeff Kolker

    So, did he get the several months free internet service he feels he justly “deserves”? Just curious… but when I read that, I lost most of the sympathy I felt toward the OP. Been having some billing issues with my health insurance, wonder if I can get a few months free for that? :)

  • emanon256

    Actually CenturyLink never used to operate as Qwest. Qwest was a newer company that started in the 90s and bought US West and their market. US West was one of the Baby Bells. Quest brought US West into the 21st century by replacing their old copper lines with fiber. CenturyLink is an old, old, traditional phone company that started in the 1930s and evolved over time (Their name changed periodically). CenturyLink purchased Qwest in 2010, in what was more of a takeover than a purchase. They are actually on a spending spree purchasing up a lot of companies who are using new technology. However, CenturyLink never operated under the name Qwest, they were two separate companies. I have a lot of family in Telecom and many of them were affected by the CenturyLink take over of Qwest.

  • emanon256

    I have sadly heard that line before too, “Are you calling from the line that isn’t working.” Wow! We always had good service with Qwest, then it went away when CenturyLink bought them.

  • emanon256

    I’m with you, when I read the OP’s letter I totally understood his frustration, but think he was a bit nasty and greedy. Perhaps he was disconnected for a reason?

    I was forced to call CenturyLink in order to resolve the matter of being billed for leasing the modem I did not order, and I had to waste my time returning the unrequested modem via UPS.

    That is part of life, its annoying, but certainly not worth getting as angry as he sounds over it. And even more certainly not worth:

    I deserve several months of free Internet service as reasonable compensation for my time and frustration

  • emanon256

    I had the same experience with Comcast. I had paid for my rental modem several times over, and it was slow. When I went to their website to see what modems were compatible, it turns out the rental one wasn’t supported by Comcast. It also took hours on hold to be able to transfer service to the new modem, and quite some time to get them to accept my return (They shut down my service the first time I returned it), and they still kept billing me for it after I returned it. They also started billing me for an HD DVR which I don’t even have. I finally wrote on their wall on FaceBook, and got contacted withn an hour, spoke to a high level rep, and everything was fixed within 1 day.

  • Don Cheedle

    Question for you. If you call a company and they say “this call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes”, can’t you also record the call? If they’re doing it, and assuming you’re in a one or two party consent state, then that would be kosher right?

    Have you heard stories where people try to record and tell the rep on the phone and they refuse to assist? Or maybe companies welcome it?

  • PolishKnightUSA

    People have had mixed experiences with the chat feature on comcast’s support page. For me, telephone has largely not been useful at resolving significant issues (such as service not turned on or my email/internet working at new address). I would call and get someone who was only experienced in one area and they’d transfer me to another department and I’d get disconnected and have to start all over again.

    So the chat feature worked better. Yes, sometimes the person on the other end wasn’t much better than what’s on the phone but I got disconnected less and could get an avenue to escalate as well as tracking numbers on screen for issues. In addition, everything in chat is “recorded” so to speak. When they disconnect, I am able to save the chat session to text.

  • Don Cheedle

    What has happened when you’ve asked about recording? Do many companies care? Have you ever used a recording to get a company to honor it’s word? I’m really interested in your experience with it and if it’s been more of a hassle than a benefit!

  • emanon256

    I have had mostly a good experience with the chat, and I love that I can save it. I did have one person tell me they can’t help me and to end my session and start anew one in hopes the next person can help me. I found that a bit unprofessional. The only problem was when the disconnected my internet, I had no option but to call. And it took 2 hours on hold.

  • DonTheGeek

    Even if I am not going to record, I ask if they mind if I record. The three most memorable responses were:

    1. Comcast: No response, she just hung up

    2. City of Albuquerque: “Please do, and if you think my service is above average please send a copy to my boss.” She was one of the most pleasant people I have ever dealt with over the phone.

    3. AOL (yeah, feels like a long time ago): “You cannot record this call and if you attempt to do so you will be charged with illegal wiretap.” There was more after that but I was busy laughing with the neighbor I was trying to help cancel their AOL account.

    New Mexico is a single party approval state, means I can record the phone call without informing anybody else in the conversation as long as one of the parties agrees to it, and since I’m one of the parties – I agree to recording the call.

  • DonTheGeek

    I posted a reply above just about that. Most of the companies I call are ok with it though some have passed me to another rep. stating they didn’t feel comfortable being recorded (say what?). AOL flat out lied and said that it was illegal to record and comcast simply hung up on me.

  • ORguest

    I don’t get companies like this. If they would just provide friendly, accessible customer service, people would be beating a path to their products. How much time and money do they spend training “customer service” reps to obfuscate, provide non-answers and read scripts? How much different would their reputation be if they instead had a live body answer the call, and that live body actually helped resolve the issue? In under 30 minutes? This isn’t rocket science; all they need to do is treat their customers the way they want to be treated. I honestly do not understand why more companies don’t do this. The payoff in customer loyalty and positive word of mouth would be priceless.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Agreed, but where I live, either you get phone service from CenturyLink or from the local cable provider, which has frequent phone outages. Same with internet. I have to have a landline for a couple of reasons, and cell phone customer service is “interesting”, so no improvement there. Satellite is problematic in the event of high winds, storms or snow, all of which happen frequently here. So, you’re stuck with the phone company or the cable company for internet. Somewhat of a monopoly here, so why bother wasting your time providing decent customer service?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Exactly. That’s the same experience I had growing up in the Caribbean. Customer service was abysmal as there was rarely any competition. Today, its much improved because there are far more choices, e.g. internet, cheaper travel to the mainland, etc.

  • AJPeabody

    It’s OK to ask. I do it all the time when I get one of these customer service snafus. The thing is, you need to ask for the right thing. They never want to give “free” this or that. What you ask for is the introductory offer for new customers.. Say something like, ” I have been a customer for a long time and this problem took a lot of work to resolve. You give a nice deal to new customers. Is there someone who can make it up to me by giving the same deal?” It works maybe half the time.

  • Don Cheedle

    Oh great, thanks for for the notes! It’s really interesting.

  • dave3029

    It depends on where you live. Some states allow recordings only when all parties are aware, some states allow recording when only one party (you) are aware. You can check this at www(dot)dmlp(dot)org/legal-guide/state-law-recording. (Replace (dot) with a period.)

  • dave3029

    Crap like this is why I record EVERY conversation with a company that involves my money. (I live in a state that allows one-party notification when recording calls.)

  • emanon256

    Sadly the companies really don’t care about customer service. Having bad service saves them a lot of money, more money than having good customer service and a few more customers. Saving that money pleases the stock holders. The companies only care about pleasing the stock holders, not the customers.

  • foggybear

    Companies need to treat their customer service reps decently, too. A positive work environment would help keep knowledgeable people answering the phones rather than those who are simply desperate for a job. Scripts are only necessary when you have to train a dozen new warm bodies every week.

  • SoBeSparky

    I voted yes by default. Most people I ask to put the situation in writing refuse to do so. “It’s not our policy.” So I have to trust the oral representations.if I want to deal with monopoly vendors, like local cable, local newspaper, etc.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I don’t trust those oral representations, I hope that such entities will carry out what they say. I do an awful lot of scribbling down of names, dates, organizations and sometimes have to refer back to them when making a follow up call. I’ve found when I say “On this date, at this time, I spoke to this person who said this. Is that in your notes, too?” that it gets me a little further than when I have to start all over again from scratch.

  • John Baker

    Its a monopoly and customer service costs money they don’t have to spend… Sad but true.

  • chevy4wd

    I have CenturyLink for just internet (I have my own modem). Several months ago, I had a problem with some of their bundling items and received terrible customer service. Basically I was told by 3 different people with CenturyLink that I would be able keep my bundle. As it turned out, that was not the case. I elevated the problem with a resolution supervisor and again with their social media team and got no where. Only when I contacted the CEO of CenturyLink with a very nice email did I get any action. My email to the CEO was passed to a local team for resolution. That employee has called me regularly to see if I have received any satisfaction. The last time he called me was to tell me it would be around September 2014 before I get my bundling back. In the meantime, I was given several credits that exceeded any cost savings with the bundling plan. I highly recommend following Chris’ advice to contract CenturyLink executives to get the resolution you are looking for

  • Cathy_Disqus

    If she was in a state that has dual party consent, then you are in violation of that state’s law. California is very specific about this, and you can be charged with the crime even if you call from a single party consent state. Now, whether your state would extradite you is a different matter …

  • bpepy

    Was CenturyLink once Mid Texas Communications? Then Central Telecommunications (or telephone)? Then Centel?

  • emanon256

    They were not, but they did purchase Centel in the 90s. There name has started with Century since the 60s or 70s, but the word after Century changes every few years.

    I looked it up, they were originally Oak Ridge in 30s. Then in ’68 incoporated as “Central Telephone and Electronics”. Then in ’71 changed their name to “Century Telephone Enterprises”. Since they they have always been “Century ___________”.

  • Miami510

    It’s only wiretapping when it is done surreptitiously. If you begin, as I occasionally do, “This is important to me and for accuracy and training purposes, I’m going to record our conversation,” it is not illegal. (The “training” part is a parody on the ubiquitous corporate message).

  • bpepy

    thanks!

  • Grant Ritchie

    Thanks for the link. But be careful with your recording. Even if you live in a one-party state, you can be prosecuted for recording someone in a two-party state without permission.

  • AH

    i do the same thing, jeanne. and it’s come in very handy on numerous occasions – especially when i’ve had to deal with (another) problem with verizon.
    i’m only hoping i don’t have to call them again tomorrow – my landline phone is dead (for the umpteenth time) because of heavy rain today in my area. i’ve got fios, and they’ve replaced the outside wiring (they claimed squirrels chewed on the wires), but one more time, heavy rain=no land line phone service until it dries.
    i hate verizon, but it’s the only option in my area.

  • Mark Carrara

    I often wondered about recording because almost every time you call them they say “this call may be monitored or recorded for quality purposes” To me that says you may record, not that they may.

  • Mark Carrara

    As others have pointed out the company now known as CenturyLink has a long a twisted history. When we lived in WI they state as CenturyTel then bought somebody and became CenturyLink. In the 2000’s they were by far the best telcom I dealt with. Great service, great products, never an issue.

    Now I live in NM and CentruyLink is by far the worst company I deal with. You think they don’t care about consumers? Well try canceling a multi thousand dollar a month contract. They are still billing us for their on premise equipment they removed over a year ago. Horrible Internet, I had them at home. I lived two blocks from the central office and sometimes I couldn’t get dial up speeds on their DSL.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Mark: two different meanings of “may”. What they’re saying is “We may CHOOSE to record this (or we may choose NOT to record this) if we see fit” – not “We give permission for this conversation to be recorded”.

  • cowboyinbrla

    Don: AOL used to be based in the DC area, and in Maryland, at least, consent of all parties is required to record a conversation. If the AOL call center was there (or in one of the other states where all parties must consent), it indeed would be illegal to record without that consent.

    You may recall that Linda Tripp got in trouble with Maryland authorities during the Clinton-Lewinsky flap over her recording her conversations with Lewinsky, without Lewinsky’s consent. I think, in the end, they decided not to prosecute (I can’t remember the resolution) but it was a clear violation of the law.

  • PsyGuy

    In Japan companies often record their calls, but no rep would ever lie or deceive you, the company supervisors would quickly step in to “correct” the error.