Kafka & the Phone Corporation

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What happened you see is that I had to call the Phone Corporation* again. I had been assured the last time that everything was cleared up, they had issued a cheque for me which was on it’s way and that I would never have to worry my pretty head about this matter again. That was a month ago. And then the mailman came today to deliver a package, handing me my mail too. I saw one of the envelopes bore the Phone Corporation’s logo and my heart sank. Something told me it couldn’t be good news, so putting aside the box I’d just received from amazon.ca, I grabbed my antique letter opener and slit through the envelope, still half hoping it might just be the letter I had asked them to send me, confirming that the matter was now resolved. Instead it read “Our records show an outstanding balance of $167.45 on your account. It’s always our pleasure to serve you. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you need further assistance.” Of course no one likes to get that sort of letter but for me it was an indication that the Kafkaesque nightmare I’d been ensnared in by the Phone Corporation was still pursuing me and I might be stuck in an everlasting loop forcing me to tell the same tedious story again and again and then have to put up with the same disbelief and stupid remarks and passed on from agent to agent like this until I broke down and made a scene, at which point they’d tell me the matter was resolved just to appease me before starting the whole process all over again. That’s the short version of it. Here is the longer version (names and numbers have been changed to protect the author):

On a fine day on October of 2005, I was sitting in a taxi rushing off to some important matter when I started thoroughly searching my purse for my mobile phone, which was nowhere to be found. Gone. Stolen I figured. I called my number to verify this, and sure enough, someone answered without a word and eventually hung up on me. I immediately called the Phone Corporation to alert them of this matter and asked to terminate the contract so that I wouldn’t be charged with additional fees once the thief started making calls with it. I had decided not to replace the mobile and simply use the work phone I had been provided with. The agent quoted me an astronomical price—the penalty for canceling before the end of the contract. I asked if they could wave the penalty given the circumstances and was told that was impossible. The agent suggested to me instead that I switch to a relatively low phone plan for the five months remaining on said contract, which would be more advantageous for me. “And can you make a note that once we reach the end of my contract I do NOT wish to renew the contract and would like to close the account?” “Yes of course, I’ll make a note of that in your file and there shouldn’t be any problem”. Famous last words. The five months came and went, work and it’s constant pressing demands kept me so busy that I had an editorial assistant help me with my expense account and monthly bills. By then I’d forgotten about the stolen phone and the contract, having assumed that everything was in order. Occasionally, when I looked at my credit card statement, I’d see a charge from the Phone Corporation, but assumed this was probably some additional fee related to my work phone which I could simply include in my expense account. More than two years went by. Then, one fine day in May 2008, I received a letter from the Phone Corporation: “Our records indicate your account is seriously in arrears. Please make your payment of $193.67 within 7 days to prevent further action.” I knew my phone bills were in order and couldn’t figure out where these charges came from. That’s when I decided to call the Phone Corporation again.

“These are charges for your other account madam”

It took me a while to figure out which other account they were talking about. “But I had asked for that account to be closed ages ago!”

“I’m sorry madam, we have no record on file of you ever having a conversation with one of our representatives asking for your contract to be terminated. Though I do see a note here that your phone was stolen”

“But there was supposed to be a note there asking to terminate my contract! Look again, I’m sure it’s there!”

“No madam, there’s nothing here. If you wanted to terminate your contract, you should have given us a 30-day advance warning then called us back to ensure it was effectively closed. You should have looked into it then.”

“But I gave you five months advance notice! Are you saying I’ve been paying for this service all this time?”

“Yes madam, you’ve been paying the advantageous reduced fee. Unfortunately the credit card we were making the monthly withdrawals from was cancelled, so we’ll need a new credit card number to put the charges on.”

“But that’s absurd! Why should I pay for this service? If anything the Phone Corporation should be paying ME back for all those months I’ve been charged for a service I didn’t want it in the first place!”

“I’m sorry, the procedure is you must advise us 30 days before termination madam, if you don’t follow procedure, we won’t terminate your contract and you’ll continue to be charged monthly fees. And I just have to ask you madam—are you telling me you only just now realized you had been charged all this time? Did you not ever check your credit card statements before? It’s been more than two years…”

I’m painfully aware of that, thank you.

This conversation was repeated approximately 7 or 8 times over three different days with various Phone Corp. agents, who kept transferring me along to another department or service until I’d get dead air and have to call again and start from scratch. All the agents were suspicious of my story. Eventually I talked to an agent called Joe*, who after much explaining, then shouting and yelling on my part, agreed with me that the whole thing made no sense and agreed also that I shouldn’t be charged for a service I had asked to terminate. I was finally making some headway. When I went so far as telling him that in fact it was the Phone Corporation that should pay ME back for those more than two years of fees I’d been charged for, he said he’d try and see what he could do. Then Joe came back and said his supervisor agreed to them reimbursing me for up to three months, which is all company policy allowed, but that they were clearing any amount owing and ensuring the service was effectively canceled. That was the best he could do he said, and I went for it, wanting to get this matter resolved once and for all. That was a month ago. The cheque came a week after my conversation with Joe and I relaxed a bit, thinking I could put all this behind me now.

Then that letter this morning. I thought maybe I’d gotten it all wrong and read it again: “Our records show an outstanding balance of $167.45 on your account. It’s always our pleasure to serve you. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you need further assistance.” I took a deep breath and called the Phone Corporation back, yet again. When I got yet another agent called Phil* on the line, I explained that there’d been a big mistake since we’d cleared up the whole matter with Joe (employee # 555-55435597) a month ago, that my file was closed, any balance owing had been canceled, I’d been sent a cheque, and he should find a record of all that in the notes. Phil said he could see in the notes I’d been sent a cheque, but that no mention had been made of canceling the service or clearing the amount owing. When Phil started talking about transferring me to another service I completely lost it and started screaming into the phone “THIS IS KAFKAESQUE, COMPLETELY ABSURD, KAFKAESQUE, DO YOU HEAR ME, DO YOU UNDERSTAND???”. Apparently he hadn’t read or heard about Kafka and didn’t appreciate my shouting at him, but I did my best to calm down and explain the whole situation yet again. Much like Joe had done, Phil finally said “let me see if I can take care of this with my supervisor”, then went to see his supervisor who apparently cleared my file, yet again.

“Will you send me a letter? Do I get any kind of proof of what’s taken place today so I don’t have to go through this again? This is very bad for my health.” I asked. “Yes, you should receive a letter within a month or so and in the meantime I can give you my solemn promise everything is resolved”, Phil said. Now, while I truly do appreciate the sentiment Phil, I can’t help but wonder what the words ‘solemn’ and ‘promise’ mean when uttered by an agent of the Phone Corporation who has never even heard of Kafka…

Names have been changed.

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