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Let’s Get Tough With Us West


A big rain came, and the woman’s two phone lines were knocked cold. One line remained dead; when the other rang, she found that she was on another person’s line. That person screamed at her. When others called the woman, they got the home of a nice couple who lived several miles away. It was crazy. The woman had lived in Spokane all her 74 years. She trusted the phone company.

So she believed the phone people when they said the problem would be fixed in a day or two. But the phone craziness continued several days. The friendly people at the phone company kept assuring the woman her phones would work again soon.

Nearly three weeks had passed when, finally, the woman saw a repair truck on the street. She talked to the men in the truck. They were amazed at her dilemma; they said they never had been told. They fixed the problem that day.

When her bill came, the phone company said, “We’ll take $5 off.” The woman laughed. The incident had eroded her trust in one of Spokane’s most trusted companies, and the phone people were hoping $5 would restore that trust!

The woman didn’t know that she was just one of thousands of US West customers feeling frustrated, angry and betrayed. New phone lines can take weeks to be installed. Phone broken? Expect delays. Need a second line? More waiting.

The woman didn’t know that she should have called the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (800-562-6150), the state agency that regulates telephone companies. It received 1,308 customer complaints about US West in 1994 and has gotten 755 so far this year.

The woman also didn’t know that downsizing is behind the mess. US West is reorganizing. Fewer people are around to do more work. Employees in Spokane still are friendly on the phone, but they are working themselves ragged. And they increasingly are being managed from afar. Now, US West is planning to consolidate its complaint staff in Colorado!

Is there a solution? Well, money talks. Instead of fining the company $1,100 per violation, the state utilities commission opted to negotiate with US West on friendly terms. But in other states that have levied fines against US West, service has improved. The Washington commission needs to start imposing fines.

Customers must get tough, too. Call the commission when your calls to US West don’t work. Ask for money off your phone bills when service has been shoddy. Maybe US West will realize that employing enough people to get the job done is more economical than paying huge fines.

The company also should remember that trust, once it’s gone, costs a fortune to restore.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board

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