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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Deutsche Telekom Drama: Part I

Warning: this is a terrible rant!

Executive summary: Suddenly one fine digit is gone from Deutsche Telekom database. This caused a chain of annoying events. In the end, I must pay for the incurred extra cost, and some amount of precious time is definitely lost.

I have been a happy customer of Deutsche Telekom. For convenience, I let DT uses the debit entries (of my bank) for the telephone bill.

One time, I received a letter from DT saying that for that month, the bank rejected the request to cover my phone bill. In addition, since I also used the service from other providers (e.g. dial-up Internet etc), I also got some others invoices (with small amount of fine, because the payment is due). This is strange because for more than two years, automatically the bill is paid without problem and I always have enough amount of money to cover the bill.

From the call to the bank representative, I was told that there was never error to be found for the transactions. So, I called the hotline service of DT and explained the problem. A man in the call center informed me that if the account has no problem, then I should wait and let the transaction be repeated. Because I'm not a native speaker, I was careful to confirm whether I should do anything about this, the answer was a clear no, just wait.

In two weeks, another letter came. Bad sign. This means that the problem wasn't solved. So I called the hotline service again. This time, a woman checked the transaction and found that my account number was not correct. How this could be, I have no idea; but one initial digit was missing (if these digits are about money, I'll be poor in a second). So, she corrected it and said everything should be fine now. Also, I told her that I got these invoices from other providers and asked whether these can be handled automatically. I wanted to avoid double payment. So carefully I asked again whether I should do anything, the answer was also no, do not worry, we'll handle everything for you. Sounds good.

Another week passed by. I checked my balance and found out that DT has already taken some, so it looked good. But, then out of sudden I still received some letters from the service providers saying that I still do not pay the bill for them. Of course I did not pay it. Like I was informed, I believe that it should be handled by DT. Worse, my connection to the providers was blocked, means that in the mean time I could not use their particularly good services anymore.

The problem was now the bills came also with fine and extra cost for the lawyer. My goodness! I have done nothing wrong at all (who screw the payment for the first time), and then so easily I got letters from this lawyer. No wonder everybody goes to law school.

I made another call. This time, another woman handled it. I explained again the story, and I didn't forget to ask what I should actually do with those bills from other providers, to which she said that either I should pay it manually by myself or let DT process the payment (though they can't handle the fines because they do not have the information from these providers). The latter was exactly what I demanded from the second call, and yet it was not carried out.

Still in the third call to the hotline service, I asked whether she could checked what actually did happen which caused all this drama. Apparently, for whatever reason she had no full access to the system. I should call again later on. What a joy.

In the evening, I made my fourth call to DT hotline service (I started to remember my 10-digit customer id). A woman confirmed that all those extra bills not coming from DT better managed by myself manually, and they can't do anything about it. I got a moment to ask what has caused the failed payment weeks ago. She didn't give me anything new, it's just that the transaction has been rejected by the bank. It's not their fault and I should consult my bank.

I came to the bank in the next morning and desperately asked for help. A man checked my account and found out that in fact, DT never tried to charge the bill from my account for that particular month. He also spotted the wrong account number in the invoice, this confirmed what the hotline service person (on my second call) noticed. Of course the requested transaction was rejected because the account number was invalid. So, it's not the fault of the bank at all.

The madness did not just stop there.

I went to T-Punkt shop in the city. Here I explained again the situation. A woman said that they can't do anything about that, the best they can offer is only voucher/coupon. I was not interested in that, I wanted to find out how my bank information has been changed without my consent. Obviously, the shop can't do anything regarding that but she was willing to write a notice to some DT representative about this problem. I left also my mobile number (fortunately - pun intended - my mobile provider is not DT). She said that I can also try to call a number, which is unsurprisingly the hotline service number.

I called again and I was getting crazy. This call did not result in anything new. I was suggested to contact the invoice service department. Good, at least a new number. I made another call, but it was disconnected in the middle. I still repeated; a woman informed me that she can't answer my question, she does not know how the bank account was unintentionally changed. I was recommended to contact the address which is written in the invoice, it was DT office in Bielefeld.

Now, it's getting out of control. I was foolish to try calling this office number, my call was simply redirected to (surprise, surprise) the hotline service. For the billion times, I retold again my story and this time the answer was slightly different. I should not use other providers because if I do that, then I have to prepare for this kind of situation, where they have nothing to do with these providers. I gave him the benefit of doubt and took it as a friendly advice. I found what he said is quite true, likely also legally correct, although I personally think that it is not a good thing to say to a customer. That simply scares people away. If a company agrees to process invoices from other providers, but only as as courtesy (they won't be liable from any mistakes), then better not doing it at all. And I am completely dumb to believe in this. I'm sure some other competitors can do this kind of job better.

And what about that stupid and fatal change in my bank account number? Well, it's just a mistake. What a cool answer. This number is just an id, it is not a result from some scientific calculation. For more than two years, that wonderful number has been in their database and never been changed. Maybe this number is simply not mission-critical enough (it's not going to send some astronauts to the Mars)?

I went on to explain that I really really wanted to know what has caused this mistake, which costs me all these miserable hours. Some will think that I just exaggerate this. But for me, not knowing the cause of a bug is just scary. In fact, the bug itself might not be solved yet. And, who's going to pay that lawyers?

(If you have a pocket calculator which sometimes produce wrong last digit for simple operation like addition, are you going to rely on it? Who can ensure that later on the calculator would not falsify the most significant digit and causes you a big loss?)

This time one digit is gone. What's next? Where is the corresponding bugzilla, please?

So finally I was suggested to call fault service department. I did it, but nobody there can do something about this. Obviously this place only deals with problem such as when telephone connection is out of service. They have no customer information, in fact they do not know anything about invoice, let alone my bank account. Then, from there I was suggested to call - which surely everybody could guess already - the hotline service.

(I actually never expect that somebody will explain me the technical things in a hotline service. But at least, I hope, they can point me to someone, some manager, some big boss, or whoever, who knows what actually did happen)

I placed another call and up front asked not to be redirected to any other number again because that was the way I have landed there. I gave the 10-digit customer id (piece of cake by then) and asked the woman to check the call history to show that I was indeed in a stressful ping-pong game. She notified that my problem has been registered and I do not need to call again, I should just wait for the call-back.

The next day I got the expected call. The first few minutes were again wasted to explain the problem (nobody, even DT people themselves, can believe that my bank account number has been magically changed), just to prove that I was not the one who made the stupid mistake. So, apparently they can manage the due payment to other providers, only if I transfer them the money because they are not allowed to take it from my bank account in this special case. Finally, it is quite relaxing to obtain the correct information, although until reaching this point I have to suffer more ten phone calls. As for other fines and such cost, the best they can offer is only (guess what?) a voucher. Ironically the nominal value of this voucher won't even cover the lawyer's cost. I was tired, angry, upset so I just accepted it. Apology? Not that I expected it, but still not even one time I heard that word.

As for the missing digit, it is still not clear how it did happen. Maybe it's a software bug. Maybe someone just changed it, either mistakenly or only for the fun of it. Looks like nobody would be able to give me a satisfied answer at all. In fact, so far not even a dumb answer has been given. Heck, even if they said "it's ancient black magic", maybe I would have just accepted it.

Deutsche Telekom, I'm punked!


Anonymous said...

I complete can understand you. The DT is well-known for such ... strange way to handle their customers. However, if we Germans are great in one thing, it is our amazing bureauc(r)azy. It's crazy, how incooperative many companies are. Last year, I had to pay a big ammount of money for a non-existing TV. I am well-known for not looking any TV, but I have to pay for it and nobody really is hearing at your. Even the court is saying, that you are supposed to have one and have to pay. I often ask myself, if such a madness also exist in other countries. So, if you live here in germany... welcome in the country with the greatest madness avaible on earth! ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm not German (I am American), but don't the German data protection laws make it illegal for someone to access your personal data without your written permission? My point being that not just a mistake has occurred. It may be that a crime has occurred. Perhaps if you mention this you might get a better response from DT.

Anonymous said...

You should contact the magazine c't about this - I guess they would love to get behind this story for their series "Vorsicht Kunde".
For contact see So send a link to your blog to e.g. ct(at)ctmagazinDOTde

Anonymous said...

Always communicate in written form - letter not email ;) - with these large companies. One hand doesn't know what the other does...

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why your account number changed, but that strange handling of the call-by-call-providers is common practice. Obviously, DT just has to collect the bills for these providers the first time around. Should that not work (e.g. the automatic collection from your account fails for whatever reason), they tell the other providers they could not collect the money for them, after which each of the providers starts their own "Mahnlauf". Since the customer usually does not know this, he pays his bill to DT and thinks that's it. But DT does not seem to be able (or willing) to forward these "late payments" to the other providers. Since they do not receive their money, either from DT or from the customer, they start harassing the customer with overdue notices, lawyers and such.

Sending your story to c't is a very good idea that I would follow.

We (some citizens of Dielheim and Wiesloch (near Heidelberg)) convinced our tv cable service provider (Kabel BW) to upgrade its network last year, and switched from DT, which could not even provide us with DSL) to their phone and internet (up to 20 Mbit/s) service. While every provider has its problems now and then, Kabel BW has been very cooperative. See our website for details (sorry, german only, but feel free to ask).

I have been DT-free for over half a year now and have not missed them one minute ;-) . Hundreds of my neighbours have chosen to do the same. Maybe DT will wake up some day... grin...



Ariya Hidayat said...

Anonymous #1: There are many other things in Germany that I like. Hopefully this kind of madness would not happen everytime.

Anonymous #2: Thanks, that's a very good idea. That makes me reading Bundesdatenschutzgesetz (BDSG) now...

Anonymous #3: So I contacted c't already. Let's see whether they are interested or not. Thanks for the suggestion.

Anonymous #4: That is indeed correct. Though then I may ask myself: what's the use of hotline service anyway if they can't solve the problem? They may close it as well.

Sebastian Schaper: I know a bit German and read the website (very interesting project). Next time I'll go to Heidelberg, perhaps I should also visit Dielheim.
Thanks for your support!

Anonymous said...

Good luck with getting an apology.

My experience with certain sufficiently large companies in the UK has been that you get to talk to (argue with) lots of unaccountable customer "service" people before being dumped at an unsatisfactory conclusion, typically with a half-assed explanation for any wrongdoing (if you're lucky). There's never an admission of guilt as this could lead to possible legal action from the customer.

If the company is subject to regulation by an independent organisation, you might at least get some sort of justice (or revenge) by raising the issue with them. If only you could get them fully audited by the financial authorities - that might make them a bit more considerate in the future.