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U.S. Cellular VP apologizes for continuing billing issues

By Jessica Arp, jarp@wisctv.com
Published On: Feb 24 2014 08:16:52 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 25 2014 07:11:37 AM CST

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection confirms that they are reviewing a number of complaints against U.S. Cellular for billing issues that have persisted for months.

MADISON, Wis. -

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection confirms that they are reviewing a number of complaints against U.S. Cellular for billing issues that have persisted for months.

Customers have been experiencing massive problems with billing since last summer, including Michelle Sewell, of Deerfield, and Dan Parizo, of Madison.

Sewell didn't get a bill for months on her three phone lines, then got three bills in two weeks time for more than $1,000.

"Stuff just doesn't add up, and it's really frustrating," Sewell said.

Parizo also had billing cycles skipped, and then a huge expected payment.

"At one point in time the quote was, "Well, you just need to pay your bill,'" Parizo said.

Both spent hours on the phone and online and emailed News 3 for help last fall. A U.S. Cellular spokesman told News 3 repeatedly that problems would be fixed by the end of November.

Months later, for some, it's gotten worse. Sewell's phones were recently shut off because of a billing mistake, and she was charged fees to turn the lines back on. Parizo's billing dates have been rotating earlier and earlier in the month, making it hard to plan his family budget.

News 3 took the customer questions to U.S. Cellular's Chicago headquarters, and asked about that November timeline.

"A system of this complexity clearly had issues that were unanticipated when we launched it," said Jay Ellison,vice president of Sales and Customer Service for U.S. Cellular.

News 3 shared some of the issues viewers brought to us with Ellison. In November, we asked viewers who were having problems to contact us and were deluged. We replied to many of them again this month to ask if issues had been resolved. Of nearly 50 responses, only 10 said their problems were solved, 11 customers had switched carriers because of billing issues and 26 people said they were still having problems. News 3 asked if that was acceptable to Ellison.

"No, it's not acceptable and as I said, any individual, any collective group of people having issues with their billing with U.S. Cellular, we are concerned about it," Ellison said. "We want to hear about it, we want to hear from them, identify their issues and resolve those issues."

News 3 asked why customers should have confidence that will happen when eight months after these problems started they are still continuing.

"We have every single associate, vendors involved and the top leadership of this organization daily watching what we are doing to make sure we resolve those problems," Ellison said.

It may not be soon enough for some customers, including Sewell and Parizo. We shared their thoughts with Ellison.

"I'm still dealing with phone bills being more than what they should and usually every time I get a phone bill it's at least doubled," Sewell said. "I don't have that kind of money to just throw at U.S. Cellular and the next month be like, 'No, you owe this much again.'"

"We're on the verge of leaving U.S. Cellular as well," Parizo said. "One of the things that happened was they gave us absolutely zero choices. Nothing. No communication, nothing else than, 'Yes, we're having a problem, just pay your bill.' Not my favorite thing to do."

"I apologize," Ellison said after seeing the video. "I apologize for the responses they got and for the experiences they got. I apologize that they had to put their time in and try to resolve it. Our number one goal is to fix their problems. There's no question. That's what we live, breathe and die for these days, and we are going to do just that."

When asked for a date certain people can expect problems to be fixed, Ellison declined to provide one.

"I would say that we will have the vast majority of those problems resolved within the next few months," Ellison said.

Ellison's only recourse to customers during that time is to go back to the same stores and customer service numbers that they've been using before, saying they've "empowered" customer service reps to fix problems right away. But News 3 asked why customers say they're not getting that experience, and instead are spending hours on the phone and being told at the store they can't get credits for issues.

"That should be happening, and again we apologize to those individual customers," Ellison said.

Ellison said stores and call centers have added people, but none of this may be a consolation to customers still digging through paperwork.

"I don't know what the answer is, but that isn't a way to run a business," Parizo said.

Customers have not only been complaining to News 3 via email, phone and Facebook. They've contacted our Call for Action line and other consumer agencies.

Call for Action volunteers have handled 36 complaints since June, which is by far the most complained about company in that time period.

DATCP has gotten 86 complaints. A spokesman said they are reviewing them for any violations of state law and encourage customers who have had billing issues to file a complaint with them.

The Better Business Bureau of Chicago said the company has had 1,522 complaints in the last 12 months, but maintains its A+ rating with the organization.

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