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Overview:
I purchased three new smartphones from a large, well-known, phone company on 11/27/2015. Each phone qualified to receive $300.00 in promotional credits after trading in a separate smartphone in good working condition. In this case, I'd receive $900.00 in credits after all was said and done.

I've spent the past 6-7+ months trying to get these credits. I've talked with literally 50+ different respresentatives over 30+ separate days. My family and I have spent dozens of hours trying to work with the store, the phone reps, in chat, etc. and I'm burnt on putting more effort into this. This is a very cut-down synopsis of the chronology:

  • The first month was solely trying to receive the promotional codes after the phones were activated. Repeatedly calling/driving to the store to check on this and being told to wait. Eventually the codes had to be manually created since they agreed the codes were not actually processing.
  • The second/third month was various attempts to bring in phones to redeem the credits with. Multiple stores over multiple days couldn't get the codes to go through. Dozens of hours into calling to try and resolve this. Eventually, after the two months they agreed the codes were defective and that they'd manually credit the promotion to me after taking my three trade-in phones.
  • The fourth/fifth month was waiting out the billing cycles and keeping ahead of checking on my status. Nothing went through and I was even told they didn't have a record of where the phones I brought in were due to no tracking number.
  • The sixth month has been my ongoing attempt to voice my complains over how long this has taken. I've wrote a formal letter to their correspondence team and called multiple times to try and come to some kind of settlement before considering legal options. It's been two weeks and I haven't received any formal response to my letter or calls.

Questions:

  • What, if any, legal boundary have they crossed by not having this resolved in a timely manner; or by having such issues with the entire process (still ongoing)?

  • Would punitive charges/compensation be possible if I brought this to small claims court? If not, would it be better to arbitrate/mediate to try for compensation?

I hope these questions aren't too broad and that I was clear enough in my information. I'm ultimately trying to find the best way to move forward and recover. I've missed enough work over fighting this that even the $900.00 I'm trying to resolve doesn't cover the lost wages.

Update: (06/03/2016)
I ended up calling and explaining the urgency on how I wanted to speak with someone about resolving this. I was told that the two weeks I waited wasn't a guarantee and I could send another letter directly addressing a specific team if I wanted a formal and quicker response.

Update: (06/09/2016) After days of back-and-forth of trying to get in touch with their Executive Relations Team, they offered the $900.00 in promotional credits and a mere $100.00 credit as compensation for the, now, 40+ hours of time I've put in. I'm planning to go through arbitration to take advantage of their arbitration clause— if the arbitrator deems compensation higher than what was offered, the value is raised to a minimum of $5,000.

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    Ignore the "correspondence team". Send your complaint letter to as many senior executives as you can find names. – user662852 Jun 3 '16 at 11:42
  • @user662852 I will certainly try to get in touch with them again to see if I can get access to names above the team (or search online, I suppose). Although it was likely protocol, I was told the correspondence team was the highest/most formal complaint I could go with. – Xrylite Jun 3 '16 at 17:56
  • It's certainly the most convenient for them. If its a publicly traded company, look for an annual report. Call for the CEO. The goal is less to get ahold directly but tie up their admin assistant (or at least someone whose time adds up to $900 sooner than yours) while you commute, do chores, etc. – user662852 Jun 3 '16 at 18:03
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    Contact the FTC and The Better Business Bureau -- you'll be amazed at how quickly the company corrects the issue once one of these agencies notifies them of a complaint. No legal avenue needed. – Scott Jun 4 '16 at 0:12
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    Let us know what you think after you find out what it costs to file a complaint for arbitratrion ;) – feetwet Jun 10 '16 at 2:16
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In light of the details you give, no bright legal lines have been crossed. Many legal lines are thin and dull, and can only be discerned by a practicing attorney, if then, and I would say that there's nothing we could add that wouldn't constitute the illegal practice of law, when it comes to the matter of you succeeding in a lawsuit. We also can't advise about the likelihood of punes in small claims court, but we can tell you what the law is. In Gage v. Hagen, Gage sued in small claims court asking for nominal damages of $1 and punitive damages of $4,999 (thus keeping it in the $5,000 small claims court threshold). The small claims court dismissed on a "technicality" which was not that they can't award punitive damages (the argument was "one cannot sue for punitive damages if only nominal compensatory damages are found"). The appeals court overturned that summary judgment. In Wisconsin, there isn't a specific limit on punitive damages and small claims court (and only a legal professional can advise you as to the likelihood of prevaling given your particular circumstance).

[Addendum]

User662852's point about going as far up the food chain as you can is correct. Phone talk isn't much good, formal letters are. Phone support people frequently say things that they don't know. Put in writing what go gave them, what you were promised, provide as much proof as you can of this, say why you believe you are entitled to something (that is, don't treat it as obvious, be explicit as you would be, were you to file a case in court), and request action by a specific (reasonable) date -- 10 business days is a common reasonable time to act. Such correspondence is often sent registered or certified, which conveys the message "this is serious business".

  • I sincerely appreciate the insight/explanation of how difficult it is to give input on this. The only non-punitive thing I know is that they did take my three phones to trade in and they haven't provided the credits that were promised in the 2-month window they stated (its been nearly 4 now). Based on your example, it sounds like punitive is possible, but that I shouldn't file until I've talked with an attorney since they'll only know what to go after based on my situation. Hopefully that all sounds correct. Again, I truly appreciate any insight that comes from this! – Xrylite Jun 3 '16 at 17:54
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I would simply go to the small claims court - you are very unlikely to get punitive damages, but you will most likely be awarded what is owed to you, and have that settled quite quickly, provided you have evidence to back up your claim.

(In fact, its possible - even probable maybe - that on receipt of the filing they will actually provide your remedy without it going to court)

Telcos are notoriously bad at billing and honoring their commitments. The problem is often getting hold of someone senior enough and motivated enough to fix this. Unfortunately - even when the numbers are much, much larger then you are talking about this does not always work.

  • That's certainly the bare minimum I'd expect. I know I'm entitled to the full promotional credits without a doubt, but one of the main goals now is to hopefully get something back for the hours I've drained into this. Are punitive charges unlikely because the business may not come off as intentionally malicious? Is it so unlikely that I shouldn't consider an attorney and just file a claim myself to try and save on fees? Thank you for the insight, Davidgo =). – Xrylite Jun 4 '16 at 0:43
  • I am in NZ, not Germany. I'm also not a qualified lawyer (but I've learnt a fair bit in the field). At least in NZ, and, I believe AU and USA - can't speak for Germany), the courts are very unlikely to award punitive damages. As to whether or not to go to a lawyer, first thing I'd find out is if one can appear in your small claims court and then if you can recover the costs of doing so - and if so the chance of getting a full vs partial award. (In NZ, no lawyers, but that differs between jurisdictions) – davidgo Jun 4 '16 at 21:05
  • Non-qualified advise is still useful to me— and anyone else just trying to understand options =). Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA, mentions "Court costs you may be able to recover included: [...] attorney fees, if an attorney appeared with you in court." This may be straying, but is arbitration or mediation a better alternative to small claims to try and get my lost time compensated? – Xrylite Jun 4 '16 at 22:20
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Before going down any legal path... I encourage you to take matters to agencies specifically designed to handle complaints about corporations.

Both the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have online complaint filing systems.

I'm not one to be quick to file formal complaints. I MUCH prefer to work things out with the company whenever possible. However, in the past few years there have been 2 instances I encountered where a corporation kept emphatically telling me they were going to "make good" or "correct" a situation and then they just kept failing to.

  • One was an online order that I was charged for and never got any merchandise. The company kept stating they were "sending a check" or "issuing the refund" to my credit card yet never actually did.

  • Another was a safety recall issue - send in bad item using their "official" return box, get it repaired and returned. After months of waiting, and repeated requests (about every 3 months) for them to "send me the official return box" I was angry that I could still possibly blow up my house if I used the defective item.

Both these instances went on for a minimum of 18 months with me speaking to myriad employees and representatives all promising resolution and all failing to deliver. I even explained to employees that I was at the end of my rope and the only option left to me was to start filing formal complaints... and they still failed to attend to the matters.

I filed complaints.. within a week I got that refund check. The recall issue took longer than a week to be completed, but service was remarkably fast with the issue after my complaint. And the company was in constant contact with me via email explaining what stage my recall item was at.

In the case of the recall item, the CEO of the company contacted me directly to apologize. And in fact, I received additional, unanticipated, benefits from both companies in the form of credits or merchandise. I just wanted what I was due, nothing more... However, both companies gave be a bit more in the hopes of repairing their image with me.

  • With whom did you file complaints in the anecdotes you describe? Neither the BBB nor the FTC is known to produce such immediate or positive results from a single consumer complaint. (I can imagine something like you describe in the case of an egregious failure to implement a CPSC-listed recall.) – feetwet Jun 4 '16 at 2:08
  • I filed complaints with the BBB in the case of the refund and FTC about the recall, using the links I provided. Admittedly, quick action regarding the refund was still primarily in the hands of the offending company. They could have still chosen to drag their feet. The recall was, indeed, more of a health/safety/comsumer hazard the company was required to address. – Scott Jun 4 '16 at 2:11
  • @Scott It's been just two days since I filed that BBB complaint and I already received an email from their executive office asking to get in touch to try and come to a resolution. You were spot on with how fast that turnaround was. I'll include these results after I've talked with them and know whether everything is finally getting completed. – Xrylite Jun 6 '16 at 21:13
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The most simple solution is usually to:

  1. Pay with everything by credit card, and,
  2. Make written notes of everything that isn't put in writing.

When promised credits fail to materialize, or you are charged more than was advertised, simply dispute the company's charges. Back up your dispute with a compelling written record. I.e., let your credit card company be both the judge and the collection agent. Amusingly, it is the merchant who pays the "court fees" ($25) of every consumer chargeback – even if the dispute is ultimately resolved in favor of the merchant! And (in my experience) credit card companies tend to err on the side of the consumer.

  • There may be problems with this approach, as it would appear the Telco owes HIM money, not the other way arround. – davidgo Jun 4 '16 at 0:09
  • I suppose a bit of clarity could help with this. One light sounds like I should pay the bill, but dispute the charges because the promised credits should have covered it. I'm all for aggression, but I'm a little hesitant with knowing whether that's even a reasonable thing to consider. – Xrylite Jun 4 '16 at 0:48
  • @davidgo - Obviously this only works if he has paid money. Presumably the company didn't offer to give him $900 and never charge him for equipment or service. Anything paid to the same company via credit card is fair game to chargeback. – feetwet Jun 4 '16 at 2:01

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