Billing woes overwhelm Hawaiian Telcom systems
The company recently hired 120 additional workers, but the extra help wasn't enough
Hawaiian Telcom's transition problems surged yesterday as a flood of calls from customers with billing inquiries overloaded the phone company's call center, leaving some callers unable to reach even a recorded message.
Hawaiian Telcom said it recently hired 120 additional workers to help field the mass of billing inquiries, but the extra help wasn't enough to deal with yesterday's calls. That left many customers receiving busy signals when they called the phone company. Hawaiian Telcom said the problems could persist through the week.
The problem is so severe that Hawaiian Telcom is asking customers who believe they received an erroneous bill to disregard the flaws, pay only what they actually owe and refrain from calling the company to discuss the errors.
The problems mark the latest bump for Hawaiian Telcom, which has transformed into a stand-alone company after the Carlyle Group last year paid $1.6 billion to buy the company from Verizon Communications. As a final step in the transition, Hawaiian Telcom in April established a new $100 million operations system to handle functions that Verizon previously had handled, such as billing.
Despite efforts to anticipate all potential problems and craft contingency plans to fix them quickly, Hawaiian Telcom has encountered almost continual glitches as it has moved to its new system. Although relatively minor, the problems have affected thousands of Hawaiian Telcom customers, threatening to alienate consumers even as the company tries to keep people from defecting from Hawaiian Telcom's wireline service to competing wireless or Internet telephone providers.
The latest problem involves billing cycles. Because of glitches with its new system, the company was about two weeks late sending out bills for April to many customers. This meant that some customers received those bills in late May, and therefore only recently sent in their payments for April. In the meantime, the company had sent out bills for May before it had received the April payments.
The result: Many customers who paid their April balances received May bills charging them for both April and May. So many customers have called with questions about the flawed bills that Hawaiian Telcom hasn't been able to field all of the calls.
Ann Nishida, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Telcom, said that customers who appear to have been billed erroneously for April should simply ignore the charge and pay the balance for May. Customers using automated bill payment will not be double charged, regardless of what their bills say, Nishida said.
"Customers who have paid their previous month's bill should simply pay the current charges," she said. "They do not need to call the company."
The billing-cycle problems also may affect some customers' May charges being carried over to June bills, the company said. Hawaiian Telcom hopes to be back on its normal billing schedule in July.