photoForgive Tammy, of Barre, Vermont, if she feels a bit like Don Quixote, but tilting at windmills is nothing compared to trying to straighten out a mistake in a major corporation's customer service department.

Her saga began on March 31, when her mother stopped by her home and asked if she could use her daughter's credit card to order service from DIREC TV.

“She does not have a credit card and one is required in order to set up an account,” Tammy told “We called their number and carefully explained, at least three times, that the phone number we were calling from was not my mother's. We gave them her number several times.

After a lengthy conversation, Tammy said the order was placed. The installation cost of $21.15 was charged to her VISA card on that date, and was subsequently paid.

Signs of trouble

The first sign that this relatively simple transaction had gone horribly wrong was when Tammy got a call two days before the scheduled install, verifying that the equipment was being installed at her home.

“I explained, again, that they were calling the wrong number,” Tammy said. “The staff person assured me she would take care of that. One day before the scheduled visit, DIREC TV called me again to verify the site. Again, I gave them my mother's number.”

But it still wasn't straightened out, Tammy says. On the day of the installation, she says the dish installation person called her to make sure someone was home for the install. Once again, she says she explained the whole thing again and gave him her mother's number.

“Two hours later, the driver called me again to say he was running late,” Tammy said. “By that time I had given up any hope that they could get the correct phone number on their records so I just said OK and called my mother to make sure she was home.”

Somehow, the equipment was installed at the correct location and Tammy breathed a sign of relief. But her ordeal was just beginning.

Mystery charge

“On May 28th, I opened my Visa bill to make the payment,” Tammy said. “On it is an April 11, 2011 charge from DIREC TV in the amount of $862.66!”

Tammy said she called the DIREC TV customer service line and went through the lengthy process of getting a live person on the line, only to be told that there was no record of the charges anywhere. She said she was told to complete the dispute form that was emailed to her and fax it back to the fax number provided. She said she do so within the hour.

“According to the instructions and to the lady I was speaking with, they needed to get back to me within 10 business days, which put the date at June 10, Tammy said. I called on June 9 in hopes that perhaps it had been taken care of, but it had not.”

Once again, Tammy said she had to go through the lengthy process of getting a live person on the line. Even after that, there was more confusion.

“The system obviously doesn't recognize my mother's phone number, and would only repeat my number as being the one that they 'see I am calling from.' When I finally got a live person, she had no idea what I was talking about and I had to explain it all again.”

Tammy said she called again the following day and had to explain everything one more time.

We'll get back to you

“I was told that it is a matter for the Financial Department and that they would return my call on that day,” Tammy said. “I asked if there was a job number, or anything, that I could refer to in case I didn't hear from them and had to call back. She said there was not. Needless to say, they never called.”

On June 11, Tammy said she tried again, calling the DIREC TV number listed for her area. The recording said they were closed on weekends. She called another toll-free number and told the automated system she was calling about “billing questions.”

“There was a lot of squealing on the line, then another recording that said 'We're sorry, your call was unable to be completed. Please hang up and dial the toll free number again.' I did call again and got the same results,” Tammy said.

She called back and this time, said she pushed the button for “new service.” Almost instantly, she was connected with a customer service rep.

“I explained most of it again before she agreed me that it was a matter for the billing department and that she would transfer me,” Tammy said. “After a while, the recording came back on and I was right back to the same beginning menu.”

Nothing we can do

After spending most of her Saturday morning making calls, navigating the phone tree and sitting on hold, Tammy said she was finally able to speak with a supervisor. After explaining her situation again, no doubt memorized by now, the supervisor told her what everyone else had told her.

There was no charge on her account, because she didn't have an account. There was also no charge on her mother's account. As for resolving the $862.66 charge on Tammy's credit card, she said the supervisor saw no way for his company to rectify it.

“He suggested that I simply go through my financial institution, 'which is the way they prefer it,'” Tammy said.

So Tammy's only recourse is to dispute the erroneous charge with her credit card company, letting them charge back the amount to DIREC TV. That may, in fact, resolve the issue, but won't compensate her for the hours she spent, away from her small business, dealing with the matter.

“I am quite angry at how absolutely impossible it seems to solve what I consider a simple matter,” Tammy said.

Why are large companies seemingly incapable of resolving mistakes? Maybe it's an over reliance on automated systems or too few people in positions of accountability. Whatever the reason, it is changing the way many consumers view the companies they do business with – or in Tammy's case, don't do business with.

And it all began when she did a favor for her mother. These days, it seems, no good deed goes unpunished.