25 June 2011

Ernestine is Alive and Well - One Ringy Dingy Two Ringy Dingy

A friend of mine, John Middleton, recently relayed this tale of woe on his blog First Century Christian which I am reprinting below. Now John is a mild mannered and patient man, but dealing with the modern version of Ernestine would try the patience of a saint and drive any lesser man to drink. A T & T in its corporate complacency has a rather "you need us more than we need you" about what they laughingly call customer service. I'm sure Lily Tomlin could find a comedy routine in here somewhere, but John might have a little trouble laughing.


The Phoneless in Society
June 25, 2011

Mr. Randall L. Stephenson
Chairman, CEO and President
208 S. Akard St.
Dallas, TX 75202

Dear Mr. Stephenson,

I would like you to regale you with a short story about AT&T that I am sure will amuse you.

We have been AT&T wireless customers for over ten years and Robb Hall at our local store, Wireless One In Bella Vista Arkansas, is one of the best customer service people out there. He has helped us for more than ten years.

But my tale began June 3 when I decided to take advantage of AT&T's offer to upgrade my system, with a new two year contract and new phones for my wife and I, several months before our contract expired. What a nice offer!

We went to the AT&T Corporate store, 20 miles away in Rogers, Arkansas, to look at selection and features for the phones. We concluded a nice Motorola Atrix 4G would be just what the doctor ordered for $99.00 apiece. But I thought I'd better check online first! Lo and behold, online offered a refurbished Atrix 4G phone at 49.99 each! Such a deal! We ordered them and they duly arrived several days later. Unfortunately we couldn't turn them on nor unlock them, no doubt due to our decrepit age. We are both 70 after all.

So, we sent the phones back and asked for working ones. Your nice customer service representatives agreed to Fed Ex them to us, and we received the working replacements within a couple of days. You then received the non- working originals back on 6-20-11.

The new phones were magnificent! We could get e-mail! Text! Go on Facebook and twitter! Check our minutes! Navigate and track our positions on the earth with a GPS! Magnificent! Unfortunately, what we could not do was to figure out how to answer the phone, transfer our contacts, set up a speed dial system, or make a call. We are old. And we figured the problem was ours, so we took it to our local phone store in Bella Vista, AR, where one of the aforementioned best customer service reps, Robb Hall, works. Since we had ordered online Robb couldn't do much but took the time to educate us in how some of it worked.

Robb patiently explained we were not educationally challenged and showed us where to go to download the manual, which we did.

We could make calls! Even receive them! Great.

But, in about two weeks it became apparent that a Motorola Atrix 4G was much too much phone for us. We don't text. We don't need to go online and tweet or twit or Facebook or SOCIALLY NETWORK WITH ANYONE! We are apparently both Luddites and challenged in the social department. It is a major effort to text with arthritis of the thumbs, not to mention other decaying body parts. We need a phone to make calls! Despite the fact that our children no longer communicate by any means other than text we keep attempting to call them. Perhaps you could explain what "B4 C:md ph I" means.

Now the fun began. I called your online customer service center on Jun 23rd to say the phones were too much for us and we would like to exchange them.

Endless wait for the disembodied voice to get me to a human...no option for that. I could buy a new phone, check my bill online or amend my service plan but I could NOT, under any circumstance, talk to a human. I persevered. Three redials, a broken fingernail a few verbal mortal sins and several missed options later I got my human. Whose response was "No problem! Simply return the old phones to us using the USPS return sticker we provided and go to the AT&T store, decide which replacement phones you would like, then call us back, give us the model and we will send you the new one's". Oh Joy, Oh Rapture! Sounded fair to me! So we sent the old one's back and kept the tracking number.

I picked my wife up at work over lunch, and we drove the twenty miles to the store. We found a basic phone a Pantech Breeze II which my wife liked, but the salesperson said we would have to wait until the old phones were received by AT&T to get the new one's......Otherwise $119.00 per phone.

"What?", I asked, somewhat bemused. "We have to go without phones for two weeks or so while the mail system handles the return?", I asked rather stupidly. "Yes" was the reply. "Why then did your customer service people tell me to return the phones which I did this morning and they are now in the hands of the USPS, an organization I would rather not mess with".

"I am sorry sir, whomever told you that online (someone named Gloria at God knows what location) exceeded her authority."

"What do we do now", I asked, descending into a state of existential angst to rival Kafka on his best day. "I have no phone."

I began the process at 8:47AM, lunch and the visit to the AT&T corporate store was about noon and I was finished about 5:35PM. In that interim I talked to 7 people, three of whom attempted to help me. Bonnie Capman in Huntsville, Alabama gave it a good shot. "I've corrected the records and you should have no problem now. I have noted the file that you are to get the new phones at the upgrade rate."

So I returned to the Corporate store 20 miles away and spoke to Doreen Smithers who showed me the phones and said, "no, the records have not yet been altered and you must wait until AT&T receives the old phones....COMPANY POLICY!" There it was, that dreaded word that strikes fear in the heart of every customer....Company Policy"...the decree from the great beyond. So I went home.

Back online, this time to two men, one who transferred me to a "supervisor", who in the final analysis after more than thirty minutes online, told me there was nothing he could do....COMPANY POLICY...

I pointed out I had already paid for the old phones which were in the mail. Couldn't they just give me new ones at the upgrade price and if it turned out I was mistaken about returning the old ones, simply bill me for the new ones at the NON-UPGRADE price.

Apparently not, "Because, (according to your Customer Service Supervisor) how do I know if you are telling the truth that you returned them." A rather interesting twist. Imply the customer is lying and probably cheating you. Great customer service!

I said:

1) Here is the USPS tracking number. They have had it since 10:57:48 AM and it is now 3:20.

2) What difference does it make if I am lying you will simply bill me later.

3) Why must you receive the old phone, I have the SIM card, the old phone is useless.

4) Where did you hone your customer service skills..... Dachau?

I am sorry for that last comment, it was most ungracious and unreasonable.

He replied, I am sorry sir...COMPANY POLICY.

I hung up and fixed myself a beer and a plate of chocolate not knowing whether inebriation or a sugar high would be preferable. So I did both.

After I simmered awhile and took a short catnap, I called again to the now achingly familiar Customer Service Center to say I felt it unreasonable I should go without phones for two weeks since we have no land line.

Lo and behold Brenda Britt of the Longview, TX service center agreed with me! (Don't you agree there is just something about those Texas women. )

She looked into the matter and discovered dear Bonnie Capman had simply failed to get supervisor approval for the exchange. Within about thirty minutes of holding, my upgrade had been cancelled and received supervisor approval and I could go into any store and upgrade my service to a Luddite phone at the "upgrade price" ! WOW! Thanks Brenda!

So I called the AT&T store in Rogers. Perhaps, under the circumstances, a bit of whimsy on my part...or possibly a grim fascination with Dante. Seven redials later ("We are sorry we are very busy helping other customers"), in frustration I called my wife in the Home Office of Wal-Mart to cry and moan a little. She said I'll call Doreen!

Four minutes later I received a call from Doreen. "Your wife called from the Wal-Mart Home office and asked me to call you." The words "Wal-Mart Home Office" has apparently mystical properties rivaling the Minotaur or Sphinx in inscrutability.

"Doreen, my sweet, will you check to see if the records are cleared so I can get the new phones you showed me earlier today?"

Of course.......no not yet I have spoken with my supervisor and COMPANY POLICY......

I sank into a fit of despair rivaling Van Gogh before the ear cutting. "Why great God in heaven have you abandoned me to this cruel fate?"

Redial Brenda...unbelievable trouble to find the same person in the same call center.

"Yes it has been changed Mr. Middleton as I told you. The store person didn't check closely enough. We have completely cancelled your upgrade and you are free to go in any store and upgrade to the phone of your choice at upgrade prices."

Once again Brenda, you have exceeded all expectations and marched directly into the halls of Valhalla trailing a scent of..........well, never mind.

Redial my AT&T corporate store....five, six, no seven times. "Hello Doreen my lurking little cherub would you mind checking the records one more time?"

"Of course Mr. Middleton. Oh, here it is! they've cancelled the upgrade! You are free to come in and pick out any phone at upgrade prices."

Terrific, Doreen, my dappled little pudding, how much is the upgrade price for a Pantech Breeze II"


"But that was the retail price without the upgrade, right?"

"Right they are the same."

You mean I spent all day.........no, no. Surely you jest, mon petit!"

"No sir, there is no discount whether upgrade or not."

"So my Motorola Atrix 4G, which cost $99.95 new or $49.95 refurbished, and texts, goes online, has wifi, internet and bluetooth whatchamacallit, has 34 different ringtones and operates by voice command and has been blessed by the Pope and the internet gurus as "the best damn smart phone out there",with, if I am not mistaken an app that will raise the Confederate flag while whistling "Dixie", is cheaper than this little Pantech Breeze II which is just for making calls? It's $119.99?

"Less rebate which comes to you in the form of a credit card. And the data plan and text plan...."

"I'm talking about the cost OF THE PHONE, Doreen." I checked with my Non-corporate store here and it is $99.95 less rebate according to Robb Hall who is rarely wrong

"Yes sir. It is more. I don't know why."

I don't know why either. It is now 7:45 at night and I am finished with phones today. I am going to pull out my SIM card, return my neighbor's phone and if I have a heart attack tonight and cannot raise the ambulance I will come back from the dead, move next door to you at 207 S. Akard St. in Dallas and appear throughout the AT&T corporate offices as a dreadful apparition, hovering over cubicles, rattling chains and moaning viscerally throughout the day.

Since I got what I wanted I have few complaints..........I guess. We will see what happens tomorrow.

I may call customer service again just to have a moment of humor.

Very truly yours,

John P. Middleton, the phoneless

1 comment:

Linda said...

""So my Motorola Atrix 4G, which cost $99.95 new or $49.95 refurbished, and texts, goes online, has wifi, internet and bluetooth whatchamacallit, has 34 different ringtones and operates by voice command and has been blessed by the Pope and the internet gurus as "the best damn smart phone out there",with, if I am not mistaken an app that will raise the Confederate flag while whistling "Dixie", is cheaper than this little Pantech Breeze II which is just for making calls? It's $119.99?" Even if the rest of this didn't have my honest-to-goodness laughing out loud - that part surely would have done it!

I can so feel John's pain when it comes to AT&T as even though I was a very loyal customer for more than 20 years they would absolutely positively not offer me any sort of incentive to stay with them when I asked about loyalty rewards vs. new customer rewards. Funny that they want new people to flock to their services but heaven forbid they do anything to keep those that have been with them for years with them.

Or make things easy in the process!