The Number You Are Trying to Reach ...

The following is a letter I sent to AT and T [can't use the "and" symbol in a blog for some reason ] after I received a crazy phone bill and had an even more insane experience talking to customer service and a supervisor. Enjoy.

To Whom it May Concern:

A complaint.

On 1/30/09 I called AT and T to ask a few questions about my long distance bill. My wife had been told previously that any calls within the 707 area code were free, but I had a phone bill that said differently. As to be seen, we weren’t the only ones confused by this. So were the AT and T employees.

The first customer service woman I talked to (and I have since found out notes have been made on my phone call, so please refer back to them) told me I was mistaken about the area code information. When I asked what calls were free, she told me it had to do with mileage and then quoted me three different mileage rates: 8 miles, 13 miles and 20 miles. Anything outside the mileage rate (which rate was anyone’s guess) would be considered long distance. I told her it was ridiculous for me to figure out the mileage (as if that were even possible) for every call I wanted to make, and she agreed. She then asked how much my “television” bill was. I told her it was less than my phone bill, and then she offered to sell me some bundled packages.

Not appreciated.

Perhaps if I was calling to say how much I loved AT and T, or to actually inquire about services, this would be warranted. Why would I buy bundled services from someone who said my long distance bill was based on mileage? Was she part of your prisoner work program?

I asked to talk to a supervisor. This was one of the rare times I actually regretted that, as the supervisor was even more confused than the customer service employee. You wouldn’t think that was possible but the Peter Principle seems to be alive and well in AT and T land.

The supervisor initially told me the only free calls were calls within my prefix range, then said that all calls in 707 area code were free ... and then went back to the prefix angle. I asked if she could understand how someone could be confused by their plan when they didn’t even seem to know what was free and what wasn’t, and then asked if the 269 prefix was free for me to call. She stated it was not. When I pointed out that the AT and T phone book says differently, she said the phone book was wrong and then advised me to call the FCC. I said I was calling her since this was her company’s bill. She told me if I wanted to know what prefixes I could call, I could consult the website. I asked if she were sure the website would be correct since it also had AT and T’s name on it, and she stated that she couldn’t be sure because “they” (the FCC? AT and T? the web? God?) change prefixes all the time.

That seems to be a problem, and I pointed that out to her. How was I to tell what was a free call if she couldn’t even do it. (I understand it’s probably not her job to be able to understand these plans and explain them.) She offered to read me all the prefixes I could call for free, and I took her up on the offer. Oddly enough, one of the free ones was the 269 prefix, which just minutes before was a toll call. Apparently “they” changed that one, too. When I pointed this out, she admitted she had made a mistake.

And I have to still pay this bill? Are you serious? A loyal customer has to put up with such inept service? Can you direct me to any other companies where this is acceptable? I’d like to avoid them.

After I was told I would not have the charges removed from my bill, I asked the supervisor for the name of a local payment center she hated because I was going to pay the bill with pennies and tell them that she told me to go there. El Pueblo Market was where she advised me to go. So I called them (praying it was one of the free prefixes and wouldn’t be changed mid-call by “them”).

When I told the store manager of El Pueblo that the supervisor listed his place as the store I should pay my bill in hundreds of pennies, he was a bit shocked. (In all fairness, his store is the only local payment center, but I wouldn’t let such facts stand in the way of his puzzlement and anger. After all, nobody at AT and T let the facts come into play at any time during my call, and I wasn’t acting as an AT and T ambassador.) He wanted to know why AT and T would do this, and I told him that I had asked the supervisor for a pay center she hated, and that she gave me his market. He’s probably used to that hatred since his business is like one of two Mexican markets in a predominately white area of CA. I then told him I’d be paying AT and T by check and not to worry, as I wouldn’t burden him with 50 pounds of pennies. He thanked me. Perhaps he’s called you fine folks by now to inquire. If he hasn’t, perhaps he fell for that whole mileage thing and decided you were too far away to call.

So my choices are this: use my cell phone exclusively, go to a new carrier, or keep AT and T and ask that you credit my bill. To help in the decision making process, I’ll fill give you some information you may or may not know about me. I’m a writer.

Now, I wouldn’t say I’m a famous writer like that King character, but my name gets around. Go to your local video store and there’s a good chance you’ll find at least one movie with a quote from me on it. I have a book that reached #8 on the Barnes and Noble best seller list for its category, and my short stories have outsold actor John Lithgow’s. I’ve also written those little essays that appear in DVDs. So, yeah, some people read my work.

They also read my blog.

Guess what company is going to be making an appearance on said blog? That’s right. AT&T. You can find it at http://cancerouszeitgeist.com. If it isn’t on the main page by the time you get to it, just enter AT and T into the search engine. I think you’ll find it. I’m also willing to publish the outcome. That ball, as they say, is in your court.

This entire situation was uncalled for. I don’t believe my wife heard the AT and T representative incorrectly when turning off our long distance. The customer “service” I received shows that it is your workers who are confused about the services they are selling. Either that, or they are purposely misleading. Neither one bodes well for the company. Look at it this way. More and more people are getting rid of their land lines. Don’t you think you should be going out of your way to keep customers?

And I still have to pay this bill?

I paid so not to be delinquent. I made the calls. I admit that. There may be more on my next bill. I made them with a false impression of my service, however, but I still made them, and so I am paying for them. You may also know that as “taking the high road.” Will AT and T do the same? Will my blog readers end up having some faith in the company? Or will some bored news agency pick up the story for one of those slightly humorous “can you believe this, folks” type pieces they love to do?

Oh yeah, I’ve written press releases, too.

How will we resolve this? A credit? A continued campaign to bring attention to the totally insane customer service I received? Do tell. I’m curious.


Anonymous said...
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-Doug Brunell "America's Favorite Son" said...

You can only imagine how out of control this phone call was. It was thoroughly insane. Jackie had to call them and they told her they had a bunch of notes on all of it. Awesome. Stay strong? You were right all along, buddy.

elistia said...

1. don't ever tell pookie he was right.
2. i thought you were kidding when you told me this story but recalling a couple of my interactions with at t "customer service rep"s which were so distasteful, i didn't have the stomach to sit down and write a complaint, i realized the story sounded about right. it'll be interesting to see how, if at all, they resolve the situation. keep me posted.
i'm goin to look for owls now.

how ever did you get used to this itty bitty keyboard?

-Doug Brunell "America's Favorite Son" said...

Pookie is right from time to time. It's like an eclipse. It happens. Scares the non-scientific types. Is rare. Those understand it, know what it is (planets/satellites) in the right place. And the news covers it.

I have small fingers (hands), and while it takes some getting used to, it does eventually work out okay.

Laurel said...

I remember the baby bells formed by AT&T being busted up. Too big. When I had a land line, I had no long distance on the phone-I avoided AT&T. Then AT&T bought Pac Bell. I cancelled my land line, not because of that, but it certainly didn’t help the landline cause. Got a cell through Edge. AT&T bought Edge. AT&T is requiring that customers get a new plan by May, and that requires a new AT&T compatible phone. I’d already been planning on jumping; each time I called to pay my bill I had a fun conversation about the numerous reasons I’d not be getting an AT&T plan and that I was chapped they were even asking after buying out Edge. New phone? Bastards. I’m soft-hearted in that I felt sorry for the reps; after we’d get done: “you could call back if you did decide to get an AT&T plan.” “Really now, would *you* want to talk to me again?”

Today I cancelled my AT&T account again. Another AT&T account I did not actually sign up for to start. The company that was too big in the eighties, the company that keeps buying up companies now. Jerks.

-Doug Brunell "America's Favorite Son" said...

I never really had a problem with the company until now. I mean, no problems other than the standard large corporation crap.