On the phone with the phone company

Back during the legislative session this year, I wrote about this sneaky little deal by AT&T to continue its phone-tax subsidy for extending broadband service to rural Arkansas by locking in, for permanent calculation purposes, its current level of ever-declining land-line customers.

I was told that Eddie Drilling, the head of AT&T in Arkansas and a renown lobbyist tight with Mike Beebe, had said Verizon surely fed me the column because I was not smart enough to have figured this out myself. Actually, somebody fed me, but I was sufficiently intelligent to figure out what they were feeding me — which is precisely how newspaper work goes.

But I will tell you something I am never smart enough to figure out, and that is my monthly AT&T bill. The dadgummed thing goes on for pages, being consolidated for land line, broadband and wireless service. I don’t have U-verse because AT&T doesn’t value my Hillcrest neighborhood sufficiently to make it available. They did send out a representative of their partner, Direct TV, but he told me I’d have to cut down a couple of trees to have a chance of getting a signal. So I stuck with the cable company.

And now a confession: I’d rather put the bill aside and try to get it paid as is rather than question something and have to go through that arduous hell of trying to AT&T on the phone.

But this latest bill, coming to about $200 more than I expected and containing $116 for a wireless number I didn’t know I had, forced me into the AT&T customer service maze where I spent two solid hours Friday afternoon, from 3 to 5 p.m.

I was patient, pretty much, until the profane end. It reminded of how you’ll go all day and not eat much, hoping to lose weight, and then give in to a fistful of cookies at 10 p.m. You’d have been better off munching during the day. I’d have been better off emitting steam throughout the two-hour ordeal of unhelpful responses and frequent transfers, since AT&T apparently requires a different phone bank, and a half-hour’s hold, for every new issue that arises in the course of a customer inquiry.

One guy had to unbundle my bill to fix something. Then he transferred to the guy who could rebundle my bill, but he required a password I didn’t have, and didn’t know I had, and he told me that, for my own security, he could not discuss my bill with me until I went to an AT&T store and straightened this password issue out.

That was when I shouted an extreme profanity and hung up.

Long story short: My dear wife set up a new IPhone account at the AT&T store in March. Apparently she got herself talked into authorizing a second line for a mere $9.95 a month. So in October I leave Stephens Media, which allows me to take my antique Blackberry and switch my number to my personal account. So I go to the AT&T store thinking I am availing myself of his second authorized inactive line to move this corporate phone.

That’s not what I did, though. I put my corporate on a family plan and, somehow, that second authorized and inactive line got moved out separately. And somehow it absorbed $116 in pro-rated charges. I inquired, but was never given a satisfactory answer, as to how an inactive $9.95 line could absorb pro-rated charges of that amount, or any amount. Pro-rated from what?

Anyway, it turned out that a second person, to whom I was transferred for a lengthy wait, could move that inactive third line into the family plan for $9.95. But I could not simply kill that line, because this contract for it was through March 2013 and I would be assessed $250 if I reneged on this contract.

Then it turned out that another customer service representative could forgive a portion of that $116 in pro-rated charges on an inactive line priced at $9.95, but that required another transfer and hold.

Then somebody had to unbundle by accounts against my will, and then the guy who would rebundle couldn’t because I could not produce a password and then I swore at him and checked out.

Yesterday I got a call from an AT&T “manager” who wanted to review my customer service experience. I told her I was so glad she called and proceeded to take about a half-hour of her time going over all this in painstaking detail.

She professed to understand my frustration and to have zeroed-out something on my bill and credited something else. I expect all this will be reflected on my bill next month and that I will not understand it.







2 Responses to 'On the phone with the phone company'

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  1. John, I agree, I think they subscribe to the “baffle em with BS” philosophy on their paper bills. My experience has been pretty good, ONCE you can get through to an actual person. I saw a national survey yesterday where AT&T was at the botttom of the heap for customer service between the big 4. I think they are probably like Wal-Mart, gotten too big for their own good. Good luck.


    9 Dec 11 at 7:56 am

  2. I spent almost 40 hours (total over a few weeks) on hold, being transferred, being disconnected, then starting all over again when I attempted to get the charges on my account reviewed. A day or so later, I found my business lines to be strangely quiet…they had been disconnected! The AT&T rep had written the order to cancel my service after I painstakingly explained that I had received a postcard telling me there might be a less expensive plan available for my phone services. That card was from AT&T. The 5th customer service person I was transferred to (in the “retention department”) told me she was sure they had a more cost effective plan than the outdated program I was on. She was right…NO phone service IS cheaper than whatever plan I had been on. Three days later they figured out how to unwrite the first order and restore service…at the very same prices as I had before I called to get my service plan reviewed. If I’d like to completely destroy my business and waste another few days of my life, perhaps I’d be stupid enough to try and discuss my phone rates with AT&T again. What a great business strategy for AT&T…the customers can’t leave because they can never get in touch with a competent person.


    14 Dec 11 at 12:42 pm

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