So, as you know if you read this site much at all, I’ve just moved to Pine. As you would know if you looked it up on Mapquest, Pine is about 100 miles from Phoenix, and if you are familiar with Arizona, you know it is a small town up in the mountains. As my father learned when he tried to get mobile phone service when he lived up here, the only company with service in this area is Verizon. I have been using an AT&T mobile phone for nearly two and a half years.
Last May, when my Nokia phone began to break down and I was looking to see what phone I should switch to, I was well out of my initial contract with AT&T. The first color phone to hit the market was available from AT&T, the Ericsson T68, and according to the information I’d found online and verified by asking AT&T, it should be fully upgradable to the T68i software when the T68i came out, allowing neat things like an attatchable digital camera and better customization options. Except that that phone only works on AT&T’s (then) new GSM/GPRS service. I spoke to people on the phone in their customer care center about making the switch, emphasizing with everyone I talked to that I didn’t want a new contract, and was told that because the service was new and they were trying to get people to switch to it, I could get the T68 at a good price, switch to the new service and get a good calling plan (600 anytime minutes, unlimited night/weekend minutes, included long distance and roaming, all for $39.99/month, plus data service at my choice of costs) all without having to accept a new contract. To make the switch faster (since my old phone basically didn’t work anymore) they suggested that I go into an AT&T store to pick up the phone immediately. No problem.
I went to the store and while the person there had to call the people I had been talking to earlier to verify the details of the offer, it went pretty smoothly and I walked away with the shiny, sexy, newest-tech-around phone. The woman I bought it from at the AT&T store also agreed when asked that I would not be starting a new contract period; I had started the conversation with that matter. (ie: “Hi. I’m switching from the TDMA service to the new GSM service. I’m going to buy the T68 phone. I was told I would not be starting a new contract; is that correct?” “Yes, you will not be starting a new contract.”) She also went over the same details as the person on the phone earlier had, that for $39.99/month I would get 600 anytime minutes, unlimited night and weekend minutes, included long distance within the US, and because their network wasn’t very large yet, they were giving everyone free roaming anywhere on their network, including areas they expand to, for a limited time. No problem.
About 45 days after I bought my phone, Ericsson released their T68i. Since it was so fast out the gate without notice, I contacted AT&T and asked them about trading in my phone, which they basically laughed at. I asked about upgrading my phone’s software and they told me to check SonyEricsson’s website. The website told me to contact my service provider (ie: AT&T) to get the upgrade. I called AT&T again and they told me to contact the store I bought the phone from. I called the store I bought the phone from and actually got the person there who told me I would be able to get the upgrade to the T68i software, but he claimed he had never told me any such thing, they don’t offer such a program, and if such a program was ever put in place, they would not handle it. I spent about 4 hours over several days contacting several AT&T stores, SonyEricsson’s various departments that might be involved, and AT&T’s “Customer Care” department, to no avail.
Some time later, a couple of weeks or a couple of months, I don’t know, I contacted SonyEricsson via their website, and was informed that SonyEricsson does not have any plans to ever make such an upgrade available in the US. (Note: It has been available in Eurasia since 2001.) At this time, AT&T still does not offer or even claim to know of such an upgrade. The whole thing got me pretty upset, since the camera attachment was one I was looking forward to using, but also because I had been lied to by AT&T about the upgrade and then given the run-around.
In July I made a couple of long-distance calls. I don’t remember who I was calling, but the calls were billed extra on my August bill, so I called in to their “Customer Care” center to try to get it fixed. After about an hour of discussing it with the rep there, AT&T agreed that the original notes on my account indicated that I should have included long distance even though for some reason it was not turned on in my account. She reversed the charges and added long distance to my account ($4.95/month) plus an automatic fee reversal (-$4.95/month). I verified that this change would not put me under a contract of any kind with AT&T, and was only a little miffed that they’d make the mistake. What I’ve pieced together since I first agreed to switch to GSM was that when I switched they didn’t really have all their ducks in a row. Between when I signed up and my August bill, AT&T introduced dozens of new plans with most of the features mine was supposed to include as options or upgrades or conditions of two-year contracts. Their $39.99/month GSM option at the time had 1000 anytime minutes instead of 600, but when I asked about it I was told that that switching plans at that time would require me to enter into a contract for a year, so I declined.
In September I went to Maui with my sister. Before leaving Phoenix, I called AT&T’s “Customer Care” department to find out whether I would have service in Maui, and to verify that I would not incur roaming charges if my phone did work. It took two calls to get someone who could tell me (the first rep I got told me there was no way for him to find that information, and that I should just try to make a call from Maui to find out) that no, there shouldn’t be any roaming charges on AT&T’s GSM network, and no, there is not yet any AT&T service on the island of Maui. Except that when I got off the plane in Maui and turned on my phone, it told me it had more AT&T GSM signal strength than I did at home in Tempe. So I called AT&T again and asked them about it, and this time the rep told me they just put in service (he represented that he had just received a brand new map showing service on Maui), and also agreed that using AT&T’s service in Maui should not incur any roaming charges.
When I received my next bill, there were nearly $100 in roaming charges on it. I called AT&T again and after about an hour and a half or so on the line, after being transfered to what I was told was a “supervisor” AT&T agreed to reverse the charges one time, but that in order to put me on a plan that included roaming I would have to agree to a 12 month contract starting immediately. I said again that I had no interest in anything that required me to be under contract with AT&T, and asked them to mail me a map of the area I could safely call from. The “supervisor” agreed eagerly and no map ever appeared. Still, the charges were reversed, so it was not all bad. Having to spend an additional hour and a half taking care of something that three calls had told me would not be a problem irritated me somewhat, but at least it was resolved.
At the beginning of February this year*, in order to help take care of my sick grandparents, I moved to Pine. I called AT&T “customer care” to have my service cancelled. There is a land line and a cell phone with long distance already available here, so I should be able to get by without a phone. Also, I knew from experience that there is no AT&T GSM service anywhere near Pine, so I wouldn’t be able to continue to use my phone anyway. It was at this time that AT&T informed me that in order to cancel my service I would have to pay $175 fee for cancelling my contract before it runs out in May. “What contract?”, I protested.
The rep I spoke with assured me that whenever anyone switches to the GSM service they enter into a new contract. I had her check my notes, and in an hour on the phone while she could not find any reference to me being told there would be a contract or being sent any paperwork that advised me of the contract, or even a count-down timer or flag on my account indicating that I was actually under contract, she insisted that by using the GSM service I had agreed to a 12-month contract with AT&T. She suggested that instead of paying the $175 cancellation fee, I just switch to the $19.99/month plan for the remainder of my contract period and pay $60 instead of $175. I asked to speak to her supervisor, and after another 20 minutes she had her “supervisor” on the line. He just repeated what she had said. Actually, at first he tried to convince me to buy a new phone from AT&T to work on their TDMA network and switch to that, since there should be AT&T TDMA service in Pine. I even got him to offer to give me the TDMA phone for free (well, $50 with a $50 rebate). Except that when he tried to find out how much the airtime would cost me he found that there was not in fact AT&T TDMA service available anywhere near Pine, so my options were to pay $175 to get out of a contract I never entered into or $60 for service I couldn’t possibly use. He also suggested that I transfer the contract to someone else, which resulted in this post. I told him I’d consider my options and call back, and he said he’d be sure the things he’d offered were in the notes.
I called back a couple of days later, and the first person I talked to took 10 minutes to read the notes, then when I asked her to verify whether or not TDMA service existed in the Pine area, she put me on hold for nearly 30 minutes to try to figure that out. When she came back I found out that she and her “supervisor” had been working on that and had determined that they could offer me their more expensive one-rate plan, which included roaming charges, and I could use a TDMA phone in Pine. I would pay $59.99 for 450 minutes, long distance and roaming included, no night or weekend minutes. I disagreed. I asked to speak to the “supervisor” directly, and the rep tried to refuse, but after another 15 minutes or so, got him on the line. I tried reasoning with him, I tried explaining that I had not been made aware of any contract until two days previous and that I have never agreed to a contract, and that not having a contract had been a condition of my agreeing to use the service. His response was to suggest that instead of paying the $175 contract cancellation fee, I pay the amount they discounted the phone (he claimed it was $275, though my invoice said it was $110), plus $0.40/minute for every night and weekend minute I had used in nine months, plus the nearly $100 in roaming charges from the Maui trip, plus the $4.95/month for long distance for the entire time, coming out to something like $600-$700 to cancel my account. I told him he was becoming increasingly ridiculous, that I had asked him for a reasonable alternative to the $175 fee for cancelling a contract I had never heard of and he was suggesting that I pay several times more. He was sure he was being rational. I asked to speak to his supervisor and he insisted that there was on one above him. I explained that I knew how businesses work and he reports to someone, someone signs his paychecks, and that’s who I want to talk to; he isn’t doing his job correctly and his boss needs to find out about it. He tells me there is no way I can talk to his supervisor right then, but that he could have “a supervisor” give me a call back within 24-48 hours. I get the ridiculous “supervisor’s” name and the rep’s name and agree to allow a callback “within 24-48 hours”. No call comes.
On about the 14th, I called AT&T again and this time got someone who agreed to send me the free phone and give me the $19.99/month version of the flat-rate plan (I just wanted to stop dealing with AT&T, but as long as I was going o be paying them I wanted to have service) and assured me that I would not be starting a new contract by switching to the TDMA or switching my rate plan. He talked about shipping me a phone that might not get to me before I moved, so I suggested that I just go into a local AT&T store and pick the phone up. He said that would be no problem, and I went by an AT&T store. The guy there seemed more than happy to get commission on such an easy sale; I knew what I wanted right away, phone and calling plan and everything. He pulled up my account info and for about half an hour I stood there while (I assumed) he read the notes on my account so he knew that I should be getting the phone basically free and what to do to my account to get everything set up. After about half an hour though, I felt that I had waited long enough and asked him if there was a problem.
He explained to me that there is no service in Pine, AZ. That he can’t even sell me the one-rate plan if I’m going to live in Pine. He explained that it simply wasn’t possible. I explained to him that while I could not sock the people on the phone in the mouth, he was just behind the counter, and that after spending several hours on the phone with customer care I had been told several times by multiple people that I should be able to get the plan without a problem. He laughed and thought I was joking about hitting him, and my sister (who was with me at the store) and I both assured him that I was serious and that I had been arrested before for Aggravated Assault. (Admitedly, there was no actual arrest, and I was 10 years old at the time, but it’s basically true. I was charged officially with Aggravated Assault, and the guy pressed charges.) He basically told me it was impossible again and I asked him to get his supervisor. She came out and immediately gave me a bad attitude, treating me like I didn’t deserve her time and she was part of a huge corporate machine just looking for a chance to crush me underfoot. I tried to remain civil with her and discuss the situation and she suggested that if I lie to AT&T about where I live, she could sign me up for the $59.99/month plan for only 400 minutes/month. I tried to explain that that would cost me more than the cancellation fee on the contract i never agreed to, and she was just like the ridiculous supervisor, becoming increasingly irrational and rude to me. I again recommended that she try not to be too rude and unkind to me, as I was likely to hit her, and she suggested that she could just throw me out. Eventually my discussion of what had been told to me by AT&T already and her bull-headedness met a standstill and she effectively told me she would not even discuss it with me further. I left the store in a huff, knocking some brochures into the air on my way out. I was at my edge and as you may know if you’ve been reading closely, would have likely killed every person there had I had the means on hand. It took quite a bit of self-control and put quite a lot of strain on me not to touch any of the employees once, not even to shake hands, to keep my voice in low, even tones, and then not to damage anything of value on my way out, but instead to just make a mess of their brochures. Still, the manager and the salesperson followed us out of the store and took down my sister’s license plate before we could get away. We pulled up beside them and I rolled down my window and asked “Is there a problem?” She replied curtly “You have no right to touch the things in the store. I’m calling the police!” As my sister drove off I (not so cleverly) shouted back at her something semi-threatening like “You want me to touch you?” As far as I know, nothing came of that.
I allowed a few days to pass until a week ago Wednesday when I was literally about an hour from leaving my house in Tempe, and I called AT&T once more. Again with the long reading of notes followed by total lack of understanding about what was going on, then about half an hour trying to determine whether service exists in Pine at all…. Man, if AT&T isn’t the embodiment of effeciency. Anyway, the person I spoke to told me she saw the credit on my account for the free phone, and agreed that she would gladly send it out to me directly instead of having me go to a store. I asked her what calling plans I could use and after some amount of discussion with her “supervisor” she told me I could continue paying $39.99/month on the TDMA service, but would get 400 anytime minutes, plus the unlimited night and weekend minutes and included long distance I already have. About every other sentence out of me was something like “And this won’t start a new contract, right?” or “Which will just be until May 10th, when my ‘contract’ runs out, right?” to which every time she agreed that I would only be obligated through May 10th. She was having a hard time getting through to the department that sends the phones out, so offered to have it sent out to me and I could activate it when I received it, so I wouldn’t have to stay on the line. No problem, I was doing last-minute cleaning anyway. I agreed to all of this because it basically meant I just had to stay on the plan I had been on the entire time, I wouldn’t have to pay any more than I had been, and I could cancel if I chose to after May 10th, with no additional costs. I moved myself to Pine that day, and the phone arrived in Phoenix the next day via FedEx NextDay service. My dad would be coming up Monday, and said he would bring it with him then.
Except he didn’t. Somehow he forgot it. He filled his car with the things that had been left behind at the house (mostly cleaning supplies and dishes), he even remembered the digital camera I’d asked him to bring up. But the phone got left behind. Of everything he brought up, the phone was the only one that had any amount of time-sensitivity tied to it. I had people trying to call me, and no way to reach me, and I had been telling people that I was expecting my phone situation to be resolved on Monday. But the phone wasn’t there, so he had to have my sister pay about $10 to have it mailed to my grandparents’ PO Box here in Pine. It arrived today. (Incidentally, I got my own PO Box here in Pine, so if you need my new mailing address, just email me and I’ll send it to you.)
I opened up the box it came in and there’s an invoice and the $50 rebate coupon I was promised, and a nice, glossy sheet of paper informing me that by using the phone I was agreeing to a new 12 month contract. Another sheet informed me that I can’t activate my phone unless I’m in an AT&T digital area, which Pine is not. So I called AT&T “customer care” again. The first woman also took 10 minutes to read the notes on my account and still had no idea what the situation was when she came back. Then she spent half an hour trying to figure out why I was asking about a contract because as far as she could tell there was no contract currently on my account. That’s right. All this trouble and the first and next-to-last person I talk to agree with me that there’s no cotnract on my account, I could cancel at any time for no reason and with no repurcussions. Except I do have the phone already in my hands and have kinda got my mind set on having my own phone number and address up here by now, so I ask her about the contract mentioned. She tells me that no, sending me the phone doesn’t require me to enter into a new contract, but yes, using the phone does. Huh. She doesn’t understand that that doesn’t make any sense, and I ask for her supervisor. She transfers me to “the resolution department”. This takes another half hour. Literally.
So I get Oscar in the resolution department on the line, and we discuss the matter of the contract. I explain the entire background of me not being aware of any contract in the first place, but sortof giving up on the matter and choosing to take the option to just continue with AT&T until May. I explain that I was told I would get the 400 anytime minutes, unlimited night and weekend, long-distance included plan for $39.99/month without incurring a new contract by the person that shipped me the phone, and that I would not have agreed to have the phone shipped to me if I had been told I would need to agree to a new contract. He also tried explaining about how sending me the phone doesn’t require me to enter a new contract, but using it does, but no matter how many times or ways I repeated that silly statement back to him, he couldn’t understand what was wrong with that idea. He was very polite with me, but by this time I’d spent over four hours on the phone (between calls) and another hour in the AT&T store just trying to resolve this issue and had been mistreated by many employees at AT&T and just would not remain calm any more and became a little upset with him. He tried compromising with me, tried giving me 400 anytime minutes and no new contract for $39.99/month, but no night/weekend minutes, no long distance. I repeated what I had been told a week ago. He suggested that I don’t usually use more than 500 night/weekend minutes, so maybe he can just tack on 500 night/weekend minutes for $4.95/month and that wouldn’t start a new contract. I considered it, but then he suggested that I also pay another $4.95/month for long distance, and we were back to me refusing again. I wasn’t going to pay money for things I had been promised. We kept discussing it, at length. Oscar never became ridiculous, but he also didn’t want to budge on the issue of the contract.
Earlier in the conversation, Oscar had told me that AT&T needed to have its customers under contract to ensure that they make up enough money to cover the benefits they give out. So, in order to offer me unlimited night and weekend minutes and included long distance, they needed me to stay with them for at least a year. I turned it right around on him, saying that if AT&T was going to hold me to my side of the contract (using AT&T until May 10th), I was going to hold AT&T to its side (giving me unlimited night/weekend minutes and long distance). Still, he argued that somehow AT&T was allowed to modify its side of the contract I was wasn’t. I supposed that that included claiming I was in a contract without letting me know by any means. That conversation lasted a while. I even asked for his supervisor and we had that “supervisors are unavailable” talk, but he was pretty honest, admitting that the person I talked to before who promised me a callback had been lying, as well as every person who said they were transferring me to a ‘supervisor’, that I was just getting different people in his department, the ‘resolution department’, and that if I HAD received a call back, it would have been from someone else in the same department.
Then I got him to explain that he was just trying to keep AT&T’s profitability in mind in getting me to agree to the contract. He went on and on about shareholders and profit margins for a while, and I let him. Then I reminded him that I had already been on the phone with customer care for this issue alone for over 5 hours (including that call), plus an hour in the store, at least half of that tying up two employees simultaneously. I explained that since all of the calls are toll-free to me, AT&T has to pay for twice for the call, plus the pay of the employees I’m tying up, which at current CS rep rates means that AT&T fighting me on cancelling my service has already cost AT&T more than the $175 they were asking for. I also advised him that I’m content to sit on the phone all day, every day, trying to get what I was promised, so that if he doesn’t compromise I’ll spend several hours a day, every day between now and May 10th on the phone with customer care, costing AT&T money. That even if I just stay on the phone another 4 or 5 hours, I’ll have cost AT&T more than the $39.99/month plus $9.90/month for three months he was trying to get me to agree to. That if I keep calling in, I’ll cost AT&T thousands of dollars, plus tie up agents, increasing customer hold time, decreasing customer satisfaction, and hopefully hitting the stock prices and the profit margins he was talking about earlier. That I’d gladly continue encouraging everyone I know or meet never to do business with AT&T, and to do everything in my power to hurt the company and hopefully get them out of business so that they don’t keep doing to other people what they’ve been doing to me. He actually asked me why I hate AT&T so much that I would be so vindictive. So I explained the rest of the story, the part of this post that came before moving to Pine, all the trouble I’ve had with AT&T telling me one thing and then doing another, up to and including talking to him, with being promised one thing last week and being told it can’t be done today.
And all of a sudden he saw the light and stopped fighting it and gave me what I had been promised in the first place. From that moment on, the conversation was much calmer overall, and he didn’t try to argue with me at all. He gave me the $39.99/month, 400 minutes plan with the unlimited night and weekend minutes and no new contract. Since I’d basically made three long distance calls in nine months, we both agreed that it was acceptable not to put the long distance on, since it was really moot anyway; I basically don’t call anyone outside of Arizona. He even helped me activate my phone (partially) outside of the AT&T digital area, so I could start making and receiving calls right away instead of having to drive 100 miles to get to the AT&T digital area to activate it. And he gave me his direct number (long distance, of course) so that if I had any other questions or problems, or if I was going to be in Phoenix (Or Flagstaff; he was sure Flagstaff was closer, and that I’d like to go there to activate my phone) that I should call him to have him activate my phone fully. At the end, that call had been just shy of two and a half hours.
Now, you tell me. Was I being unreasonable? Also, could you possibly have been that patient? My grandparents agree (they were in the room with me the entire conversation) that they would have hung up less than half an hour into the call, having spent less than a minute with the rep at that time, and that they couldn’t have lasted as long talking to Oscar. I reminded them that I actually got trained in lasting longer than someone else on the phone, even in a difficult and stressful conversation, while holding the company line, back when I was a “supervisor” in a call center environment myself. I was just trying to get what I was told I could have…
That’s it. I’m up WAAAAAAAY past my bed time. I’m going to bed. I turned the electric blanket on about a paragraph ago, so it should be warm by now.
*I love that I’m referring to February of this year as though we were not still in it.