In a recent series of blog posts, I sketched the lives and contributions of some exemplars, men who were noted for character qualities worth emulating. Included among those qualities in many instances was honesty and customer service, service such as John Wanamaker exemplified, proven by his slogan “The customer is always right.” Ironically, this week my wife encountered the polar opposite, the attitude of a huge conglomerate that apparently thinks that that slogan is for only weak or small companies. The episode reminded us of the proverbial consumer caution caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware.”
After nearly a decade of telephone, internet, and (most recently) U-verse TV service with AT&T, we needed to reduce our ever-increasing bills from them, so my wife called near the end of our contract in July to see if she could renegotiate a better deal. During all such calls, she habitually takes copious notes, including the precise time the call is made, whom she talks to, what is discussed, and the final disposition of the issue. That particular call to AT&T resulted in the lowering of our monthly bill to (according to the AT&T representative) $89 plus taxes.
Over this past weekend, we received an e-mail notification of our next AT&T bill’s coming due. When we saw the amount, we almost had heart attacks. Rather than the quoted $89 plus taxes, it was $135 and change. This afternoon, my wife made “the call.”
She not only got an AT&T rep who could barely speak English but also a background cacophony that made hearing nearly impossible. She had to have the rep repeat nearly everything, sometimes multiple times. Since my wife’s phone was on speaker phone, I could hear the chaos all the way downstairs, and I’m convinced that I heard children and once even Morse code being sent in the background of the call center. (I will not call it a “customer service” center!)
Frustrated by not being able to hear or be heard, Connie finally asked to speak to a supervisor, thinking that her call would be transferred to a quieter office. After numerous times being placed on hold, she finally got a supervisor on the line. After explaining the error in our billing for the umpteenth time, she was again put on hold so her call could be referred to some kind of “specialist.” (My personal opinion is that it was someone supposedly trained in dealing with angry customers–or an expert in giving customers the run-around.)
This expert listened to the complaint and Connie’s explanation of the error, shuffled some papers in the background, and then declared that they had no record of the earlier conversation with the rep who had given us the contract price of $89 plus taxes. She finally admitted, however, that the conversation had indeed occurred but that we couldn’t have had that price quoted since that plan didn’t exist.
My wife read to the specialist directly from the notes Connie had taken of the phone call in which the rate had been quoted. The specialist again denied having any record of it. Rather than following the rule “The customer is always right–even when the customer might be wrong,” it boiled down to “The customer is wrong–no matter what!”
We ended up dropping the U-verse portion of our service. When I could tell that the phone call was nearing its unproductive conclusion, I rushed over to the TV set and turned it on to see how long it would take before they shut us out of U-verse service. The U-verse had already been terminated! Not even 30 seconds later, before the phone conversation ended!
Now all that we’re paying for–so far anyway–assuming that Connie’s conversation ever really occurred (and only the omniscient gods of AT&T will determine that) is internet and e-mail service. But you can bet your bottom dollar that we are already searching for an alternative provider for those services, and we definitely won’t be recommending AT&T to our friends and relatives! (We are open to any suggestions of honest, reliable providers that our readers might be eager to recommend.)
So the ages-old consumer warning is still applicable today: caveat emptor—especially if you’re dealing with AT&T.