Friday morning, I had a customer service interaction with AT&T that left me so incensed with anger that I took to Twitter, and dropped a good share of f-bombs on the matter. My cell phone carrier managed to break my zen and reduce me to a raging ass spouting expletives on the internet. Rather than leave it at it that, I find it would be more productive to tell the story behind the interaction.
I started my day by processing my email inbox to zero, which i’ve been neglecting to do all week. As I went through my messages, I noticed one from AT&T notifying me that my account was past due for the amount of $136.94 for the period of January 8th through February 8th. When I looked at the bill in detail, I saw that I was being invoiced for my monthly service fee of $89.99 — $39.99 for 450 Nation Rollover Minutes, $20 for Messaging Unlimited w/ Mobile to Any Mobile Calling, and $30 for my grandfathered data unlimited plan — in addition to a $40 service reactivation fee. My issue with this lay in the fact that my mobile services weren’t in effect during that time period.
It’s here that I’ll admit that sharing a story that’s resulting from the current financial hurdles I’m finally in the last stages of squaring away is a little awkward. However, considering that that seems to be the narrative shared by the majority of the American public in this present economy , I feel no shame in writing about it; it makes the story all the more relevant. In recovering from the last round of car repairs, I had to forego having cellphone service to get a smog check and pay the registration fees to the DMV. My service was deactivated on January 10th, and wasn’t reinstated until February 7th when I paid the outstanding $183. In turn, AT&T was trying to collect payment on service it was withholding. More concisely, they were demanding I pay for nothing.
On my break at work, I called their customer support line and got in touch with a billing service representative, whose name I didn’t catch because he mumbled it so incoherently. I explained the situation, and argued that there was no sense in those charges being made. I told him I would understand if I were still on contract and that payment was going towards the subsidy on the equipment, but I’m using an unlocked iPhone 4S that I bought on launch date and have been off-contract for a good while now. I offered that I didn’t mind paying the $40 reactivation fee (which is a complete joke in itself, but that’s a different matter for another time) since it’s part of the process, but that I had to draw the line at paying for a month of something I couldn’t access. The phone rep coldly replied that those were charges that couldn’t be waived. I responded that I didn’t agree with that practice, and that they could either take the $40 reactivation fee and waive the service charges or I could ditch them for T-Mobile and refuse to pay their bill. In a bored unaffected tone he told me that it was certainly my decision to do so. We ended the call without successfully resolving the issue, and I decided I was going to make the switch. I’d been interested in jumping over to T-Mobile when they started giving out 200MB of monthly data for tablets for free regardless of whether or not you contract cellular phone service with them. They’re positioning themselves as the company you want to do business with, and their “uncarrier” initiative has certainly done it’s job with me. I’ve stayed on AT&T partly out of the convenience of having existing service and not dealing with the migration process, and partly because of memories of my best friend having terrible service through T-Mobile back in the Sidekick days.
Since the call was so brief, I decided to use the remaining time on my break to cast a line out into the Twittersphere. My inner marketing student enjoys comparing the difference between interactions conducted through traditional customer service channels and those once social media enters the picture.
— J. Lew (@thechexican) March 7, 2014
Sure enough, within minutes someone on their Twitter team reached out, the complete opposite of uncaring Mr. Blow-It-Out-Your-Ass I had just spoken to on the phone. Also, note T-Mobile is so excited they can hardly spell straight.
Later on in the day once I found another block of free time, I decided to see what AT&T was willing to do. I’d spent my workday so committed to the switch that I knew the relationship wasn’t salvageable, but if I could get those charges wiped and not have to deal with continuing to dispute them or have them reported against my credit, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity. I identified myself via DM as instructed, briefly recapped the situation at hand, then put a mental deadline of “end of business day” on their resolution effort. When I checked my phone again before the end of the work day, I had the following exchange:
So, their response was to ask me for details extraneous to the underlying principle that they should be more than capable of extrapolating from their own records. I tried to measure myself so as to not come off aggressively hostile off the bat, but I find unnecessary redundancies like that to be a pet peeve of mine. It’s like when I call my bank and enter my identifying information using their voice recognition and keypad entry prompts, and then have that same information immediately asked for again by the phone banker that takes my call.
I waited until the end of the day at work, and never got another response from the AT&T Twitter team. After making my way home through evening traffic and doing some preparatory research on the web, I made a trip to my local T-Mobile store. I walked in and told the sales rep that I’d gotten fed up with AT&T, and requested that he make the switch as appealing and painless as possible. I got a service fee breakdown: for the lower cost of $70 per month, $20 less than I was paying AT&T, I get unlimited everything, tethering at no extra cost, and international text & data roaming. I signed the paperwork, and we got started on trying to port my existing number with AT&T over to my new service line. Minutes later, I was given a T-Mobile SIM card, and instructed to pop it in once service with my AT&T SIM card went offline.
A couple hours after I got home, the moment arrived, and I swapped SIM cards, officially giving up my grandfathered unlimited data plan and moving off from AT&T’s service.
As I mentioned earlier, I was committed to change carriers in spite of whatever retention incentive AT&T would have came up with, and was firmly intent on doing so as a matter of principle (well, that and because they broke my zen & caused me to drop some hard expletives on the web). I was being billed for services that weren’t rendered, and AT&T had the gall to tell me that’s just the way it goes, entitled to take money for nothing. Out of all the various adjectives that I’ve thought of to describe that, the one I’ve found most fitting is Un-American. There was no sense of pride in service or relationship appreciation in my interactions with AT&T, just the usual corporate indifferent scripts. I can’t say I wouldn’t encounter the same thing with T-Mobile in those same circumstances, but I like to believe that part of the “Uncarrier” initiative includes allowing their billing service representatives to utilize logic and moral judgement rather than defaulting to rigid policies and guidelines. Even if that should still prove not to be the case, I’d rather be giving my money to the carrier giving out more value for the dollar and no-strings free data service for tablets than the one trying to charge me for not giving me service.
Six years I’ve been with AT&T, since the launch of the iPhone 3G. I upgraded every year, and wasted so much extra money juggling additional lines to get equipment subsidies that otherwise went unused. And now, all that business (though I’ve admittedly long-since broken my yearly upgrade habit) will be going to the other guy now. T-Mobile’s marketing message would say that I’ve joined “Team Magenta”. On top of sounding a bit too Twilight for my tastes, I find the disruption “uncarrier” is causing in the wireless industry to have more of a political charge. So I’m going to say that I’ve registered and joined up with the Pink Party, and I’m likely to start encouraging more people to follow suit.