Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Breaking Up -- Or, "I Can't HEAR You"

Over my lifetime, we've all kept trying to break up with AT&T.  But, just as with any abusive relationship, they always come back with promises and lies.  And instead of making them stay away, the judge tells us to just go home and cook up a nice steak and AT&T will treat us better.

And for awhile, they do.  They lower rates and offer more services, give us better ways to communicate with them and improve repair times.  But then the old ways creep back in.

I live out in the boonies, ten miles from gas and groceries, and about three miles from any cell phone service.  This makes me a captive customer with an AT&T landline; in a hopelessly naive attempt to make the most of a bad situation, I also have AT&T internet, all bundled with Direct TV.

You might think that a telecommunications company, especially one as humongous and long-lived as AT&T would be able to get some things right, like, for example, communications.  But size means not having to say, well, anything.

When I lost my internet service eight days ago, it was mildly disruptive, but it's happened often enough that I turned off the computer and tried again the next day, at which time I had service, although somewhat spotty.  We who share our lives with AT&T understand that sometimes we just try to be grateful for anything we can get.  But the following day I learned from people who had been trying to reach me that I had also lost phone service.  Now I understood why I hadn't been hearing from all those robocallers, telemarketers, and hang-ups that usually keep me jumping up and running across the house just in case someone I care about is trying to contact me.

Anyway, here's the thing.  My internet is coming and going, mostly a few minutes at a time.  I have a cell phone that I have to drive several miles toward civilization in order to use.  And I have a landline that is dead silent, and yields a busy signal to anyone trying to call me.

And as if my relatively simple life weren't complicated enough, exactly one week earlier, I had pulled a muscle in my leg and been in serious pain and having difficulty walking.  I was waiting for a call-back from my orthopedist for an appointment, which of course never came.

It would be logical, under the circumstances, to attempt to go to AT&T online and send a message to their repair department.  NOT SO FAST.  There is no email address available.  Good luck finding a link to their repair department.  But look -- here are phone numbers to call if your PHONE ISN'T WORKING.

Eventually, I was able to use my gmail phone to call, and each time wended my way through their evil menu only to lose my internet connection.  Even at times having actually reached a human.  And sadly, my cheerful demeanor diminished with each attempt.

Finally giving up that plan, I attempted an online "chat."  Except that you can't do an online "chat" if it's your phone that needs repair.  You can only do an online "chat" if it's your internet that's not working.  Go figure.  This is the kind of illogic for which we all love AT&T.

The faceless, voiceless helper, when I explained that my internet seemed to be working but I had no phone service, proceeded to give me instructions on how to troubleshoot -- my internet connection.  In the hope that these two troubles were connected, and that she actually understood the problem, I ran around the house giving her modem numbers and checking things called filters, all of which seemed to be working at the time.  Then she had me change a half dozen internet settings.  For this I can only be glad that I did not lose internet service in the midst of this operation.  When she was done she told me to keep an eye on this for 24 hours.  And when I asked her about my dysfunctional phone, she gave me a link to att.com/repair.  Which I guess she could have done in the beginning.

But, ever the optimist, I went to att.com/repair, filled out my phone number, hit continue and went... nowhere.

That's right, the actual repair site link wasn't working.

Next step was to drive out three plus miles and call their repair number.  When the robot answered, it gave me back my cell phone number and asked if that was the number I was calling about (this is important).  After answering several stupid questions, I decided to cut through the nonsense by yelling "help!" and "human!" and "no, damn it!"  Until the robot said, "Are you saying you want an "agent?"  "Yes" I said in relief.  At which it began to ask me the same stupid questions we'd already been through.  By now I was yelling "AGENT, damn it!" in increasing volume, until finally it told me to hold my horses, it would connect me to the next available agent.

Then there was a five-minute wait in which I was compelled to listen to not only bad music, but a tape that was so worn (or a connection so bad) that the sound faded out every couple of seconds.  There I was parked at one of two intersections on this tiny island, hoping to be heard at some point over all the trucks that were driving by, dumbfounded by the amount of traffic on this road to nowhere.  And when the agent did come on and started asking me stupid questions again, I was just not a happy AT&T customer.

Now, I am not making this up.  After a very short time, in which I was trying to communicate the fact that I was calling from the road because I have no phone service at home and no cell service where I live, we were interrupted by NOISE ON THE PHONE LINE.  At which time the agent asked me for a callback number.

First response, "I have no idea what my cell phone number is."  NOTE:  just as when you answer twenty questions knowing full well you are talking to someone who has all those answers sitting on a screen right in front of them, I later recalled that the robot had recited the number I was calling from when I called.  But I was too distraught to remember this, and either my agent was having too much fun, or only robots are allowed to know what number you are calling from.

Second response:  "I am calling from a road three miles from my home, because I don't have cell service at home.  I am calling because my home phone is not working.  I am not going to be sitting here in the street waiting for a call back."

At which point my "agent" got even more snippy.  I said, "Can't you just send out a repair person?" to which she replied (on Wednesday) that they would send someone out on the following Monday.  And I'm sure she was smirking when she added, "And if they have to come in the house there will be an $85 charge."

Let me conclude this tale by saying that those poor underpaid, understaffed and no doubt undertrained people who answer the phone (and online "chat") are not at fault.  They are being paid not to help but to waylay frustrated customers like myself.  I can't blame them for getting defensive about the fact that AT&T has not given them tools with which they can actually help customers.

Turns out, and not surprisingly, that the hero to this story was the repairman who came out Sunday afternoon in torrential rain to find the problem.  He was knowledgeable and helpful, and I just hope they were paying him enough.  Although my guess would be that, compared to the boobs that make the decisions that run that pitiful company, he is getting a fraction of his worth.

Back when I lived on Long Island, residents were victims of The Long Island Lighting Company.  There in the latter part of the twentieth century, we lost power at least once a week all for rates that were exorbitant.  Periodically the people of Long Island would raise hell and try to take over the utility.  Long Island Lighting Company -- LILCO as they were fondly known -- responded with neat new advertising campaigns and eventually just changed their name to LIPA, Long Island Power Authority, as though donning a disguise.  My favorite was the pencils they handed out with their name printed on them.  At the end of the pencil, instead of an eraser, was a little plastic light bulb.  I think the symbolism of removing something essential and utilitarian from an object in order to replace it with something cute and useless was a perfect metaphor for LILCO.

LILCO - You Have a Bright Future!

I see a lot of similarities between the business models of AT&T and LILCO.  In fact, when you logon to AT&T their motto:  "Rethink Possible" comes up in a very pretty image.  But I hear that they are considering changing that slogan.  I would like to make a suggestion:

AT&T - Possible but Unlikely

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