April 4, 2019
Preface: You want to live a simple, uncomplicated, peaceful life, right? I don’t know about you, but I sure do. So, what do I do? I was told that if I work hard, live within my means, pay my bills on time, buy services from the well-known, reputed companies and check what I buy before I buy it, I can live a reasonably unperturbed life.
I try to follow this mantra and it generally works. Generally, because every now and then my wife, for some reasons known only to her, decides to put me in the doghouse. The visits to the doghouse aren’t that bad – I always return with a clear, calm and a non-confrontational mind. However, once in a while, AT&T, my telephone company, likes to mess me up and those confrontations leave my mind in a state of turmoil that lasts for thirty to forty minutes. However, this time, AT&T decided to really screw my mind and after three weeks, I am still waiting for it to return to its usual calm and peaceful nest.
Prologue: I started using AT&T years ago, way before it was broken into not-so itsy-bitsy Bells and I still use it now, years after it was revived by SBC/Cingular. Why? Because I am a creature of habit and because it feels good to be loyal. I live in the US but once in a while, I like to visit my friends and family in Canada. Years ago, I upgraded to a plan that allowed me to use my phone freely in Canada, without worrying about the roaming charges. Three or four times since then, AT&T has rechristened its plans. Every time it did so, it decided to charge me the roaming expense, always extracting half an hour of yelling out of me, before correcting the error, updating my plan and promising me – that their valuable, loyal customer would never suffer again. This last time they rechristened their plans, my plan was named ‘something unlimited’. Their new plan includes ‘North America roaming’ and to keep the kinds of me tagging along, my old plan was grand fathered by attaching to it a zero-cost ‘North America Roaming’ add-on. Isn’t that wonderful?
The Main Story: I was in Canada from Feb 28th to March 2nd where I used Google maps to navigate my way through the streets of Surrey and Vancouver. On March 18, my wife dropped the AT&T Bill in front of me, preparing me for what I thought would be a half-an-hour shouting match with AT&T; they had charged me $198.97 for roaming. However, the match went into an unusually long over time, so long that it put the Mahut-Isner’s 2010 Wimbledon deuce game to shame. This is how the things unfolded:
Day 1: I was with an AT&T operator for two hours while she was trying to figure out the issue. Except the occasional assurance from her that she was working on my case, I was treated to the music and the offers of their choice. Eventually she came back to tell me that she had to login from a different station and that she would call me back from there. I waited six days, she never did.
Day 2: I was told that AT&T systems were down and that I should call back after one hour to find out ‘when I would be able to call!’ – I didn’t call back that day – I have a few other things to do in life, you know.
Day 3: The first operator, after arguing with me for half an hour that my plan did not qualify for roaming in Canada, finally declared that that if indeed I traveled to Canada, the roaming charges would be taken off. But the problem was that he could not figure out if it was Canada I travelled to. I had unfortunately told him that I travelled to ‘British Columbia’ and that convinced him that I had travelled to Columbia. He didn’t trust my phone bill that showed the records of my roaming and transferred the call to the ‘International desk’ to straighten the facts. My interrogation started from ground zero, no one knew that my phone was transferred, and it took another half an hour to establish that my complaint was valid. I was then sent back to the billing department so they could take care of the bill. Let me highlight a fact here – when a call gets transferred from one department to the other, the new department doesn’t know that the call is transferred – it goes through the same automated process that you go through when you make your first call. You have to provide, your name, phone number, the passcode and sometimes even the address at every stage and after all that you have to start with your complaint from ground zero, because they don’t look at any documentation from the previous departments. So, starting from scratch, I argued for 40 minutes in vain to prove why the roaming charges should be taken off. However, the lady decided my complaint was invalid. I threw my hands up and hung up the phone. Twenty minutes later, the same operator called me to apologize. She had finally figured out that my complaint was valid. Now the problem was she couldn’t do anything about it because the issue had to be resolved by their ‘Unified Accounts desk’. My phone was transferred to the unified accounts. The interrogation started all over again and I was told my request was invalid. My yelling reached a new high and finally they looked at my plan’s special add-on and started working to resolve the issue. I was listening to the music for about 40 minutes with occasional interruption telling me that they had not forgotten me. Suddenly my phone was disconnected. I called back, the department was closed – it was past 10 PM EST – they had to go home to their families – unlike me, whose wife was sleeping in the next room.
Day 4: To give myself a fighting chance, I started my call early in the morning and directly called the unified accounts’ number. As usual, I had to start over from ground zero. This time, before I told them my problem, I insisted that they first looked at my plan. After we established that my plan allowed me to roam free in Canada, the lady started working on the issue. Another hour passed and she came back to tell me that my complaint was valid but the amount of $198.97 was too big for her to handle and that her manager would fix it. Another thirty forty minutes passed when I heard a totally new voice from a new department. Someone named Angela from AT&T’s technical department was speaking. “What can I help you with?” she asked. She had no clue who transferred the call to her and why. She started with me all over again, getting all the basic info and trying to see whether my request made any sense. At this point my politeness had totally vanished. Angela was a nice person, and she knew how to handle an irate customer. She handled the call professionally and after analyzing the situation, she declared that my request was valid, and she assured me that she had documented the issue. “Unfortunately, I cannot do much more than this,” she said, “the error has to be corrected by the ‘Unified Accounts Desk.” My patience went through the roof – but she consoled me saying that she would stay with me till the other department picked up the call. She then put the call through to the ‘Unified Accounts Desk’, and stayed online with me. However, the system was not any more sympathetic to her than it was to me. She finally gave up and approached her manager, who she believed had the authority to correct the error. Her manager, Angela told me, took care of the issue, but since it still had to go through the Unified Accounts desk, it would be 24 hours before I would see any change to my bill. I thanked her for her help and went for my dentist’s appointment.
Day 5: More than thirty hours had passed. Instead of my bill being corrected, I got an email from AT&T telling me that my bill was past due; they had, this time slapped a late fee on it. I called the Unified Accounts desk. The operator had no idea about the action taken by the technical department or by any other department, including their own. We started the same exercise, the gentleman advising me that my plan was not qualified for roaming. It took me a lot of time and shouting trying to explain why it was qualified. By the time he looked at the various documentations and at my plan and its add-ons, I was successful in conveying to him my experiences of the past two weeks. He was kind (Davin, ID DC406K) and he told me that rather than me calling AT&T again, he would call me back after taking care of the issue. Meanwhile, I got a response to my email to Angela. She said that she had escalated the matter with her manager. Many hours passed. Around six PM, Davin called me. “See, I promised I would call,” he said gleefully, taking pride at keeping his promise. I thought the matter was resolved. “I have escalated your matter to the next level,” he said, “please give us three to four working days to resolve it.” I didn’t know how to respond. I just thanked him for his graciousness to get back with me. ‘How about the late fee, on the bill?’ I asked. “Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about the late fee,” he responded, “it will show up on your next bill. That is when you need to call us. Once you explain why you were late in paying the bill, they will take the late fee off.” ‘Who are they?’ I wondered. This was yesterday!
Epilogue: I feel so much better knowing that my complaint has been escalated to the next level! I don’t know, how it will be resolved, if it will be resolved. I can already envision my wife dropping the phone bill in front of me next month, highlighting the late fee. New fears are growing inside of me – the fear of going to Canada, the fear of looking at the AT&T bill, the fear of feeling less loyal to AT&T. I don’t know if my insurance covers mental health issues. So much for wanting to live a simple, uncomplicated, peaceful life!