Thursday, November 20, 2014

Life's Little Injustices (Take IV): Doin' That Phone Payment Plan Fandango

No, that's not a candid shot of John Gacy answering his latest fan's call...even if the actor's face here bears an eerie resemblance to the late serial killet's three-ringed alter ego, Pogo The Clown. How'd this one slip past the ad department, anyway? Even so, if you grew up in the '70s, you'll remember these AT&T ads well, not to mention the warm and fuzzy jingle that will probably dog you on your deathbed: "Reach out...reach out and touch someone..." 

A couple weeks ago, AT&T did reach out to me, but not in a warm and fuzzy manner. I was innocently skimming my emails, until I stumbled on one that gave me pause: somebody was trying to reach me...but the line seemed out of order. 

I promptly checked our three phones. Two were silent, while the third bleated a strange piping tone that definitely signaled something rotten in Denmark -- hell, it's just a technical glitch, I thought.  They can fix that in a heartbeat, right?

No problem-o, I figured: I needed to send a bill in the mail, so the Squawker and I could just schlep out to the truck stop, and hit up AT&T on the way.

After a couple attempts, we reached a customer service rep in Arizona whose computer knew nothing of a $64 payment that I'd made the day before -- which marked the second in a three-part agreement that I'd struck with them...or so I thought.

"Look here," I protested, "I didn't imagine this!  Why the hell would I recall agreeing to pay $64 apiece, on 'X, Y and Z Days', at So-and-So-Supermarket, after talking to somebody in Pasadena?"

No dice, Arizona Man responded: cough up the remaining $128, plus the appropriate restoration fees, or...get used to the sound of silence for a few more days. Nothing warm and fuzzy about that situation, right?

Totally exasperated, I demanded -- or should I say, "requested" -- to speak with a manager. For the next 10 minutes or so, I stood listening to some sort of bouncy, one-chord ambient piece of sonic wallpaper...if I'm shipped off to Hell, I told myself, this is how it'll sound. When no manager surfaced, I hung up.

The Squawker and I exchanged anxious glances.  "What the hell..." I sighed. "Let's try one more time before we call it an afternoon with these nitwits."

This time, we got the Detroit area office, whose rep sounded no readier to budge than the first one.  "Look," I tersely explained.  "When I say, 'I have a receipt for $64 at So-and-So-Supermarket, isn't that a clue for somebody?"

"Well, you could try the Accounting Department..." I heard the crackle of dead air that often precedes an uncomfortable pause (as in, Oh, crap, sounds like somebody f#cked up over there...glad it wasn't me!).  "It's only three o'clock now, so you should get right through."

"Fair enough, then," I growled. Sure enough, another woman came right on the line -- and I recited my woeful tale for a third time, not expecting too much.

Lo and behold, though, the account rep confirmed my payment. Another uncomfortable pause hung in the air.  "You're right. I'm so sorry about that -- you should have it back on before you get home."

"So why did I go through all this, anyway?" 

"Well..." I could have started making a sandwich during this particular uncomfortable pause. "The agent probably didn't note your details correctly. Also, our system is basically set up for  two-payment plans, not three...but I'm not sure which factor kicked in here."

"OK, fine, well...glad we got it straightened out." Click! I hung up for the last time.

The Squawker and I got in our van, relieved to have (finally) found somebody who didn't treat us "as guilty till proven innocent."  Of course, when you deal with a certified corporate megalith like AT&T, that's exactly how your situation plays out -- but it doesn't spook you any less.

How spooked? Well, I paid the third $64 installment a day early, and called to double-check when the boilerplate disconnect notice plunked itself down in our mailbox.

Once again, I heard an uncomfortable pause, followed by an equally awkward apology ("Oh, we're so sorry about sending that! out"), but that didn't bother me. I was taking no chances.

If you've ever suffered through that one-chord ambient schlock, you have a fair idea of what Hell sounds like. And I don't want to hear it ringing through my ears on my deathbed, either...anymore than "Reach out...reach out and touch someone." --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Hey, Dude, Why's The Air So Full Of Static?):
Angie's List: Why Cable, Internet TV And Customer Service Sucks So Much

Youtube: Reach Out And Touch Someone Ad, 4/79
(This Time, It's Bozo On The Line):

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