article

We Have to Do Better

Posted: 1/2004

We Have to Do Better

I finally
switched my local
phone service. I had been courted by
several vendors, but for no particular reason relented when AT&T called. The
savings were not significant about $8 off the calling plan I had with
Qwest. So, I was getting unlimited local plus long distance and voice mail from
one vendor. I am not sure how compelling that is either. I never felt that
inconvenienced by multiple bills. And, my wireless service from Verizon still is
billed separately.

Nevertheless, I thought I should try out a competitive offer.
After all, how bad could it be? Pretty bad, as it turns out. I dont mean to
overstate the case; I can make and receive calls just fine. However, here are
some of the problems I encountered:

  • The welcome kit did not arrive for nearly three weeks
    after service was cut over.
  • Service was cut over three days early without notice
    causing me to miss vital messages one from my doctor that I could not
    retrieve because I had no voice mail setup information and no stutter tone or
    blinking message-waiting light. (Luckily, I was home that same weekend when the
    police called about having found my wallet.)
  • I should have guessed the
    service was cut over when my phones stopped registering caller ID. This in
    itself is not a huge deal, but in a house with six people (including two teens)
    and four handsets, its easier to let it ring if you know its not for you.
  • I called customer service to complain about not having a
    welcome kit, voice mail setup information and caller ID. The CSR asked if I
    wanted to speak to a supervisor. I said no, but just wanted to find out what was
    in my order and why it was not complete. She started to rattle off a list of
    features as I confirmed them. When she got to call waiting, I said I had not
    ordered that. She said, I am not done. Undaunted, I repeated emphatically
    that I had not ordered the call waiting. She continued reciting the list to
    include Spanish voice mail. I confirmed that also was in error. When she
    reached the end, I asked about caller ID and call screening, which were missing.
    She said I did not order caller ID and she did not know what call screening was.
    Turns out AT&T calls it anonymous call rejection. So, she fixed my order and told me it would be corrected in a
    few days. She also told me I could check the status online and gave me the
    information to do so. She was not at all concerned the welcome kit hadnt
    arrived, noting Id only been a customer for a week. Rather than wait, I
    programmed the Spanish voice mail box with codes given to me by the CSR.
  • A few days passed, the call waiting was turned off but
    still no caller ID. I tried to go online for help. The site returned a message
    that my social security number and name didnt match the order. This, in turn,
    irritated me since I placed the order. So, I called customer service and the
    gentleman said the caller ID wasnt supposed to be up until the next day. Why
    wasnt I told this? He transferred me to another person to help me with the
    online issue. It turns out AT&T put both my name and my husbands name on
    the account and used his social security number. How this happened I have no
    idea; he wanted and wants nothing to do with this experiment. (He keeps looking
    at me and shaking his head, All this over $8?) So, in order to access our
    account online I have to input his first name and my first name
    followed by our last name. Whatever.
  • At this point, the caller ID works and the call waiting
    was canceled, but there still is no messagewaiting notification. In AT&Ts
    defense, I did not specifically ask for it. I assumed it was included with the
    voice mail. So, when I call to dispute the bill, which charged me for both
    Spanish and English voice mail, I will ask about the messagenotification
    options. I am not optimistic.

About the time I finally received my welcome kit three
weeks after switching I also received a we want you back letter from
Qwest. I was offered activation at no charge and two months local service credit
up to $100. My local service plan with Qwest costs $24.99, so I would net just
less than $50. This would make up for six months of savings using AT&T.

Curious about my experience, I called up my AT&T PR
contacts to find out if this was AT&Ts fault or sabotage on the part of
AT&Ts UNE-P provider Qwest. The AT&T spokesperson said order errors
are an ongoing problem with some of the RBOCs, but wanted to inquire about my
particular case. In just a few hours, the answer came back that the AT&T
sales rep had incorrectly coded the order form. Its our fault. We have to
do better, the AT&T spokesperson said.

Indeed, with the Bells providing at minimum a service that
works and very aggressive win-back incentives (see here), the competition
must do better. While I probably will keep my new service in the name of
research, thats an unlikely justification for most consumers.

KHALI HENDERSON

khenderson@vpico.com.
Editor in Chief

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