Customer service

Shouldn’t a communication company ease communication?

I recently asked AT&T to disconnect my house line but continue DSL Internet access. Everybody at my house has a cell phone, and pretty much the only calls we got on the house line were telemarketers or my creditors, so the change seemed like a good idea. Ha.

Everything was to have been done on Oct. 3, except it wasn’t. My understanding was that the changes would be completed no later than 8 that evening. Cool.

The house line was disconnected by 8 a.m. That was a little spooky, being untethered like that. Our family is changing— as usual, I guess—and losing that homey way of talking to everybody with one call didn’t feel right, although the people I talk to nowadays never ask to talk to anybody else in my family. I remember when I was little my mother handing me the phone to talk to some faraway relative. I hated that.

Six hours or so later, I turned the modem off and on and went through the rest of the routine for establishing the new standalone DSL service. Everything seemed to be working properly, and my browser took me to a page that said, in short, “There’s a problem with your account, call 877-722- 3755.” Of all of the wrong numbers I called over the next six days, that may have been the wrongest.

For four of the next six days, I spent hours every day on my cell phone and talked to 26 different people trying to get past that Web page that said call 877-722-3755, one of several numbers I now know by heart. Over and over I talked to the same departments: DSL, maintenance, disconnect, orders, retention, provisioning, and dry loop, which is how AT&T refers to standalone DSL service.

AT&T let me talk only to low-level people who can access only a little slice of the whole while endlessly apologizing and thanking me, and each time I had to explain my situation from scratch, over and over. I listened to the same prompts and the same bright, inhuman voices asking the same questions until I started slamming doors. So I took Sunday off. And Tuesday.

At the end of the day on Wednesday, a woman from tier two actually called me. On Thursday morning she connected me with a woman from the escalation department who was magically able to determine that everything looked fine, except my new account hadn’t been registered, which she had to explain because I’d never heard of such a thing. In 10 minutes I was online and 40 e-mails behind.

In all the hours I spent repeating myself and waiting on hold, I only once talked to someone who didn’t sound competent and eager to please—I hung up on her—but the system thwarted all of our best efforts until knowledge of the problem randomly reached the next level (tier two rules!) where people have room to think without a decision tree or a script. Ma Bell is a dumbass. And what on Earth is “provisioning"? I smell a consultant.