Segments: Slices from the Macintosh Life
I Hate When That Happens
My ISP’s customer service has become increasingly nonexistent as it’s gotten bought out by increasingly large companies, and sadly, my search for a small company that cares about its customers only turned up one option. Minutes after my request, I was given a free two-week trial. When it expired, I asked to become a paying customer. I never got a response. A few weeks later when my phone bill came, I found that the number they said was a local call actually wasn’t.
Being stuck with an enormous phone bill really got me thinking about Internet through some other means. AT&T had been barraging me with junk mail (postal, not spam), two or three times a week, begging me to sign up for cable Internet. I was promised my first three months for $19.95, and Premium installation (when they say it on the phone, you can hear that capital P) for $9.95. So I called.
The purpose of this article is to document my experience, for what it’s worth. In case that sounds too dry to hold your attention, let me add that my experience was pretty much a worst case scenario.
My initial call to sign up for service was undoubtedly the most professional part of the whole experience: AT&T wants you to feel comfortable with signing up. I talked to a fellow named Jimmy, who had a slight accent but was perfectly understandable. There was decidedly some pressure from him to make me sign up; in spite of what it says in the brochure, you’re not calling “with questions” about the service; you’re calling to sign up. If you hesitate about something, they will push, gently. (Nothing like Ameritech; I called them about the phone bill, only to get transferred to an extremely hard sell on their Internet service. I was a piece of raw meat to Ameritech’s starving wolves. Eventually, they got sick of me saying no and hung up on me.)
Jimmy was able to answer all the questions I had about the service. I was asked, among other things, which browser I used: Internet Explorer, Netscape, or other. I said other; I use iCab. He said, “No problem.”
He only asked me four or five times to buy a cable modem (from AT&T of course, for $150, or about $20-40 more than I could find it for online). Then there was the strange detour around discounts off the Internet service if I had cable, and upgrading my cable to digital cable for even more of a discount, and some trick mathematics that left my head spinning. You get only five dollars off regular cable, compared to ten off a digital package. No thanks. OK. It would take two weeks to send out a technician, who would come sometime between 8 AM and 8 PM. They couldn’t narrow it down.
Two men, each approximately the size of a bear, showed up around 11 AM on the day of installation. Neither was in uniform, though one wore a baseball cap declaring him an “AT&T Contractor.” I later learned that they aren’t AT&T employees; they’re paid by the job.
The first thing they did was ask to see my computer, so they could look for Internet Explorer. When I said I didn’t have it, they said there was nothing they could do, and they would leave. Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher was required. I protested that that wasn’t what I’d been told; they were unsurprised I’d been misinformed but there was nothing they could do. I didn’t want them to go, leaving me to wait another two weeks, so I suggested downloading IE over my modem while they ran the cable line. Nope, they wouldn’t go for that. Then I remembered Apple includes Internet Explorer with their system software. I grabbed my 8.5 installation CD, and sure enough, it had IE 4.0.1. The contractors were satisfied, so they went to work.
Within half an hour of their arrival, they had split the cable line coming out of my wall and wired up the cable modem to the computer. Then the fun began.
Internet Explorer returned error messages about security certificates being out of date when they tried to connect to a Web site to register me, through a proxy, but they could click through them. So they got to the registration page, typed in the registration number, and hit submit, but instead of going to the next screen, it just cycled back to the registration page. The installers didn’t have a computer with them, which really surprised me, so they kept trying the same thing, countless times, and getting, predictably, the same result.
They called in for help. More failures. Oops, one technician noticed the other was entering the wrong number. But the right number didn’t work either. I dug out my OS 9 CD and suggested a newer version of Internet Explorer. OK. So I installed version 4.5. There were no more security error messages, but the registration page problem persisted. By then, one technician had left, moving on to another job. Both had called AT&T “incompetent,” complained that they get paid by the job rather than by the hour, and blamed the trouble they were having on AT&T. They also predicted AT&T would blame the trouble on them. While I can sympathize with their sentiments, it’s neither professional nor reassuring when contractors kill time by bashing the company that hired them.
In the end, the technician never got around the problem. After trying for some two hours total, he left, leaving the equipment behind, along with a phone number I should call in 24 hours. Then, just before leaving, he said he had a CD in the car he wanted to give me. OK. “I think it has Internet Explorer on it,” he added, suggesting that I install the latest version, from this CD he would give me, and try the registration again myself. When he came back in with the CD, he gave me the numbers I would need to register, and described how the process should go from there, if it worked. Then, apologetically, he left.
So, three rather colossal screw-ups here:
- They were going to leave because I didn’t have software installed on my computer which I was told by Jimmy I didn’t need, and which they had in the car all along.
- The technician left rather than trying to get the registration to work with the current version of IE.
- The technician wasn’t properly equipped to do the job in the first place: he should have had a laptop with him.
The CD-ROM I was given, labeled “Virtual Technician,” had, I was told, come out only the day before. There was a manual, with a section on installation for Macintosh. It was very clearly written, designed so a user could insert the CD, run the installation, and it would put software on the computer and go through the registration process, all as documented in a series of pictures.
I installed Internet Explorer from the CD, version 5.0. It gave me the same problem as ever, cycling back to the initial registration screen after I entered my data. So I ran the installer. It looked like everything worked OK, but it skipped a bunch of steps, namely, the registration process. After I clicked “Yes” to installing Outlook Express on my computer, a few more screens went by, and I was told installation was successful.
Not only was I still not on the Net, but Outlook Express hadn’t been installed—not that I’m complaining; I didn’t want it in the first place. The dialog box had given me the choice of installing it or cancelling installation of cable Internet. So I’d figured OK, I can always delete it later.
Using my dialup account, I tried the registration page, and it gave me the same problem as I’d had through the cable modem. Well, at least it’s consistent. I also downloaded IE 5.1; it took about 20 minutes, meaning if the technicians had let me download it in the first place, it would have been done about ten minutes before they were ready for it. But it didn’t make any difference; whenever I submitted my registration numbers, it just cycled back to the same page.
The Second Call
The next day, I called the number I was given, and, after navigating through a rather confusing system of button-pressing (1 was for “trouble with your cable service”; when I finally got through to a person, I was told that option was just for TV cable, and you have to wait for options 4 or 5 if you have problems with cable Internet), a recording told me to call a different phone number. I did. More button-pressing.
Finally, I got through to Joseph. When I told him the problem, he replied, “I hate when that happens.” Finally, someone who knows what’s going on. The technicians yesterday had said this had never happened before. Joseph knew it had; he’d seen it.
He transferred me.
Shilo had not seen the problem before. He tried walking me through basic setup, putting me on hold several times to check on things, because he wasn’t familiar with Macs. He screwed up by telling me it was safe to trash my TCP/IP preferences, assuring me nothing would be lost, that all that did was make a new copy of them. I was concerned about losing the preferences because if this didn’t work, I’d still want to be able to connect to my dial-up. He repeated that there wouldn’t be a problem with trashing the preferences, that I didn’t need to make a backup copy. I did anyway.
Of course, Shilo didn’t get me anywhere either; he never even had me configure proxies in the Web browser, nor did he ask what version of Internet Explorer I had, or check any of its preferences. He only knew I had a Mac because I volunteered the information.
He did ask about the installation. Basic installation right? Someone just comes over and drops off the modem. Nope. I tell him I got this deal with Premium installation for $9.95. (Its regular price is $99.95.) He was astonished, and very apologetic. You had premium installation, and you haven’t been online yet? That’s right. Wow. The technician shouldn’t leave until you’re connected. He’d transfer me to schedule another technician. I wouldn’t have a long wait, he said. “This should never happen.”
The hold time for scheduling the technician was the longest yet, at 10 or 15 minutes. Three songs worth, or enough time for my cat to eat breakfast, puke up a hairball, and then for me to clean it up and start reading the paper.
My conversation with Angel didn’t last long; if my situation was at all unusual, you wouldn’t know it from her. A technician was scheduled to come the next day, within a two-hour window. I specifically asked her to make a note that the technician should have a computer with him (Shilo had said they’re all supposed to have a laptop with them) since this problem likely wouldn’t have happened if the technician had a computer on which he could go through the registration process.
If You Want Something Done Right…
Yep, I did it myself. I tried getting to the registration page from my computer at work, just to see if it was possible to get past that initial registration screen. My old machine has a copy of Internet Explorer, and when I loaded the page, it asked if I would accept cookies. Aha! My browser at home is set to always reject the suckers. I clicked Accept, and got through to the next page, no problem. Deleted the cookie, restarted IE, tried again, and rejected the cookie, only to return to the registration screen after I entered my data. So I’d duplicated the problem. I must at one point have had IE installed at home; and after I deleted it, the preferences, set to always reject cookies, remained behind.
So when I got home, I set IE to accept cookies, went through the registration process, and voila, the cable Internet was finally working. I decided to be a nice guy and call up to cancel the technician, explaining that I’d gotten it working myself.
They weren’t sure, when I phoned, whether it would be possible to cancel the technician, but they’d try. (No technician ever showed, so the cancellation must have worked.) Saying that I’d solved the problem myself didn’t prompt the simple question, “How?” This level of indifference is astonishing. The problem has been encountered before, and doubtless will be encountered again. A few seconds of someone’s time to ask how I solved the problem, and make a quick entry in their internal tech support DBs, or add a note to the front registration page saying that cookies are required, would save AT&T (and its contractors) many hours of failed troubleshooting, and hold off a source of unhappy customers.
A week later I got a “courtesy call” asking how things went. When I said that the technician had failed to get things working, but that I’d gotten it working myself, the heavily accented gentleman on the other end of the line was apologetic, even suggesting that I call and ask to be credited for the cost of the installation. But he showed no interest at all in finding out what the problem was or how it was solved.
Two days later, I got another “courtesy call.” “Again?” I asked. Oh. Sorry. Polite, maybe a little embarrassed. I get the impression this happens all the time.
Anyway, I’m happy with the Internet service. It works well, and I’ve had no problems with it in the three weeks since I got it working. The speed is hardly “blazing” (I’m spoiled by a T1 at work) but it easily beats a modem. My phone bill’s back to normal, and I never have to worry about getting disconnected, or someone phoning me only to get a busy signal.
You didn’t really think this story would have a happy ending, did you?
When the bill for my cable Internet service showed up, it didn’t reflect the deal I’d signed up for; AT&T had charged the full price for a month of Internet, completely disregarding the first three months for $19.95 deal that I’d signed up under.
So I went back to the phone, with more fighting through a labyrinth of button-pressing. Eventually I was shuffled through to Emily, who listened patiently, put me on hold for a very long time, and came back saying she couldn’t fix the problem; she would have to fill out a form and send it to billing. She gave me the form number. Meanwhile, she said, don’t worry about paying the bill, and billing should have it taken care of in a few days. I’d get my next bill long before my account became delinquent, and everything would be cleared up by then.
A week and a half later, I called back to check on the credit. The problem still hadn’t been fixed. Carlos told me a credit will be placed on my account, two months from now, to make up for the error, but that I’m still expected to pay the bill—even though they acknowledge that it’s wrong. There’s nothing Carlos can do about it. It’s how their system works. I asked to speak to a supervisor; Carlos agreed and put me on hold. After fifteen minutes and counting on hold for a supervisor, the line went dead. I guess the supervisor wasn’t interested in helping either.
I waited a few minutes, in the vain hope that, hey, they have my phone number, maybe they will realize we were cut off, and call back. It didn’t take long to realize how unbelievably stupid that was. So I called back, and asked for a supervisor. After only a few minutes on hold, I was talking with a lady named Ray. She’s in Ohio, and likes to ski, but strongly prefers real snow. After hearing my problem, she proposed giving me a $78 credit (three times the difference between what I’m being charged and what I should be charged). Emily, it seems, had completely screwed up.
My new balance, meanwhile, had been updated with a new month’s worth of charges (Ray couldn’t understand why my billing cycle went the way it did), plus a late fee for not paying the bill Emily told me not to pay. There was nothing Ray could do about that. She was really trying to be helpful, so I let it go. After some 45 minutes of complicated discussion, it finally came out that what I should do is pay my next bill, minus $78.
I repeated this intention back to Ray, more than once, to be absolutely clear; she assured me that this would be fine, it wouldn’t generate any more late fees for me. The only possible problem is if the credit doesn’t go through, though she couldn’t see why it wouldn’t. I can call back in a week (“at least a week”) to find out about that.
Meanwhile, it’s well past the deadline for getting this article in, so there you have it, complete with cliffhanger. I’ll post a comment about how all this turns out. Meanwhile, readers, please post comments about your experiences, good or bad: however painful my experience with AT&T has been, it’s just one person’s experience, and should only be taken as such.
Also in This Series
- About My Particular Macintoshes · May 2012
- From the Darkest Hour · May 2012
- Shrinking Into an Expanding World · May 2012
- Growing Up With Apple · May 2012
- Recollections of ATPM by the Plucky Comic Relief · May 2012
- Making the Leap · March 2012
- Digital > Analog > Digital · February 2012
- An Achievable Dream · February 2012
- Smart Move? · February 2012
- Complete Archive