Adventures in Customer Support: AT&T

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Adventures in Customer Support: AT&T

Guess which Stooge is Doug in this little scenario

It all began back in January . . .

See, here’s the deal:  for the kids’ “big holiday gift,” I got them both iPhone 4s.  Alas, now you have to get limited data plans.  But these are good kids, and I knew that if I got the lowest plan and threatened them with severe consequences–and then had to actually dole out punishment one time–they would stay on WiFi, not download games and music over the cell network, and otherwise avoid non-WiFi data.

So yes, one month they both went over.  I explained (again) how they had to be careful, not download games or whatever except at home, and that worked just fine.  At least for my son.  For my daughter, she kept going over limit.  Another severe lecture, protestations that she wasn’t doing anything when she wasn’t home, and a little research by me–looked like, just maybe, since her room was the converted garage, she might be out of range of the wifi, and the phone might be tumbling over into the cell network when she was in there.

So okay, no problem; I’ll switch off the 3G and the data, and she’ll be set.  You can’t get charged for data if you disabled it, right?

Well, that turns out to be complicated . . .

The next month, another pair of overages.  Now I’m pretty honked off–not at Maggie, who I know isn’t surreptitiously turning her data back on, because I keep doing random checks, and she’s just not that sort, if you know what I mean (she’s not tech-savvy enough for one thing).  No, I’m honked at AT&T, who is clearly somehow screwing something up and charging me for it.

I’m not going to go into the details of what I went through at this juncture.  The short version is that I spoke to:

  • An AT&T billing person
  • A low-level AT&T support tech in India (with whom communication was extremely difficult)
  • An Apple iPhone specialist
  • A supervisory AT&T support tech, also in India (who was also difficult to communicate with)
  • Another Apple iPhone specialist
(One side note:  Big companies, if you’re going to off-shore your tech support, do it to places where English is a cradle language, not a second, learned language.  I wouldn’t want to try to do tech support for Bull in France, no matter how good I thought my French was–I just don’t have the colloquialisms and the technical short-hand speech, and I never will; you have to grow up with it.  So go to Ireland or Wales or New Zealand or some damn place like that; not India or the Philippines or Haiti or northern Mexico [all places I have spoken to support techs] or some other country where English is a second, learned language.  </rant>.)

According to the second Apple iPhone specialist, who said he sees this kind of problem about once a month, the issue is that AT&T polls your phone for information every night, and for whatever reason those data pulls were getting charged against our phone.  The AT&T folks agreed to refund all the overcharge money, and (supposedly) were going to try to keep the charges from occurring moving forward.

I’m sure you know what happened, right?
Right; when this month’s bill came, all those charges were still there.  So I called back in to AT&T, naturally.  On this go around, I spoke with:
  • An AT&T billing person
  • An AT&T billing person in a different department (as in, “You don’t want bill payments; you want bill adjustments”, or some durn thing)
  • An AT&T support person
And, once again, I have to give them both the whole damn story all over again, run through some of the same troubleshooting steps that I ran through before, and spend the usual weary amount of time convincing the support person that, no, I’m not your ordinary tech newb; I’m a genuine, high-order gadget nerd.  “I’ve never encountered that problem before,” she kept insisting.  “You would think Apple would file a high-priority ticket if that were the case.”  Yes, you would, but here we are.  And let’s keep in mind, AT&T people, that I’ve only gotten your attention to this degree by wading through, quite literally, hours of explanation and multiple people.  How many other customers are going to have both that level of tech awareness, and that high degree of stubborness required to get this far?  Not too many, I’m guessing, and that’s probably why neither Apple nor AT&T have “filed a ticket” about this problem.
I was further irked because the billing guy said that he could do an “adjustment”, but that if we had another overage, we wouldn’t get an adjustment.  And since the problem has not been fixed, it’s pretty obvious that we will go over at some point.  Which leaves me up the proverbial estuary without a method of propulsion.
Outcome:
  •  I got some of the overage charges back, but not all of them, because the billing people can “only go back three months”.
  • A(nother) ticket was filed against the problem, with a promise to check back in by the 18th (after the current billing cycle ends, to see if we still have data overages.
  • The support person noted that she had seen examples of times with the 3Gs where, if you turned them off and back on, or put them in and out of sleep mode, or updated the OS, your cell data would be re-enabled if you had disabled them.  I tested this on Maggie’s phone while there on the phone with support, and it did not happen, not even once.  So while I appreciate the data from the support person, that’s not the issue.
So what now?  Honestly, I dunno.  When I have some spare time, I’m going to take my daughter into an AT&T store so that they can test out the SIM card–I’m wondering if this isn’t a SIM problem rather than a phone or network problem.  But in the meantime, I’m stuck.  Waiting.  Again.
I would like to say that this is all Apple’s fault, or that it’s all AT&T’s fault, or even that it’s all my daughter’s fault.  But the sad truth is, folks, that this is the face of modern-day, cross-company tech support.  I’ve experienced it with my data line (AT&T: “It’s a problem with your 2Wire hardware”; 2Wire: “It’s a problem with your AT&T phone line”), I’ve experienced it with health insurance companies (“That’s billing; this is claims”; in Billing: “No, that’s claims; this is billing”); and anywhere else you have a product or service where the buck can be passed.

(Being a cynical jerkweed, I tend to blame this kind of thing on our whole American pass-the-buck culture.  Look at the recent debt ceiling nonsense.  Republicans blame the Democrats; the Democrats blame the Republicans; the American people blame both houses of Congress; and the President blames the American people [No, really!  Watch “The Daily Show” from last Monday!].  Can we please fix the problem instead of fixing the blame?  Apparently not these days . . .)

But be forewarned:  keep a tight eye on your data usage because, because there’s a non-zero chance that they’re not getting it right.

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