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Sometimes the simplest effort to interact with a large company to solve a minor problem turns into an ordeal that tests the concept of free enterprise. Such was my encounter with AT&T.

The story begins in November when we went Christmas shopping in Target and got our credit card hacked. Chase Bank sent us our new cards and being a misguided wannabe Girl Scout, I set out to be sure that all of the companies who keep our card on file had the new information.

Bad plan.

While updating the credit card information, I decided to make sure each company had our new Colorado address.

An even worse plan, although everything went smoothly until I got to the iPad cellular data account with AT&T.

We recently moved from a large city with our mail delivered to a house on a street with a number and a name. Our new home is in a small town with post office boxes.

AT&T doesn’t do post office boxes.

Some programmer somewhere really screwed up because, you know what, folks, there are people around this great country who use post office boxes and who, contrary to AT&T’s worries, are NOT terrorists.

Computers make possible things that we could never hope to achieve without them. I understand that. I love computers. I love the ease of locating information. I do most of my reading on an iPad.

What I don’t love are systems that don’t or won’t or can’t do what they are supposed to do. What I don’t love are the robotic voices disguised as real people that will only take you on the path they are programmed to follow, and heaven help you if you need to do something slightly different or if you need to connect with a human.

I chatted (by typing on the computer, hitting “Send” and waiting) with two AT&T employees who were mired in a Joseph Heller Catch-22 masquerading as an AT&T policy. Our two-hour encounter ran the gamut from helpful to hilarious to maddening.

ME: Hi, Toby  (false name to protect the innocent) I’m trying to update my credit card information for my iPad service.

TOBY #1: I am showing that your account is not currently enrolled in AutoPay.

ME: Toby, this is an iPad account that is paid automatically through a credit card each month. I’m not trying to change our iPhone account. I’m trying to register a different credit card number for my iPad account.

TOBY #1:  I understand. Thank you I did not realize this at first. Its been a long day for me. Ha ha. Sorry about the inconvenience. I’m looking into this for you.

ME: Thank you. (Lengthy pause followed by the arrival of a second customer service person. Apparently my request had totally flummoxed Toby #1).

TOBY #2 I apologize, the cellular data number you provided to me is not matching in my system.

ME: Have I been sending money to persons unknown?

(Another lengthy pause. AT&T doesn’t do humor.)

And so the afternoon went—on and on and on and on. As exhaustion set in for all of us, Toby #2 fired a final round.

TOBY #2: I apologize, a PO box is not able to be used on the account.

ME: Not even when that is the only way I have of getting mail?

TOBY #2: I apologize but unfortunately you will need to use a street address.

In spite of my best efforts encompassing anger, sarcasm, frustration that had me snarling at my husband and shooting scathing posts to the chat window, AT&T had the final word.

TOBY #2: I understand your frustration and I apologize but you will need to use a credit card that is linked with a street address. Once you are able to do that then you can update your information.

As Paul Harvey used to say after the last commercial break before the end of his radio show, “Now for the rest of the story.”

After licking my wounds from my resounding defeat, a day or two later I spent another hour’s worth of quality time on the telephone with at least two other A.T.&T. disembodied voices. Yes, I admit to feeling intense frustration. After being shuttled from one helper to another, I finally came to rest with a person responsible for “bundling” accounts. She moved my iPad account onto my cell phone account.

Success. My iPad was now back in service and the content available. The physical address problem was solved even though my credit cards remain firmly connected to my post office box address.

AT&T had not finished with me, however. This past week when I tried to go online to get the billing amount so that I could write AT&T a check, their system would not accept my login.

After yet another lengthy encounter with my now very good friends in AT&T Customer Service, I have in addition to my bundled account,  a lower bill  which is a good thing. I also have whether I wanted it or not, a new security passcode that I will never remember even though I wrote it down. By now, I also have as you may have guessed a deeply felt irritation toward a company that has grown so large that its attention is no longer focused on its customers. It wasn’t the customer service personnel who were at fault. Everyone I spoke with tried to help, but all of them  were entangled in ancient and awkward policies.

That’s my rant for today! I hope everyone has a wonderful week with no Catch-22 encounters to mar it.




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