Before two companies merge, promises are made. It’s often about “synergy,” being more efficient, being more competitive. Quite often, it’s more about eliminating competition, gaining more control over a market.
At the end of the day, however, these mergers may end up doing more harm than good. Consider all those airline mergers. Nowadays, flights are crowded, fares aren’t quite as cheap, and you have to pay extra for luggage, something that was once free. And bad food has become worse, if that’s possible.
Besides, it’s not as if you can just fly on a competing airline. In many cases, there isn’t one.
And don’t get me started about poor customer service, because that’s a given in a combined company.
So The Night Owl was offered a discount with AT&T Wireless in connection with one of my part-time gigs. So I went to AT&T’s partner site to apply as an existing customer.
Three months later, still no discount.
Now AT&T merged with the number one satellite provider, DirecTV in 2015. Since then, customer support, no great shakes, has nosedived. Problems that were usually resolved with a phone call or two might require hours and many reps before a resolution is found. On one occasion, I threatened to cancel my account, which sent me to a “Loyalty Department” person who managed to sort things out.
As you might imagine, AT&T appears to be especially clueless about handling special deals with third parties. When I phoned AT&T to check the status of the application for that partner discount, the rep promised to call me back. That was last week, and still no call. So today I managed to carve out some time to follow up.
One of the biggest problems is AT&T’s inability to connect you to the right department, now that there are more of them. Whether I try the voice recognition menu or just press the number of the department I want to reach, more often than not, I am sent to the wrong place. It’s a tad easier if I do it from my iPhone, since it usually, but not always, goes direct to wireless. When calling from my home phone, it’s a chore, even if I follow all the rules about connecting to the right place.
Now about that discount.
Over a period of nearly three hours, I talked to no less than 19 separate AT&T reps. I think I deserve a few plaudits for my patience. I was tempted to yell at their ignorance, but I just said my piece calmly and firmly.
Once again, the biggest problem was the same as before: getting connected to the right department. I went from AT&T’s home phone department to the U-verse ISP department and rarely got hooked up to wireless. Through it all, I twice connected to someone handling partnerships with third party companies. It was a start, but not a solution.
In both cases, the partnership person looked up my application and couldn’t find it. I was told to just reapply, but that wasn’t possible. When I originally applied, I accessed the partner link at AT&T’s Business Care Central site, and entered the requested information. I was informed with a prompt that a response would come within a few weeks. But having gone through this process once, it was impossible to do it again. The login sent me to the employer’s site instead, an employee earnings status page.
When asked, I carefully and slowly told them which URL I accessed. One rep asked me to wait for a moment, and she would send me to what she referred to as the “correct site,” but, after a few minutes, she couldn’t find it. So she said I need to go to the third-party company’s HR department and get their “foundation account number.”
Are you with me so far?
I contacted the employer and asked them to figure it out. But what about AT&T and all that misery and confusion?
I had enough! So I asked to speak to the Loyalty Department rep, where I invoked a cancellation threat once again. That’s what this department is for, to make special offers to keep a customer’s business. So you may get a credit or sometimes a lower price from a hidden service plan that is not mentioned on AT&T’s site.
Unfortunately, I was twice redirected to the wrong Loyalty Department. On one occasion, I was told my problem would be escalated to yet another in-house division to handle my problem, but I was referred to a phone number that no longer worked.
Take a deep breath!
It was nearly 1:30 PM Arizona time when I finally reached the right Loyalty Department rep. I went through my problem and told him he had “five minutes” to figure it out and properly express AT&T’s appreciation for ten years of business. I even specified the credit I required, which he granted. He promised that he would research the discount offer and find a way to make it active. I gave him a week, and maybe that was too generous.
I don’t know if this partner agreement was set up before the merger. Maybe that’s the problem, or maybe AT&T hopes that complaining customers will just grow tired of the bureaucracy and give it all up. I’m moving towards the latter.
It’s not that I’m necessarily locked into AT&T. Other carriers are only too happy to cover early termination fees to earn my business. But the lower cost companies, Sprint and T-Mobile, do not always have good coverage in rural areas. My wireless account includes a phone number for the co-host of The Paracast, who lives in an out-of-the-way area where even AT&T’s performance is barely acceptable. I don’t want to leave him stranded.
But I’m tempted! Customers shouldn’t have to put up with this level of abuse. Imagine what’s going to happen if AT&T’s plan to merge with Time Warner gets the green light.
Update: The day after I had all these annoying encounters with AT&T, I call back to confirm the status of my service credits, since they hadn’t shown up. After I pressed the rep on the matter, she found them, but said it would take two more days for them to appear. This after she repeated the phony mantra that it takes one or two billing cycles for credits to show up. Nothing changes.
Update Two: As of June 1st, there has been no change. I have now talked to 25 different people at AT&T, and my latest encounter was one of denial and a haughty attitude. I’m awaiting a callback from that person, someone in their executive support office, one Joy Van Ek. After the excuses, she finally promised that she will get to the bottom of the problem. I’m not holding my breath.
Update Three: As of June 7th, it appears that the problems have been resolved. Ms. Van Ek gave me the promised credit, and I received an AARP discount on the account going forward. Nothing will compensate for all the time I wasted, but at least it’s over — for now.
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