Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Thanks, AT&T!

I’ve just spent 20 minutes searching the AT&T web site for somewhere to register my disenchantment with their services.

The AT&T home page has a link to a contact us page which links to a message saying if you prefer to email us click here. Click that and you get a phone number and a link back to the original contact us page. Hmmm.. Maybe they don’t want me to email them. Maybe if I leave a message for AT&T on the internet they’ll find it? Even if they don’t, it might make me feel a little better.

Dear AT&T,

I’ve just spent several hours (2? 3? 4? I lost count) talking to your representatives online in an effort to transfer my phone number from my company’s corporate account to a personal account with Verizon. It was an extremely frustrating experience.

The last gentleman that I spoke with assured me that all of my calls had been monitored and that you would have a record of all 8 or 10 people that tried to assist me. The most striking thing about the whole experience was how eager every one of your representatives was to hang up as quickly as possible or to give me a different number to call so that I would become someone else’s problem. Perhaps you could use the recordings of my calls for quality purposes.

Here’s my story. I’ll start at the beginning.

I ordered a new iPhone from Verizon’s website on Friday and requested that my number be transferred from AT&T. My number is registered with a corporate account and I don’t know the account details so I left them blank. About 20 minutes later, a nice lady from Verizon called to confirm my order and to note that I hadn’t entered my account details. I told her I would get them from my company on Monday.

On Monday, I contacted our desktop services and the next day, they gave me a number to call at AT&T. This is where my saga began to generate heat.

I called the AT&T number. The nice gentleman at the other end explained that I wasn’t allowed to port my number from a business account but I could create a personal account, transfer the number to the personal account and then port the number from there. “Let’s do that!” I said.

The nice gentleman explained that I’d have to create a new contract with AT&T (don’t worry sir! you won’t be held to a long term contract), that there was a transfer fee ($25?) and that I would have to assume financial number responsibility for the account. I’d be on the cheapest contract available which meant that they would charge me  30c for each text and some similarly crazy amount for each minute of calling. But, don’t worry sir! If the transfer goes through quickly, you won’t even be charged! He gave me the account details and I called Verizon right away.

I called Verizon to arrange the port, gave them the account details, and they said it would probably go through in an hour or so.

About 10 minutes later, my iPhone started vibrating furiously. It continued to vibrate for about 10 minutes heedless of all my button-mashing attempts to try to make it stop. At the end of 10 minutes, the buzzing stopped and my iPhone did a very fine impersonation of a brick. I assume it had been remote-wiped either by AT&T or my employer to celebrate the successful porting of my number. Either that or it was an amazing coincidence. Would’ve been nice to have a chance to get my data off my phone before it was wiped but, oh well! New phone arrives tomorrow!

The next day, the nice man from FedEx delivered my new iPhone and I checked with Verizon to see if the port had completed. It had not. AT&T had refused it.

I called AT&T and (spoiler alert!) this was where my troubles truly began as I was shunted from office to office, assistant to assistant and put on hold endlessly. Each conversation carried an odd echo of the last. They all went something like this:

AT&T: Hello? AT&T how can we help you?

Me: I am trying to port my number.

AT&T: What number?

Me: 408 555 1212

AT&T: Certainly sir, let me just verify the account details. What’s the account number?

The conversation varied at this point as I tried different strategies to make progress.

Strategy 1: Explain that it was a business account and that I did not have the account details.

Strategy 2: Give them the temporary account details that the nice gentleman gave me the day before.

Strategy 3: Tell them the whole story and that my number was stuck in AT&T limbo between a personal account and a corporate account.

I tried each strategy maybe 3 or 4 times each. Each time they listened patiently before transferring me onto another department that could assist me better. Eventually, a kind lady took pity and dug a little deeper. She explained that the port request from Verizon had caused the transfer of my number to a personal account to be put on hold. I would need to

  1. Call Verizon to cancel the port request.
  2. Call AT&T back to re-request the transfer to a personal account.
  3. Call Verizon again to re-request the port request.

We had a brief exchange about the likelihood of this plan succeeding (“you are kidding right??”) before the nice lady offered to transfer me directly to Verizon for step 1. Go for it, I sighed.

The nice man at Verizon dealt with my request immediately but the nice AT&T lady was already gone. I called them back. This is the part where my story entered the surreal hinterland between purgatory and absurdity.

I re-entered that strange loop of trying to persuade someone – anyone! – at AT&T that I should be allowed to transfer my number out to another carrier. At this point, I wondered whether AT&T’s CRM system had any record of my previous gazillion calls and explanations and whether the operators had access to them. Strategies 1, 2 & 3 all failed me this time around and I was finally forced to ask for a supervisor when the 6th or 7th operator flatly told me that there was nothing she could do if I didn’t even know my own account details.

The nice supervisor, Otto, was very patient and explained that port requests had to initiated by the receiving carrier and that there was nothing he could do. I told Otto my whole story and he took pity on me. Otto tried several different tactics to try to get me off the line before, eventually, he told me to just hang up, call Verizon back and give them the same account details that I had given before.

Me: And will that help?

Otto: Ah, not really, sir. You see, we are not allowed to release numbers associated with corporate accounts.

At this point, even Otto saw the absurdity of the situation and offered to transfer me to some other department and stay on the line while he assisted me. Uncountable minutes later, interrupted by several assurances that it wouldn’t be long now sir and I was connected to Marvin.

I imagined Marvin to be deep in some secret AT&T organization with extra-high-powered access to their internal systems. Marvin was able to verify my identity, and my account details, and confirm my whole sorry tale and put it all straight in just a couple of minutes. Go Marvin!

Then Marvin explained that I would just have to recreate that temporary account and re-initiate the port request but he wouldn’t be able to help me with that. I’d need to call another number – the same number I had called a hundred times already today; the same number that got me to Marvin in the first place.

Otto was ahead of me.

Otto: Ah, Marvin, the customer needs you to create that account for him.

Marvin: I don’t have access to that system.

Otto: Ah, then you need to find him someone who does.

Marvin offered to transfer me directly to the other department but after five or ten minutes of silence punctuated by Otto occasionally asking “Has he forgotten us?” Marvin eventually came back and explained that their system was unable to transfer calls to the other department. Otto demanded to know why.

Marvin: I don’t know why but someone else here had the same problem just now.

Otto: What system are you using?

Marvin: I am not willing to explain which system we have.

Otto: I need to know what phone system you have.

This went backwards and forwards, round and round before eventually Otto asked to speak with Marvin’s supervisor. The supervisor explained that, as we had, by now, talked late into the night, that other office was now closed for the day.

Otto asked if I could call back the next day.

Me: I’m travelling on business tomorrow and…er… I don’t have a phone.

Otto: Perhaps we could call you then?

Me: Er… I don’t have a phone.

After a surprising number of goes around with this conversation, I finally admitted defeat. AT&T had beaten me. I thanked Otto for his help and hung up.

On a whim, I tried calling Verizon. I explained my story to the nice man at the other end and wondered if there was any way I could get a temporary number. He said, “I have never had that request before but let’s see what we can do, shall we?”

The nice man called sales for me and, three minutes later, I had a new temporary number and everything was straightened out.

So, AT&T, at this point I don’t really need you any more.

I really liked my old number. I had it for years and grew to like it but now it feels kind of dirty. Maybe, now that I have a working phone again, I’ll steel myself for another round of battle with your so-called customer service tomorrow… or maybe I’ll just stick with my new number.

Either way, I hope you won’t be charging me for the temporary account that never actually came into being or for the brief period of service where I had no actual service. If past performance is any predictor of the future, I will be entirely unable to verify myself sufficiently to cancel the service that I never actually had. I hope this undead account doesn’t arise from the hideous depths to haunt me in the future.

Anyway AT&T I have a number of suggestions that I offer, gratis, to help you improve your customer service.

  1.  Once a customer has verified himself to one rep, the next rep should have access to that same information. It annoys the customer to no end when Rep A verifies the customer and then transfers the customer to a Rep B who says there is nothing they can do without verification.
  2. Try to encourage your service reps to help the customer rather than transfer them on to some other department.
  3. Keep a history of the customer’s interactions so the customer does not have to explain it over and over.
  4. Improve your process for porting numbers to other carriers. You are going to be needing it. A lot.

So, AT&T, depending on how much fortitude I have for recovering my lost phone number tomorrow, you may or may not be hearing from me again. I sincerely hope that that zombie account does not come back to haunt me.

Yours faithfully,

Ragged Clown

To everyone else: I have a new (possibly temporary) phone number. Email me if you need it.