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Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Customer Service" Is an Oxymoron

oxymoron:  n., a combination of incongruous words; also, something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements (

     As of this writing, I think I have spoken with everyone at the phone company except Ernestine, trying to get my telephone service straightened out.  As of this writing, my telephone service is still somewhat awry.  But we are getting there.
     I hate to say this (well, not really), but I am of the generation that grew up with land-line phones.  I didn’t even own my first phone:  it belonged to Ma Bell, that behemoth utility that was governmentally dissected by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.   While deregulation may have been good for competition, it certainly was not good for me.  These last few weeks have found me waxing nostalgic for the days I could plug a phone into a jack and walk away.  Miraculously, the phone rang.
    Don’t get me wrong.  I have grown to love technology.  It took me barely a week to become addicted to my “smart phone” and barely two weeks to use up my month’s allotted data.  Nevertheless, if I had wanted to work in IT, I would have become a techie.  I don’t really care how my technology works.  I just want it to work.
     I also don’t want to work for the phone company.  After these last weeks, I am sure my phone company (which shall remain nameless for fear of technological reprisals) doesn’t want me working for it, either.  However, I have spent the equivalent of a 40-hour work week trying to get my phones to ring and my internet service to stream.  Let me tell you, it ain’t easy.  And it ain’t over.
     All I really wanted was to disconnect my fax line (show of hands:  who has actually received a fax lately?) and change my billing number (which has been wrong since I moved my office into my house two years ago).  How those seemingly simple requests translated into the following, I still have no idea:

1.       new billing number even “wronger” that the old one  
          (in no way related to any existing phone number);
2.       all phone lines disconnected; and
3.       internet service disconnected.

Round One in my attempt to solve the problem began in the Customer Service Department.   
Customer Service Rep No. 1:   
Your service was disconnected because you have not paid your final bill.
     But I haven’t received my final bill.
     Customer Service Rep. No. 1: 
     Okay, let’s get you to the Finance Department.

Round Two took me to the Finance Department and Customer Service Rep No. 2.
      I’d like to pay my final bill and get my service connected.
     Customer Service Rep No. 2:   
     Okay, you can pay your final bill but we can’t connect your service.
     Why can’t you connect my service?
     Customer Service Rep No. 2:   
     This account no longer exists.   
     You need to set up service under the new account number. 
     I don’t have a new account number yet.
     Customer Service Rep No. 2:   
     Okay, let’s get you to the Customer Service Department.

Round Three occurred back in the Customer Service Department and went like this:
   Customer Service Rep No. 3:   
     That’s ridiculous!  Of course we can connect your new service. 
      It has nothing to do with the final bill.  What’s the new account number?
    I don’t have it yet.  I don’t even have a final bill for the old number.
  Customer Service Rep No. 3:   
   Okay, then, I just need your new phone number.

(Note:  This is where Customer Service Rep No. 3 informed me that there was a new account number and it was connected to a phone number that did not exist.  Anywhere.  At all.)

After two days and still no service, I received a curt email from Customer Service Rep No. 3 which went something like this:
   Customer Service Rep No. 3: 
    I have been working diligently to resolve this problem for you, but I cannot help you 
    until you pay your final bill.  The number for the Finance Department is….

So I started all over with Customer Service Rep No. 4.  Who stayed on the phone with me and the Finance Department while I paid the final bill I still have not received as of this writing.  Customer Service Rep No. 4 set up the new account with the correct phone numbers and followed up with a cheery email that all would be restored within 24 hours.

One could only hope.
You know where this is going.

Suffice it to say that all is not restored and may never be restored.  By the time I spoke with Customer Service Rep No. 11, I was ready to disconnect everything and go totally wireless. However, visions of Hurricane Sandy and Snowmageddon reminded me that only land-line phones worked during those disasters (but, pray tell, where can I buy a land-line phone these days?).

I guess I should count my blessings.  As of today, I do have one phone line working and internet service streaming.  One line to go…
“Customer service”?  Pshaw!

Check out vintage Ernestine at the link below:


  1. so let me start by saying that back in the day, I was a customer service rep at the phone company when there was only one phone company, Ah, those were the days :)
    And, here's the difference between you and me Mary. I never get to customer service rep number 3. I ask for a manager, and when that doesn't work, I ask for the CEO. That one rarely fails

    1. And I am sure you were a great customer service rep! I may take your lead and ask for a manager next round ;)

  2. Well I can tell you that the "phone" company about ruined my life...seriously. And it all began with the removal of my second line, which was a dedicated fax line. Two months later...yep 2 months with spotty phone service, internet on and off, bogus billing charges, countless apologies, speaking with supervisors TO the supervisors...I kicked this company out of my house and went with another company. I ended up partially bald from yanking out my hair, and my voice is now permanently hoarse from all the yelling. I will NEVER buy anything from AT & T again. Good Luck finding the CEO. I sent a letter fedx overnight and got no response. Believe me, I feel your pain

  3. My husband gets into these wrangles with "service" providers regularly. His tip is to always get the name of everyone you talk to--they may perform better if they think they'll be held accountable. Our big hassle is the medical billing field, where in our admittedly special case, Medicare is our secondary, not primary provider, and our primary insurance is not through my husband's company, but a union. Makes their little minds boggle.