The Thursday Blog

My wife got a new cell phone the other day.

Now, she already has an iPhone that she likes and uses, but she has a new client that needs to give out her number, and Lena didn’t want everyone in the world having her real cell phone number, so the client got her a new one just for them to use. I think it was a good and clever compromise.

The client already had a “Family” style AT&T plan, so they got Lena a relatively inexpensive phone and added her to it. They sent the office boy out to our house and he dropped it off.

As per the phone’s written instructions Lena allowed the charge on the battery to run all the way down before plugging it in, (known as “cycling” the battery) and charging it all the way back up. The literature on the phone said that the charge should last for 15 days on standby… that is, with the phone on but no one talking. The next day the phone was completely dead.

Lena recharged it and tried again… but six hours later the phone was a doorstop once more… for a very tiny door. She had to leave the phone plugged in just to keep from losing calls, which pretty much completely negates the benefits of having a cell phone in the first place. So, Lena decided to take it upon herself to get the battery replaced, and thus not bother the nice people who had given her the phone to begin with.

After a frustrating and unhelpful conversation with the corporate office (Lena was trying to call a store, but they don’t answer their phones, so eventually all calls get rerouted to corporate) we ended up at an actual AT&T store. Now you can’t just go to any damn store, ’cause some are corporate and some aren’t, and if you have a problem with one kind the other is going to wash their hands of it and tell you to fuck off. So we skipped past the nicer, closer AT&T retail location to go to the tinier, shittier one wedged in between the produce and the dairy departments at the Winn-Dixie. The woman there was friendly and tried to be helpful, though apparently they don’t stock anything of use in the grocery store. Instead, she called a couple other stores to find the battery, and eventually directed us to one across town. She said we’d need a copy of the original receipt, so she stood and typed (actively typed) at her computer terminal for the next twenty minutes in order to find and reprint it.

We left, drove thirty minutes across town, entered a much nicer store, (wealthier neighborhood) and exchanged the battery. It took about fifteen minutes for us to give him our old one, and for him to give us our new one.

Now I thought I’d go back over a few of the more salient points here.

  • To begin with, when you call the AT&T store, they do not answer their phones.
  • There is no way to tell from the outside whether you are looking at a corporate or franchise store, but it sure as hell makes a big difference to them.
  • Every single person we talked to first suggested that we exchange phones instead of batteries. The battery exchange was free, the phone exchange cost $35.00. This was the restocking fee for the old phone with the bad battery, and was apparently how much it costs AT&T to have an employee put it back on the shelf to be sold to the next sap.
  • It takes AT&T twenty minutes of typing to reprint an existing receipt from a file on their servers. I feel confident I could have written it by hand in three.
  • We were told by three separate reps that we should expect a 15 day charge to last 48 hours at most.
  • If you are carrying an AT&T phone with the phone number they gave you, if they can find you and your name on the account for that phone, and if you have photo ID verifying you are in fact the correct person, you will still need a receipt for the original purchase in order to exchange the battery without and additional fee which they will print for you while you wait, and which contains no information they don’t already have.

I used to worry what would happen if corporations truly took over the country. I figured when that day finally came, it would be illegal to save your money, we’d start calling the President the CEO of America, and the whole sixth grade would be replaced with a year’s worth of sensitivity training. Now my fear is that our corporate overlords will simply be too stupid to keep anything running once they buy the country, and “corporate efficiencies” will mean that Lena and I will have nothing to eat but a two-year supply of Tampax.

I’ve started stocking up on cans of turkey chili, Fritos, and beer, just in case.

42 Responses to The Thursday Blog

  1. Kev, in reverse order, here is what I have learned:
    #1: Teh Brit East India Co. took over this country in teh war of 1812, hence the slaves. Only country more corp controlled is Mexico (dunno why conservatives hate ’em). The dollar bill should have a pic of the Monopoly guy =|;)
    #2: Lotsa corps don’t even have a phone number now. UPS dropped my live bullfrogs (no I wasn’t gonna hurt ’em) off in the middle of noon sun, six feet from my shady front porch, and never rang the bell. I called to complain and the machine said I had to send them an email. I had to register on their site and then type into a 80 char max box. I wrote they had a psychopath killing animals. They made the guy who sent me the frogs pay to send me more frogs and never apologized. See item #1.
    #3 WTF is up with these batteries anyway? I have the same probs with Virgin. I used to know a guy who could cyberpunk your phone but it would burn your balls off… Wish I knew him now. Mebbe I should bug this guy:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Gonzalez

    • You need to check up on your facts, dude…1812 was after 1776, and there were slaves in 1776.

      • The slaves back in 1776 were owned by individual owners. I think the slaves he is talking about are corporate slaves as he says the British East India Co. took over.

        If you guys got taken over in the war of 1812, are you saying Canada is the overlord of the states? I always thought we were too polite to keep you down so we left after burning down your capital. Why didn’t anyone tell me I had so many slaves to do my bidding *evil laugh*

        • It’s too confusing being the slave of a Canadian. Am I supposed to do your bidding or not?

          “Ey there! Why don’t you go and pick that cotton there now? Watching TV? Well I guess that’s okay. When’s it over… LOST reruns? Okay, you just enjoy the show. I’ll go get the cotton then.”

  2. I can relate to all that. Your summary reminds me of the movie “Robocop”, where corporations were in charge of the police (and I’m guessing everything else too). Aside from a lot of 80’s action movie cheesiness, it had a rather pointed political message there about corporate money controlling our lives and injecting a lot of unnecessary stupidity. Right now politicians are just corporate proxies or paid spokesmen- how much longer till things move completely into the realm of Robocop? Socially, things are looking more and more like Demolition Man- but thats another blog-topic entirely.

    • We’ve been living in a Cyberpunk world for some time now. We just never noticed because there’s no “punk” anymore and all the first-generation, government-created cyborgs are old army guys living in Russia, in a village that doesn’t exist on official maps.

    • “Now my fear is that our corporate overlords will simply be too stupid to keep anything running once they buy the country”

      They’ll just outsource the running of the country to minimum wage interns in Bangladesh, and replace the politicians with actors and handpuppets. No worries.
      In fact it has already happened and we simply never noticed.

  3. …or, “Why I Don’t Use AT&T More than I Absolutely Must.”

    AT&T: The company that couldn’t market eternal life…

    And if you managed to find out about it on your own,
    Then they wouldn’t know where it was in the warehouse or order system,
    &
    Thus you STILL couldn’t have it. 😡

    • One weird note, Lena and I have AT&T U-Verse for our TV, and it is run completely differently from the rest of the company. Individual employees seem almost to be in competition to see who can help you the most.

      • Yes. It’s amazing how great U-verse is. I imagine they would have many more customers if people knew that U-verse is a totally different animal than the wireless phone division.

  4. Woa woa woa… you guys are off the charts here with all your corporate hostility! Your completely missing the fact that AT&T Wireless just sucks bigger than a whales dork. The have the worst customer service reputation, their plans suck for the product you get, and they have piece of crap phones. The only saving grace AT&T has is the iPhone.

    Lets be clear here not all corporations are evil giants, only monopolistic ones like AT&T are evil and must be holy fired off the face of the earth.

    • Possibly true. If I go into an Apple store I can walk back out, purchase complete, in under two minutes. (No matter what it is.) Plus, they actually have people in the store who are only there to help you, and who don’t even charge for it.

        • My point was all the blind praise I read in the media about Apple. Every time they censor this or that or limit what you can and can’t do with their devices the media defends them. Microsoft on the other hand gets blamed for everything all the time.
          To be clear, I don’t like them both, but Apple infuriates me by spouting cheap propoganda that alot of people eagerly gulp, mostly, it seems, because it’s hip to do so.

          Chris mentioned “monopolistic”, so I brought up Apple’s name since they fit that description.
          Kevin, I know you really like them, their iPhone etc, but surely you can look byond that and see they’re every bit as aggressive, manipulative and evil as Micro’ and the rest of the market and not blindly defend them like you just did(and “helpful”, well, good salesmen don’t make a company less evil).

          Oh, and answer me this- can a company that blocks porn from their products not be evil? I rest my case.

            • Not Flash, porn applications or something. Sure, I heard you can watch porn anyway and I don’t own any Apple product and thus am uneffected whatsoever by all this, but that was just to make a point- Apple is somewhat porn-unfriendly, and that’s evil.

          • I look at porn all the time on my Mac.

            I don’t think that Apple isn’t aggressive, but I see their basic philosophy as attracting customers by being better than the other guy. That is to my advantage. Companies that see their own interests served by maintaining an adversarial relationship with their clientele are most certainly not to my advantage.

            Lena and I were discussing the Apple thing the other day. My loyalty to the brand stems from their anticipation of my needs, and a product that consistently delivers a quality experience. If Apple were to stop providing these things, I would go somewhere else.

            A salesperson, or a tech person, or any other interface a company has with the public, is how we see that company. But it is not just about individuals. If I meet the nicest person ever at a store who is completely unable to help me because the company has tied their hands in an attempt to prevent the customers from getting the tiniest scrap of extra service from them then I will have walked away with a negative experience. If I deal with a totally normal salesperson who works at a place designed to care about my actual needs with the policy to back it up, I will walk away singing their praises.

            I do not think this is wrong, or blind, or “drinking the Kool-Aid”. I think it is normal common sense.

            • I’ll try giving an example, maybe I haven’t been clear enough. Remember a while back when the iPad got out? Remember the frenzy? The rush to buy, and media moaning in rapture like it’s the second coming and Jesus was giving free blowjobs(well, for straight guys I guess it would be Mary)?
              IDK, maybe my media outlets are more guilty about it, but they usually copy-paste(translated, of course, usually badly) articles from other news sites when it comes to “tech news”, so I think they’re not the only ones with this problem.
              Same happened with the iPhone. I mean, get it into perspective, it’s a damn cellphone, and not at all perfect at that.

              • Dude. Mary would give crappy blow jobs. Everyone raise their hand if they want a crappie blowjob from Mary?

                ….

                Anyone?

                • Any blowjob is better than none. 😛
                  Besides, Jesus can give too, and I’m sure he didn’t hang around with 12 men all the time for no reason. The guy’s a pro.

          • Apple is not (repeat NOT) monopolistic. To an extent (customer relationships) they approximate a trust since their software is only licensed for use on their hardware. This is is not a monopoly since there are other sources for operating software (MS, Linux) and for hardware (Dell, HP…)

            • I remember everyone (in the media) talking about how everyone else in the media was so fanboy and rapturous, but the only people I remember actually gushing were reviewers with iPads in their hands, who actually complained about not really having much to complain about. I don’t remember anyone acting all over-the-moon about the product before they had one in their hands to review… though everyone had a friend of a friend who did.

              I think the humbug quarter is overstated here. A lot of people have iPads, and they like them. So what? Why is that important to people who don’t want to have an iPad? (Or iPhone, or iPod, or what the hell ever.) I do not own a bangin’ stereo system because it isn’t important to me. I don’t like to listen to music any louder than my computer speakers play it, and for me anything more than about $50 for a speaker system is a waste of cash. But I’m not going to sit here and say that people for whom these things would be important are foolish. How narrow minded would that be?

  5. Your talking about AT&T requiring a receipt which they would print up for you reminds me of the time my mother lost her driver license. She goes to the courthouse to get a replacement but they want some ID before they can issue one. Acceptable ID they told her could be her voter registration card. So she heads to the board of registrars who ask her name, look at their records to see if that name is registered and give her a card which allowed her to get a replacement license. Doesn’t that just make you feel safe from identity theft? As a side note, why does every place you want to write a check require you to show your license to them, but the place that issues a license doesn’t take checks?

  6. amazon.com has batteries for $5. Fast delivery. I have 2 for my phone and 3 for my camera (3rd is in an external charger) simply to have backups when traveling. There are also $10 battery+home charger+car charger kits. The no-name brands work just fine.

    I wouldn’t get too cynical; AT&T is the worst rated phone company out there. The iPhone is the only thing they have going for them. Just means you need to handle things yourself now.

  7. OT

    Just followed a Digg referral to Fox News. Seems a publisher is offering copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers with a parental warning that these “classic works” were written in different time and thus may not be appropriate today. The righteous journalists at Fox are incensed over this affront to American values – this is of course the same Fox News that ignored Franklin’s 1757 objections to the Patriot Act because they were written in a different time.

    • OK…cite that Franklin reference with a real historical document. And tell me when exactly it was that Franklin invented the time machine he used to find out there was going to be a “Patriot act” 18 years before the revolution…

      • He’s referring to a very well known quote by Franklin that was something along the lines of “Those who would abridge freedom to protect it don’t deserve it.” or something to that effect. He never mentioned the Patriot Act, only what it represents.

        • Specifically it was in an editorial, presented as an open letter to the Pennsylvania Legislature. The (appointed) Governor was pressuring the legislature to rescind parts of the Penn Charter that addressed personal liberties; the proffered justification was that this would simplify and thus enhance security procedures. Note that this is the same process and justification the Bush administration gave for the Patriot Act. The actual quote, included in most (all?) editions of Bartlett is “Those who would sacrifice certain liberties for temporary securities are deserving of neither.”

  8. Hey, just to play devil’s advocate here:

    “To begin with, when you call the AT&T store, they do not answer their phones. ”

    Those stores have usually at most 3 people, often just one, manning them. Sometimes they can’t get to the phones, so instead of demanding that the employee make the person who actually went down to the store wait, the call is re-routed to someone who gets paid to just take phone calls.

    “There is no way to tell from the outside whether you are looking at a corporate or franchise store, but it sure as hell makes a big difference to them. ”

    Not true. The ones that are not ‘corporate owned’ stores will say ‘AT&T’ really big and ‘authorized retailer’ next to it, in smaller letters. People just usually don’t notice, because they don’t bother to read past the AT&T. I didn’t, either, until I knew what to look for. There are other ways to tell when you call, or by checking AT&T’s website.

    It does make a difference, because that franchise store is owned by someone, and if he wants to make a special deal or if he sells a defective product that’s on him. If it was a company store, then the franchise should not be held accountable, it wasn’t his decision.

    “Every single person we talked to first suggested that we exchange phones instead of batteries. The battery exchange was free, the phone exchange cost $35.00. This was the restocking fee for the old phone with the bad battery, and was apparently how much it costs AT&T to have an employee put it back on the shelf to be sold to the next sap. ”

    This was likely miscommunication. AT&T has a ‘grace period’ during which you can return your phone if you just don’t like it or don’t want it. The restocking fee is for when people do that, because that phone can NOT be sold as ‘new’ anymore, which means they’re out $200 or more on the cost of that phone that now has to be sold as ‘refurbished’ even if there’s nothing wrong with it. Defective phones are a different matter.

    AT&T also usually doesn’t do just battery exchanges–at least, not through the call centers. Stores do them sometimes, but mostly the entire phone gets replaced so that the customer doesn’t have to come back if the new battery didn’t fix the problem.

    “It takes AT&T twenty minutes of typing to reprint an existing receipt from a file on their servers. I feel confident I could have written it by hand in three. ”

    So, a store that was not the one where the phone was purchased was able to get you that reciept? Was the store where it was purchased franchise or corporate? What about the store that printed the reciept? I’m pleasantly suprised she could access the reciept at all, that’s pretty cool.

    20 minutes? You’re not exagerrating at all? Really?

    “We were told by three separate reps that we should expect a 15 day charge to last 48 hours at most.”

    15 days of not being touched, 48 hours of use–that sounds pretty close to right. Phones use more power when they’re actually doing stuff than they do when they’re just on, and most people are constantly fiddling with their phones–texting, listening to music, playing games… All that eats battery time.

    “If you are carrying an AT&T phone with the phone number they gave you, if they can find you and your name on the account for that phone, and if you have photo ID verifying you are in fact the correct person, you will still need a receipt for the original purchase in order to exchange the battery without and additional fee which they will print for you while you wait, and which contains no information they don’t already have. ”

    People never look at the reasoning behind this stuff. Fraud is a huge problem for cell phone companies, people get these phones at subsidized prices. That phone you bought for $50 was not a $50 phone–it was closer to a $300 phone. The company is hoping to make the difference back by keeping you as a customer for a few years.

    But, other countries don’t do that. There, you’ll pay $300 (or more) for that same phone. So, people come over here, buy them cheap, and then try to weasel out of actually paying for the phone, so they can sell it overseas at a huge profit. Fraud like this costs companies like AT&T millions every year, so when a phone has to be replaced there are some hurdles and hoops customes have to jump through, because some people out there are not honest. Yeah, it’s a pain when you’ve already got a broken or stolen or whtever phone… But, if they didn’t do it, imagine how the cost of service and phones would skyrocket. It’s give and take, and I don’t think the reciept policy is that bad.

    I do wish the people you’d talked to had treated you better, levelled with you and explained the what and why of what was going on. That was bad customer service, and there were clearly some inter-agent communications breakdowns.

    I just wanted to give a little insight from the other perspective.

    • Sigh…

      Okay, here we go: When I’m calling a place of business on the phone I expect it to be answered. I do not feel this is unreasonable. When the business is the selling of phones, I think an inability to use them reflects a fundamental flaw in the plan.

      The corporate store we went to had an AT&T logo on the side of the Winn-Dixie grocery store and nothing else. It was not labeled as either a company or a franchise store.

      We were told… twice, and at two different locations… that the problem was that we had not had the phone long enough. And if the explanation for why a company’s policies is that they think their clientele are criminals, they’re doing it wrong.

      All the stores in question were corporate locations. That’s why we spent most of the afternoon in the car instead of taking the ten minute drive to the closest, and franchise, location.

      Was it really 20 minutes of typing to print the receipt? I’m not certain. It actually took us just north of 30 minutes to get it done, but I assumed a little bit of waiting in line and conversation. It was at least 20 minutes.

      What we were told by 3 reps in 2 stores was that 15 days of standby time (no touching) actually meant 2 days of standby time. (No touching.) I asked all 3 for clarification and the message was extremely unambiguous.

      Although the last point refers directly to my remark about making your customers feel like criminals, I will point out again that the “security” measure you refer to consisted of printing out onto a sheet of paper what was in front of the rep on their monitor. I fail to see how that action represents any form of security whatsoever.

      The problem was not the people I spoke to. They treated me well, and I felt that they were doing the absolute best they were capable of to assist me and respect my position. (Except for the woman at the call center who simply seemed to be filling time.) The problem is a systemic one within AT&T which has garnered them a well-earned reputation as the worst customer service company in the world. (In all honesty, I can’t imagine it’s true, but I certainly understand the perception.) They deserve far more than the drubbing they have received here.

      If the people I spoke to face to face had been anything less than completely candid and helpful, I might not feel this way. This is my insight, for AT&T and anyone else to use. As a customer, I am dissatisfied.