The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reach out and be touched

I was reading yesterday about a soldier in Afghanistan getting a $16,000 cell phone bill from AT&T. Seems the private took AT&T's offer of a $4.95 per month "plan" where he could make international calls. Sounds good? Well, maybe not. The fine print says they will charge him $5 per minute of usage plus 50 cents per text. Hence the big bill. Actually, the bill that got his attention was the $9000 one (the first one after he got to Afghanistan, I assume) which prompted the soldier and his wife to cancel the account. Of course, there would be an additional one plus interest (for late payment) which ran it up to $16,000.

First, let me point out that AT&T has apparently written the whole thing off. Or, at least, accepted whatever he has paid as sufficient. I know AT&T, they will not harass this soldier or anyone else who gets a bill like this. Sure, it will seem like that but eventually it will all get straightened out and no one will be hurt in the process. All that has to be done is to get the attention of a important enough person. Therein lies the difficulty and the reason these stories pop up from time to time.

If you have ever called AT&T about anything, you know what a hassle it is. Voice menus which take you to more voice menus which take you to even more voice menus (each of which has you punch in your phone number) which, all to often, sends you into oblivion (a "fast busy" or dead air) or to the wrong department which then kicks you back on the voice menu maze.

Why, just the other day, I tried to call AT&T about why I was getting a "Service Unavailable" on my fully paid up GoPhone. I figured there was an outage of some sort. I also figured that a call to the support number would announce that immediately. I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, it took two calls (the first ending in Oblivion) and a second wending through the maze before I reached a guy sounding suspiciously like he was in India who told me there was a complete system outage (not just my little piece of Paradise) and that he had no idea what it was or when it would be fixed but I might "try it again in a couple of hours."

Right helpful, he was.

But the article I mentioned claims the soldier wasn't told about the $5 per minute rate. I have to disagree. It was there. If he talked to a rep on the phone, he was told. If he went into an AT&T phone store, it was in the stuff he signed. (and probably mentioned).

When I was in the Navy, sailors and Marines (especially, it seemed, the Marines) would get over-charged and cheated fairly often. The Navy's position seemed to be "You should have looked closer at the fine print, you idiot." You either learned quickly (no more than one mistake) or you didn't (continued to get cheated and pay handsomely for it). The Navy would happily garnish your (very meager) wages if the company (or individual) got a court order for such. The Navy also warned us all in advance that this would happen. I am assuming the military still does this.

Do not get me wrong, I sympathize with the soldier. Completely. Once he canceled his account upon receiving the first bill, he should have had quick access to Customer Care and someone with enough brains and power to get the situation corrected. And that's where all corporations fail. No matter who they are, they have great difficulty with the customer interface once the sale has been made. In fact, when I went to cancel my former cell phone account with AT&T, I was heavily queried as to why I wanted to do such a thing.

Let me leave you with a little commentary about AT&T and Voice menus...

Back in the mid-90's, AT&T commissioned a study about them. The public was overwhelmingly against them. They wanted a Real Live Person when they called. They did not want to wade through menus. AT&T, having paid hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars for this study promptly built up a huge voice menu system for themselves and to sell to other corporations and companies. Mostly to airlines and insurance companies, I believe.

Corporate mentality is something I will never understand.

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