18 Apr Readers react to 'Cingular confusion'
Nothing elicits comments as much as a poor customer experience. No column I’ve written in the last three years has drawn as much comment as the one I wrote in early February about my experiences with Cingular.
To update: My Cingular saga has only gotten worse. I’ll admit up front that I haven’t been the ideal customer. I was traveling intensively and unexpectedly through my first month of Cingular service and my first month’s payment was past due by about 10 days. My service was cut off.
If this ever happens to you, you’ll know it. You try to make a call and you are told to call an 800 number to reactivate your account. You try to do so on your mobile, and you are told to call an 800 number to reactivate your account. That is, the service is not smart enough to recognize that you are trying to reach its own customer service number to right your account; you must call that 800 number from another line.
I called customer service, immediately paid the past-due account, and when (and only when) I inquired about Cingular’s policy’s for suspending service did I learn that a) I would be charged a $49 reinstatement charge and b) the grace period before suspending service “depends” on data that is still unclear. Apparently, my 10-year lifetime value with AT&T – a value that Cingular presumably purchased when it acquired AT&T’s customers – does not come into account.
In any case, not wanting to lose service again, I enrolled in auto-payment, but somehow even that did not prevent me from getting dinged again for past due fees. Apparently, auto-payment doesn’t kick in on any sort of schedule that a customer can rely on. I’m also getting notices that I have an outstanding balance on my AT&T account, an account that was presumably paid up in order for me to be able to switch to Cingular.
I’m certain this story tells you two things: (1) that I don’t pay close attention to my finances, and (2) that Cingular has so confused its customers (of which I believe I am a prototypical example) that customers are paying or not paying a bevy of bills hoping to find some sort of normal rhythm to their mobile phone expenses. In the past three months, my mobile phone costs have soared, and I’d need to be a forensic accountant to understand what I’m supposed to be paying, to whom, and for what.
With a little luck, my story won’t get worse, and in some perverse way, I’m glad I’m not alone. Listen to what DEMOletter readers have shared in the past few weeks:
“Cingular has made it difficult to remain a customer,” writes Nelson Lewis. “Cingular’s pompous arrogance has made a compelling offer to move to T-Mobile . . . Rather than ‘Rollover’ for Cingular, it’s ‘Allover.'”
“Cingular customer service really got me PO’d this morning,” writes Arthur Rosenthal. “I called to add extra minutes, which I had been easily able to do as an AT&T customer, but as a Cingular customer any small change I make to my account triggers my having to agree to a new 2-year contract…”
In response, Jason (last name not given), an authorized Cingular Agent, replied: “I don’t know who you talked with, but you DO NOT have to sign a new 1-year or 2-year contract for any changes . . . The only time you sign a new contract is when you get a new phone. And because ALL wireless phones are locked to their particular carrier, AT&T customers that do migrate to Cingular have to purchase new phones unless they are able to unlock their AT&T phones.”
OK, let’s stop there a minute. Jason is a rare Cingular agent. I was told by my AT&T/Cingular customer service agent that I could only upgrade my plan if I moved to Cingular. And don’t get me started on the locked phones issue. It’s a terrible, anti-competitive, anti-consumer practice that needs to stop. You can do your part. Search for “mobile phone unlocking codes” and Google will deliver dozens of sites that will provide you with unlocking codes and/or instructions. I unlocked my Nokia phone a year ago, and swap out SIM cards when I travel in Europe. It’s a fraction of the cost of roaming charges. In theory, you could be a customer of multiple U.S. carriers using an unlocked phone, so you can take advantage of better coverage or services depending on your travels and needs.
Back to Jason and our other readers.
Writes Dan, “A friend had recently switched to Cingular and got a bill for an activation/canceling with AT&T. He wasn’t going to question it and pay! I called Cingular for him and worked it out, no charges at all.”
Dan, would you mind calling Cingular for me? Seriously, I suspect the assessment of “migration” fees shrouded in so much confusion is going to lead to a class-action lawsuit against Cingular by former AT&T customers who were led to believe they had no choice but to move to Cingular.
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