(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)
We love to hate the people that provide the services we need. Over the years, it seems like every single time I have to deal with, say....cable that doesn't work properly, dodgy electricity, insane phone bills that make no sense... no. A comprehensive list would only serve to piss me off again, and I'm actually in a pretty good mood, all things considered.
Here's one of my main peeves. Have you ever noticed companies like the cable company or your cell phone provider has a sweetheart of a promotional deal for new subscribers about four times a year? This irritates the hell out of me. After all, here I am, a loyal customer for ten years or so, and I GET NO BREAKS.
Sign up for the new texting plan.... get unlimited free texting for six months! WTF? How about cable television? Sure, they advertise the premium movie channels for a ridiculously cheap price for NEW SUBSCRIBERS only and we longstanding customers get hosed, right? Sigh. We have to pay full price and beyond for the service that others are getting for free, and there's nothing we can do about it!
Or is there?
For years, these companies have been shunting customers off onto web sites in an effort to cut down on the number of humans they have to pay and provide with benefits. For the most part, I have no trouble with this. As someone who has moved a lot, it's convenient as hell to just go online to cancel service and reinstate it somewhere else. I like it.
But there are always questions that just can't be answered by the machines. You have to PHONE for help. This is where I go bananas. In the past, I would sit on hold (I know you've all done this, bear with me), push buttons for half an hour, finally get a call center person who couldn't do anything that wasn't already online, and would therefore transfer your call and hang up on you without getting through to another person. Start over. Repeat as necessary. The whole process (IF you got help) would take hours, suck up half the day and leave me limp and exhausted, fit only for a stiff drink and a long nap.
Still - what choice did I have? It's not like you can just refuse to pay your bill until the problem is fixed, right?
I think things are changing, though. Clearly I'm not the only one that has problems with this nonsense. I've complained all over the place, and it seems that so have a whole LOT of other people. So much so that I've been pleasantly surprised not once, but TWICE in the last month.
Ready? I'm still reeling. This was too easy!
1. About two weeks ago, I got my cell phone bill and it was insane. Never mind how insane. Just nucking futz. It was bad. I figured there HAD to be a better way, so I bit the bullet and called AT&T.
A nice young lad answered the phone. I told him about the insanity of my bill, he called it up and said, "Wait a minute (clickety click)..... do you NEED two thousand free texts every month?"
"Heck no!" I responded, "How did THAT get there? I don't use more than a hundred or so a month and it's not listed on the bill!"
"Hang on (silence, followed by clickety click) I can reduce your bill by thirty bucks a month just by cutting your texting limit in half.... (silence, followed by MORE clickety click)...Ok. Wait a minute. Ok..... Wow.... (silence) hang on here... You're paying WAY too much for roaming! Let me just...."
Now at the time, all I did was make affirmative noises and hope he was getting this right. I figured he was on a roll. I was right. By the end of the call, he had cut my bill by just over fifty bucks by changing the texting thing (I have 7 gazillion unused minutes, by the way, and he let me keep them), and giving me a discount that I should have been getting all along for roaming. I was shocked....
"Ma'am, could you hold for just a minute, please? I have to talk to a supervisor about something."
I agreed, and about three or four minutes later, he came back on the line.
"Thank you for holding. Here's what I did. You get your discounts, and we are back-dating them for six months because of the error with the roaming charges. Your next bill will be around ten dollars, and the discounts will all be applied for the one after that."
I thanked him, he gave me the stock canned answer (Is there any other way we can provide you with excellent service today?) We hung up. I was in shock. It had to be a freak thing, right? I mean, no one gets a deal from the phone company!
2. A few months ago, The Boy suggested that I cut HBO. We don't watch a lot of television, and most of it is time-shifted anyway because he's away all week. We watch whatever we watch on weekends and there's only so much time available. I did it. I must have been nuts. I missed the entire season of TWO of my favorite shows. So today, I just thought screw it. I'm reinstating HBO.
Now, there was no easy way to do that on the web site. I puttered around on it for twenty minutes or so, then gritted my teeth and called them. I did the menu thing. I groaned when I realized that I started this whole sleigh ride just before I meant to have lunch and would probably be starving to death by the time I finally finished. I sighed.
But...but.... There was NO HOLD TIME. You heard right! Comcast - the former call center from hell had someone answer the phone right away! The cynic in my was convinced that it would just be someone who would redirect my call.....but no. No, she didn't!
She reinstated HBO for me, then told me to hang on. When she came back, she said, "Aunt Messy? I just checked to see if you were eligible for any discounts, and I see that we can offer you HBO for ten dollars a month for the next six months."
She asked me to hold again and came back in a minute or so.
"Ma'am? I asked my supervisor if there was anything else I could do for you and she has authorized me to give you the promotional rate on your Internet service for six months as well. Sorry I couldn't find anything else."
Again, there I was, shocked at how easy this was. My cable bill has dropped by $45.00 for the next six months!
Is there a moral here? Yes. As much as these companies hope and dream that all of their customers will just do business online, it's not going to happen. Seriously - I have Comcast internet, so just how am I supposed to deal with a problem if it craps out? Exactly. They will ALL need to have people available to actually talk to customers.
Now note that not a single discount that I got was available online. How's that for a kicker? By spending about an hour on the phone, I cut about $90.00 per month off my bills for the next six months! There is no down side here. Sure, the bills will go up at the end of that period, but who cares? It's not like they're going to ask for my savings back, is it?
After the six months has passed, I'm calling them back. If the only way I can qualify for loyalty programs and discounts is to be nice to a call center kid twice a year I am all over that. It costs me nothing to do that at all. In fact, I suggest that all of you try the very same thing. You have nothing to lose, right?