I understand that many people have struggles with phone companies. The various plans are complicated and the companies make it difficult to make transitions when the company will lose out on revenue. Phone companies and used car businesses are not good cases for the benefits of free enterprise systems.
My skepticism aside why is it that technology companies are so inept at taking advantage of technology. Why is record keeping and digital communication ignored as a way to better serve customers?
Here is an account of our recent struggles with AT&T. We are on the road for a couple of weeks touring the northeast U.S. We decided to drive through our destination through Canada. I am teaching at present and online communication with my students is important. We realized that the 4-5 days in Canada would be a challenge. However, just before we left we heard that AT&T was now allowing customers traveling to Mexico and Canada to use their US data in these countries. We have a 30-gigabyte monthly plan allowing up to 15 gigabytes to be rolled over from month to month. The only times we use anywhere close to this much data is when we travel. Anyway, Cindy called and talked to an AT&T rep and asked about our situation and we were assured that we would be fine and need not worry about data use.
As soon as we crossed into Canada we started getting messages warning that international rates would apply to any use of our phones. Cindy immediately called again to ask about these warnings. She was then told that while our plan was substantial it was not unlimited and that the deal applied to unlimited plans. Cindy has been through these issues so many times. She patiently explained that the unlimited plan was not particularly useful because unlimited does not allow tethering. We need to tether computers and iPads so we purchased a large plan that allows tethering. In addition, we had purchased a UNITE (a mifi) as a third line to make tethering easier. So, we were paying an additional fee beyond the cost of our data so we can tether through wifi instead of our phones.
This conversation went on for 45 minutes. Finally, there works out some deal which provided us with 4 gigabytes of international data and switched our plan from 30 to 15 gigabytes as a way to save money. She was told you are allowed to upgrade on a month by month basis so we could change back to a larger plan in a month we knew we would use more data. Cindy then patiently went through her understanding – here are the three numbers from which we will access data, here is the amount of international data we can use, here is the time frame within which we can use this amount of data. We were told to ignore the warnings as the warnings would not keep up with the changes. She was assured that all of these commitments were entered as notes into our account.
Next day we continued to get warnings and it was indicated we had spent $500 in charges. Even without the expectations that had been established, this amount of money seems beyond belief. We had used all three devices, but the amount of data was very small – far less than a gigabyte.
So, Cindy calls AT&T again. The expectations we had were not allowed. The plan proposed to us was not an option AT&T allowed. I am still assuming that the charges have been dropped (after acknowledging that the amount of data used was very small). We will have to wait and see.
Here are some observations (this situation seems similar to an experience we had with Verizon).
- The representatives you contact may appear informed, but may actually be unfamiliar with the options that the companies actually provides. What you are told may not be accurate. I cannot say if this reflects a lack of training or something more sinister. What I can say after sitting in the car and listening to several hours of conversations is that what Cindy described to the representatives was very precise (she knows both the technology and our uses very well) and should have resulted in a negative response from the company representative should her understanding not have been accurate. She had three separate conversations with three separate representatives all of whom had access to all of our stored information and a clear description of the issue in question. Each appeared to understand AT&Ts plans in different ways.
- Do not assume that an accurate or complete representation of any discussion you have with a representative will be recorded “in the notes”. Comments associated with your call may not exist or be incomplete even when you ask that specific information be recorded.
- Do not assume that a representative will send you “the notes” in your record, identify himself or herself in a way that is useful in future conversations with other reps, or will send you anything useful related to your interaction as a text or email.
Phone companies have great opportunities for record keeping – your phone number (phone or device) is unique, is known to the representatives and is used to tag interactions and information. Customers should have personal access to any notes claimed to reflect the issues and disposition of any interactions with the company. Entries in this record should identify all parties involved as a way to establish accountability. You should be entitled to the identity of anyone “helping” you. Your identity is known to the representatives. Why not record the audio from interactions with customers and link this file to the notes associated with a customer account?
The use of technology as a way make agreements concrete seems such a simple thing to do. The financial advantage to technology companies for being unsophisticated and unresponsive should not be tolerated.