Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dear AT&T: Please tell me your phone number...

This goes out to all the businesses who send out emails telling people to contact them through their Web site. If you have a telephone number that your customers may use to reach you, include it in your emails. That's not a request. It's a demand from someone who, as one former employer told me (and anyone who asked him for a reference), "has no tolerance for idiots and fools".

You see, a while back I was walking down the yellow brick road ....

Wait, wrong movie.

Okay, I'm an AT&T customer. I signed up with SBC before they rejoined the AT&T family of phone companies (I feel like I've come full circle, but AT&T isn't as consumer friendly as it was before the breakup, in my opinion).

I don't actually use my land line for anything but DSL access. On a good month, I remember to pay the bill. Occasionally I've paid the bill late because I get busy and forget. Paying bills online is easy and convenient and I love the concept, but now that many of my vendors make it possible for me to stop killing trees by going with email-notices only, I do the green thing and ask to have my paper bills stopped wherever possible.

And I turn off the ringers on my house telephones because I only use my land line for DSL access (besides which, I'm embarrassed about losing the Nielsen TV diary before I could mail it back). I'm so afraid that Nielsen is going to call, asking for their dollar back. After all, I didn't really earn it. And I feel personally responsible for the failure of Stargate-SG1 because it was to be one of the only three shows I would have put in the diary. But I digress....

So, the ringers are turned off. If there are any bill-collectors trying to reach me, my voicemail box may be full (I'm not sure if I have voicemail for the land line -- I went with the cheapest option possible). If AT&T had tried to call me to ask where their payment was, I never got the call.

So I was sitting here a while ago, thinking, "I need to do some research for this contract I have to finish up this week" and decided to go back to Google for a moment (not that I don't use other search engines, but this contract requires Google research). At the same time, I was struggling to heat up a frozen meat loaf a very wonderful, gracious friend made for me so I could have a protein-laden lunch. I love meat loaf. I grew up on it. It's the food that is nearest and dearest to my heart. After white cheese dip....And Three Musketeers Bars. But I digress....

The meat loaf was fighting me, steadfastly remaining frozen. I know you're not supposed to turn the oven way up high when you reheat a frozen meal, but I wasn't sure how low I could go without growing old and dying of starvation. So, as I worried about the meat loaf, I tried to log onto Google.

Nothing happened.

"Hm," I thought. "Maybe I can get by with a little search on Yahoo! after all."

Nothing happened.

With a sudden, sinking feeling I jumped up and rushed over to a land line (well, actually, I let the cool little SBC Self Help Tool start up and tell me to check for a dial tone). No dial tone. Maybe the wire was loose. Nope. Phones were properly hung up, too. Ohmygodiforgottopaythephonebill!

I looked in my email but there were no desperate pleas for cash to save the poor investors in one of America's largest companies. And that is where things went sour.

I don't know my own phone number. I never use it. I never give it out. How do you call up customer service and ask for help with your phone line if you don't know your phone number? So I frantically rooted through all the paper bills that have been piling up (I tend to not open my mail since I pay most bills online). I couldn't find a phone bill. Oh, yes. AT&T is green. They love trees (or maybe they just want to save the trees for more telephone poles -- I don't know). I don't get paper phone bills any more.

But maybe they can look me up by social security number or something. I thought, "Hm. That might work." So I opened up one of my emails to look for their customer service phone number.

Only they don't have the intelligence to include their phone number in their email. They tell you to go to their Web site.

"Hey, dudes at AT&T. I have no phone service, so my DSL is out! How am I supposed to go to your Web site?"

So I ran around the place looking for a phone bill. Couldn't find one. Eventually it dawned upon me that I have stacked my laundry detergent upon those door-stops the phone companies send to me every few months: telephone books (thank God for Switchboard and Smart Pages because I wouldn't know how to use a phone book if my DSL service depended on it).

After some frenzied fumbling and not-quite-so-righteous commentary on how stupid it is not to put your customer service numbers on the front cover of the directory (wait, did I look there?), I found the phone number on page 3 or something. Breathing heavy sighs of relief I dialed the number and got the automated login system.

"Just enter your telephone number...."

But I don't know my telephone number. So I spent 3 minutes (while my meat loaf finally started to juice up in the oven -- mmmm) asking the automated system to give me access to a real live person. Finally, it decided without my help that maybe I needed to speak to a real live person. So while I waited, I found an early snail mail from SBC from right after I started my service. Never opened it up. Yes, it had my phone number.

Naturally, as I celebrated the fact that I now know my phone number, the customer service rep I no longer needed came on the line. "Thank you for calling AT&T. May I have your phone number, please, and how may I help you?"

So I gave her my phone number and explained that I forgot to pay my phone bill.

"I'm seeing that you're paid up, Mr. Martinez."

"I am?"

"Yes, sir. You last paid your bill on XXXX and you're current with us."

"But my phone service was disconnected..." I whimpered.

"Are you sure?"

So I did the amazingly natural thing and picked up the handset to prove it to her. And there was that old familiar dial tone (BTW -- I was using my cell phone to make this call, in case that isn't apparent).

Boydidifeelstupid. Thanking the lady for her time and wishing her a happy life, I got off the line after a little more nervous chit chat. I forgot to pass on one request, though: please tell the bosses to include your telephone number in your emails.

Ah, well. At least now I can go online again. And while some people may say I could just drive down to an Internet cafe to sign on to their site and pay my bill, the only former such business in my area that I know of now has a sign that says something about erotic stuff. I could get into serious trouble if I walk into that place.

At least the meat loaf tastes good. Mmmm....


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