Thursday, June 19, 2008

Making a Dint in the System

(Note: I swear to you everything in this post is true and unexagerated, unlike some posts of mine.)

While I was trying to get my old phone disconnected, (a company un-named but sounding like a Beery Arising) I found that the carrier’s oh-so-educated voice machine apparently doesn’t understand the word “no” -- something which I had long suspected. It must be easy to drop a word or two from a computer’s vocabulary, but it was still amusing -- in a nail-biting way -- to hear the pleasant female voice respond, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your last statement” after I’d answered, “No” to one of her questions. And of course, the five humans that they have left in place to handle the 756 calls-per-hour from the customer service line were all busy helping other customers -- and probably calling 911 for those customers, because if they had actually held on long enough to reach a real human being, they were either dead, unconscious or totally insane.

And that is not even as hairy as my encounters with my cell phone company -- again, unnamed but with a dint of a hint, you might catch a glint of the company I’m thinking of -- this one had been mailing my bills to an address two back, over a year old, and no amount of writing on the bill (when it eventually got to me) helped. In a Kafka-esque evening a month ago, I began to find out why. Several weeks before that I had, in fear that my credit might suffer because I wasn’t getting the bills in time to pay them, attempted to mail a check to the company with an old bill stub. I had called and asked the customer service rep for an address and she gave me one in Kansas City (after about 22 minutes wait-time… I sorted old bills, first alphabetically and then by amount, while I waited). So I was stunned when it came back in 10 days with a “Post Office Box Closed” note… so the company had moved without telling the service reps? Of course, mail to India is slow…

So then I decided to try to pay online, as they encourage us to do. I tried to create a new account, gave them all my information, created a user name and a password (stupid1, if you want to know) and then they wanted a PIN number, too, with its own password (If someone catches me wandering down the street, mumbling, “susie345, 9845, catbill89” you will know that I have reached the limit of internal memory and am chasing through alternate realities after my PIN numbers). I tried to create a PIN, but my address didn’t match the one they had for me (imagine that!) and so they asked me a series of questions to be sure I was me… the problem was, they were multiple choice questions: you could select only one of four, and their question was “which of these addresses didn’t you live at?” -- and of course, they had listed 3 of those and only one that I had lived at! So I couldn’t answer correctly, and therefore they said they’d have to do more research and get back to me.

But I could still sign on, using the new user name and password (we are now at another 30 minutes, if you’re timing it). There was one glitch -- because I didn’t do a PIN, they needed to text message the validation code to my phone. I was to type it in and proceed. Anyone want to guess the punchline? No text message -- not then, not anytime during the weekend when I tried again and again… But just at that point, I gave up and searched the bill for a phone number to call, to pay up… and when I dialed the 800 number, the message told me the paying procedure had changed and I had to call another (non-toll free) number or use the *3 function on my cell phone. I didn’t want to use up all my monthly minutes on hold for a bloody representative, so I gave up completely. I wanted nothing more than to pitch the phone through the window, but I know that anyone who stole it would also be so good at hacking that they’d get through where I failed, and that would be humiliating.

Then, out of the blue, a company salesman called me -- all unsuspecting -- to tell me that I wasn’t using enough of my cell phone minutes (and he called me during prime time, to make sure I wasted some on him) and that I qualified for a brand new phone -- he got no further, swept away in a tsunami of invective from my last nerve being stepped on. I really should have saved my breath; English was his second (possibly third) language and he likely understood only a quarter of what I was yelling. When I paused for breath, he jumped in and assured me that he could take care of changing my address for me. I huffily agreed, and spent the next ten minutes trying to get him to repeat a correct address back to me. When that was done, and he said he’d submit it and it would change “sometime in the next week”, he insisted on setting up my PIN number (remember that failed attempt?). At that point, I baulked, saying because he’d called me, I didn’t really know who he was… eventually, I gave in and gave him a number -- then he said he had to ask a challenge question: “What is your favorite hobby?” “Yelling at phone salesmen,” I answered before I could stop myself. It took him a moment, but then he chuckled weakly. Anyway, to shorten this (and it was a long phone call), he took the info, wisely did not try to give away that “free phone”, and hung up. Three minutes later, he called back -- to tell me that the address change was in, but I had to call *2 on my cell “before tomorrow, in order to verify it”… so who had I been talking to?? My last nerve was throbbing, so I waited until after the “unlimited night minutes” had kicked in before calling.

I finally got through to a person, a young thing called Jasmine who spoke so fast and mumbled so badly that I had to get her to repeat just about every sentence. I tried to explain why I was calling, but it sounded lame and a bit delusional even to me. She resorted to the time-honored rep response, “May I please have your account number?” Perhaps she was expecting to find a red flag and the cause of my insanity in the files. Eventually, we got to my address -- and sure enough, it was the same old, two-back address! So much for whoever I’d been speaking with! Grimly, I held on the phone, trying to wash dishes with one hand as Jasmine pecked and poked the keyboard -- it literally took her 11 minutes to type in my two-line address! And then another five minutes after it occurred to her that I might want a current bill… and then, just as she was about to hang up, I heard her gasp, “Oh no!” -- the address had reverted to the old address in front of her eyes!!

So I guess I had to take back all the curses I’d landed on the hapless clerks -- that was one sick computer system! She first wanted to put me on hold for tech support, but I pointed out that it was her computer, not mine, that was sick; then she put me on hold while she sat on hold for tech support -- and sometime after five minutes, the line went dead… oh, well…

This had finally gotten to the YouTube stage. Since I couldn’t videotape some idiot serviceperson, I wrote a letter to the CEO of this cell phone company, highlighting my recent experience. And since I’m experienced at CEO letters, I also send a copy to the head of technical research at Consumer Reports -- I thought he’d be amused. I was gratified to receive a phone call just five days after I’d mailed the letter -- from the CEO’s “assistant”, a polite young woman who assured me they wanted my business and asked me if my problem had been resolved. Of course not, I said, but I found it amusing to give her the excrutiating details of her sick computer system.

She found my record, verified that the old address was still firmly entrenched, and proceeded to change it -- she thought. Back it sprung, as I surmised from hearing her gasp. Try again -- at least she could type well -- it only took her seconds. Nope - she gasped again, and groaned. Then she said she would definitely report this to tech services - then a whoop! as she got it to take hold. She was so proud, and I shook my head -- it had only taken about a hour and a half so far to change my address -- no, make that three or four hours, if you count all the extra work I’d done when I wasn’t on the phone or online with them.

Then she just wouldn’t rest on her laurels -- she wanted to prove to me that the PIN number had also been set up… so I got online. No PIN number… it still wanted that d*mn validation code that it wasn’t text messaging to me. She gave me a number to enter. I did -- the screen rejected it. She gave me another number. The screen rejected it and insisted I exit my browser and start again from scratch! I did that, and she gave me a third number - the system bounced me back to the home page. She told me to enter my username and password a fourth time -- and finally the system recognized me!

Now… was that so hard?? Isn’t that an improvement over the old days, when we mailed a check or paid the phone bill at the counter of the local pharmacy?? No? I don’t think so either… but I’m glad at least that CEOs still know how to read… and delegate.

If we ever wonder why time is going so fast these days, we might want to add up the number of minutes (hours, weeks...) that we spend trying to get our high-speed connection devices to connect to anything useful! Oh, and by the way… I have now forgotten that online password, and still am paying my bills by mail.

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