Complaining about your cell phone service has become a running bit in the mobile era. Dropped calls. 4G access. Unlimited data. Early termination. They’ve all become punchlines everywhere from internet message boards to the old water cooler. I’ve always smiled and nodded when folks climbed up on their soapbox. Inside, however, I was hiding a dirty little secret.
You see, until a few days ago, I never had any problems with my cell provider. I know, crazy right? Over a decade carrying and not a complaint. Good service. Rarely dropped a call. I’ve been grandfathered into the same great rate plan for years. I haven’t complained because, quite simply, I’ve had nothing to complain about.
On Sunday Night, my cellphone, which I’ve mentioned my passion for before, turned into a glorified MP3 player. It did all of the things that a cellphone is supposed to do with only two SUPER minor exceptions – no phone calls and no text messages. Yep, I went into forced radio silence. Nothing. No 4G. No 3G. No G of any sort. A very shiny brick that I’m paying for daily.
Giving AT&T the benefit of the doubt since we haven’t had a service interruption in close a decade, I went to bed with the assumption that all would be right with the world by Monday morning. How wrong I was.
Because I can’t phone out for obvious reasons, I was forced instead to go the “Online Chat” route for Customer Service. The first interaction lasted close to two hours and featured a lot of powering down, changing settings and getting closer to windows, At about the 119 minute mark, the tech tells me “Oh… I just saw a map and there is a problem with your local tower. It’s being worked on.”
Again, trying to be a good customer, I remind myself that we’ve had a good 10 year run, so they deserve time to fix the issue. My daughter was traveling to a Junior High Workshop that evening with her choir, so being able to be reached in an emergency was obviously important, but I couldn’t fix the issue myself. So I remained patient with the Rep and thanked them for their time despite wondering why they hadn’t checked this mysterious all-knowing map earlier.
Tuesday morning comes and still not a G to be found. We had since heard from some local friends who lived nearby complaining of the exact same issue. It was strangely comforting to know that it wasn’t just us. Sorry about your luck, Friends, but at least we’re not Patient Zero. I reached out to AT&T on Tuesday and this time opened with, “I spoke with someone at length yesterday and their map said we were out and being serviced. Could you check that map again for an update?”
“Sir, I’m looking at the map and you should be fine.”
“Well, I’m not. So, does the map say it was repaired?”
“No, Sir, the map lists perfect conditions for months. No repairs. No issues.”
Growing increasingly frustrated, I explained the information I received yesterday and my confusion over the inconsistent responses. I was told that my frustration was understood, they apologized, and proceeded to spend another 50 minutes in a weird tango of reboots and “can you hear me now?” moments. That’s when it happened.
“Sir, I’m looking at a different map and now I’m seeing the issue. It should be resolved as soon as possible.”
“Wait… how is there another map? You have multiple resources to check and they can have conflicting information? Why would you have that?”
“Sir, we just use the resources that we have.”
“Yeah, but that’s horrible business. Why would you have multiple resources? I understand having redundancies in your system, but shouldn’t they provide common information? How do you know which one to trust?”
“Sir, we’re sorry for the inconvenience that this has caused you,” is the last message I receive before “she” disconnects from the chat.
It had become clear that no satisfaction would be found with the support line unless I came armed with more information. So, to prove it was their signal changing and not my device, I drove. And I drove. I marked exactly where I was when service was restored and where I was when I lost it again. There was about a 3 mile radius circle around my house where the network was not available. I knew exactly where I could drive to get it back. I knew exactly where to drive to lose it again.
I reached out again today.
I opened with all of the information from the previous three hours worth of conversations, laid out all of the data that I had gathered about the signal and plead with them to please not troubleshoot my phone because it wasn’t my phone and if they needed proof I had it in the form of the other two phones that were having the same issue.
“Sir, I’m not showing any previous interactions with AT&T about an issue. Furthermore, I show no outages. We have many customers and that area an not a single complaint.”
That’s when the pissing match started – me versus whoever person was on the other side of the conversation.
Everything I mentioned, I was assured that I was mistaken because no one else had complained. Every counterpoint I made was greeted with a dismissive “my system shows no issues.” Though I was continually assured that my time was valuable to them and that they understood my frustration, I was banging my head against a brick wall that companies intentionally build to defeat you.
It’s like a hostage negotiation.
They have all day… they’ll wait you out.
After spending 90 minutes dining on a breakfast of condescending “help”, we parted ways with a case number, a reminder that no one else had complained, a pat on the head and a “promise” to look at the issue in the next 72 hours. I’m not holding my breath.
In all of my frustration, I kept asking myself “why”.
Why would they do business this way?
Why would they have such an inefficient system?
Why do they tell you it will be fixed soon when they don’t know what’s wrong?
Why would it take me attempts at resolution to even get a case number?
Why do I get the same scripted answers over and over again?
Why do they intentionally put up walls between their customer and answers?
Why? Why? Why?
Well… why do we do it to ourselves?
What I realized through all of this is that it’s not my phone being out of service that is bothering me… it’s me being out of control. I want answers. I want explanations. I want to know what’s going on. I deserve it.
I mean, sure, I’m the customer. I’m paying for a service. But, sometimes you just don’t get all of the answers at the moment you need them. Sure you can jump up and down and scream like a wild person, but does THAT get you the control back?
Conceding control is hard. But, so is banging your head against a wall.
Are there things in your life that you’re trying too hard to control?