#41 Why Oh Why Did You Go Away? (2000)

All Rights Reserved © 2000 Thomas W. Day


was recently offered the opportunity to try out a new telephone service. The old one, U S West, was expensive, featureless, and about as friendly as Doc Holiday a day away from his last glass of whiskey. The new one, Media One, is very personal, easy to contact, and actually sent an installation guy to do the changeover at a time that didn't require me to take a day off work. Imagine that! The new service gave me every feature available from my old telephone company for the same money as adding a single one of these features would have cost from U S West. To get every feature from Caller ID to Auto-Redial to an improved Internet connection to VoiceMail, I spent about $4 over the old basic phone bill. I doubt that I'll use half of the stuff that's on my phone now, but 21 features for $4 seemed like a reasonable deal. Add all that to getting to speak to a real person when I call for information and a the very informative and conscientious guys who have been out to do installation work on two different systems, and it was a no-brainer for me. Goodbye U S West!

A solid month after I dumped U S West, I got a form letter from their Customer Service Center. "We want to understand why you no longer have U S West service. If this service was terminate without your knowledge . . . If you did choose to leave U S West, and your decision was based on a problem you may have experienced, we would like the opportunity to regain your trust and your business . . . We also recognize there's competition for your business. We welcome this competition . . . Sometimes customers switch companies for what may seem like a 'better deal' at the time, only to be disappointed later . . . You are important to us. Please call . . . After a century of service, your satisfaction is still our number one goal." And so on.

What the heck? I had a bad day at work. I needed a good laugh, so I called their 800 number.

First attempt, "We're sorry. This number has been disconnected. Please check your number and try again. If you believe . . ." I hit redial and got through the second time.

"Welcome to U S West . . . (yada yada yada "you can go to our website" etc.) In order to assist you, you will be required to enter your telephone number . . . " Forty-seven pointless key entries later, I remembered why I hated calling U S West for anything.

Once, during a thunderstorm when my phone line went dead, I called them from a payphone to get the repair process started. Since I wasn't calling from the phone number I was trying to get repaired, the freakin' system refused to accept my repair request information. I discovered that, if you ignore the automaton voice long enough, you'll get a "customer service person." Soaked to the bone and on my last quarter, I got the same routine from the live person (if he really was living) that the brainless automated system had given me. "Sorry sir, but we can not take a repair order for a residential telephone from a number not listed to that customer." WHAAATTTT? If it was freakin' working, why would I call to get it fixed? And so on.

Back to my hopeless attempt at providing U S West with a bit of "why I'm leavin' you" feedback. I remembered that, if you ignore all of the automated instructions and pretend you still use a rotary phone, there are one or two living voices that may lower themselves to answering a customer service call. "All our representatives are busy right now. Your expected wait will be approximately 18 minutes." Intermittently, I am informed that the robot voice is "sorry you're having to wait so long. Your call is very important to us." (Who is "us?" The Borg? Obviously, no human cares about how long I'm waiting.)

Fortunately, I have a hands-free phone and it's an 800 number and I'd rather tie up my phone line than take a chance on getting an incoming call from a telephone solicitor or some jerk who wants to shame my wife into paying her credit card bill. So I left the phone on hold and went off to start dinner.

Twenty-four minutes later, pass through my office and a voice is calling. "Is anyone there? Hello?" I talk to Leo. Leo is a very nice person who has not been told that he would be getting this sort of call. But he made a stab at shipping my call to another department, the Product Service Center.

I'm back on hold with a new automated voice. This time the Borg Lady doesn't bother to tell me how long I'll be on hold.

I'm guessing for the entertainment value, the Product Service Center Borg Lady quotes U S West's prices for all of the new features I'm now getting from Media One. Adding them up in my head, it sounds to me like my $4 worth of Media One features will cost about $60 from U S West. What can a Product Service Center person do to knock $60 down to $4? This ought to be interesting. Still, the Borg Lady chants, intermittently, about how important I am to U S West and that someone will answer my call if I live long enough.

I smell food burning.

Twenty-eight minutes into this game, I decide it's less entertaining that I'd hoped it might be. I want to finish dinner, watch a basketball game, and write this Rat Rant. I will never know what U S West would say to bring me back "home." I bet the Product Service Center person would have told me how they'd like to be as customer friendly as Media One, but they just don't have the money, technical capacity, or the management willpower. Sort of like Lilly Tomlin's old "because we're the telephone company," except they don't have anything to threaten me with because I'm no longer their customer.

I wonder how long it will be before Media One starts hiring U S West's out-of-work executives and it becomes impossible to remember why I bothered to change telephone companies? I'm going to ship this one and put it in the archives so we can accurately measure the "time to mediocrity."

April 2000

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