Cingular customer service

September 15, 2005

This is one of those blog entries where I actually take a company to task for being so incredibly bad at customer service that it enters the realm of the absurd. Cingular is one of those companies.

In fact, Cingular now holds a place of honor in the pantheon of bad customer service.

Yes, Cingular customer services sucks. (just in case any search engines have failed to pick up the topic here, I will repeat “Cingular customer services sucks).

The story is actually too long and convoluted to describe here, so I will just give you a quick summary.

How Cingular customer service sucks:

  • Cingular sends me, a happy AT&T Wireless customer, a piece of direct mail encouraging me to switch my plan to the Cingular network now that the acquisition is done. This is good for Cingular since they have way too many customer databases they are trying to maintain (I know this because I used to deal with both Cingular and AT&T Wireless as customers). This is good for me because they are offering a good rate deal and some free phones.
  • I call Cingular and discuss making the transition. This is the first of many many conversations I will have with these people. I try to explain to them how I want my AT&T plan transitioned and what I want in my Cingular plan. They don’t get it. (I have a very customized AT&T plan dating back to the first introduction of the GSM system and the fact that I use a lot of data and regularly made AT&T give me better deals).
  • After considerable conversation, they say “done! your new phones will arrive soon and you are now part of the happy Cingular family of customers. have a nice day and thank you for calling Cingular Wireless.”
  • I check the next day on their handy online system to see when my phones will ship to me (I am eager to get some new phones). The handy online system tells me the order has been cancelled and will not be shipping. I am puzzled. Instead of doing something useful with my time, I call Cingular again.
  • The new service rep says “hmmm, don’t know how that could happen. Let me check.” And he checks and checks (I am on hold a lot.). He finds whatever was causing the problem and says “All fixed.”
  • I check the next day on their handy online system to see when my phones will ship to me (I am eager to get some new phones). The handy online system tells me the order has been cancelled and will not be shipping. I am puzzled. Instead of doing something useful with my time, I call Cingular again. (sound familiar?)
  • Seems that my order did not go through right, says the rep. I am now frustrated. I begin to pressure him with the fact that I am a great customer and have been for many years with AT&T. I don’t want to move to Cingular system anymore, I want to stay where I am. Plus, I want some new phones.
  • We chat for a long time and get me back onto the AT&T system, but with the better rates of the Cingular plan. Since the phones they offered me to switch can not be used on the AT&T network, I have to choose from some others. I look at the list and say something like “sucky”.
  • Meanwhile, I am looking through the discount offers my company gets for employees (we are a very big technology company and score great discounts). Seems that T-Mobile is offering a better plan than Cingular and will give me a Motorola RAZR for $49 with a contract. Cingular wants me to pay $149 (with their “best” discount). Hmmmm
  • I now start pressuring the rep with this info and tell him I want Cingular to give me a RAZR (two actually, since this is for both me and my wife) for $49. He laughs. I tell him I am flipping to T-Mobile and will file a complaint through our corporate rep about the trouble Cingular has already cost me. I pressure and he puts me on hold.
  • “Oh boy, we can offer you the RAZR at $49” says my Cingular rep. In fact, with the additional discount I get through my company plan it ends up being about $44. He can’t believe he is able to do this, but so he is. I say “sold” and my account is now all set-up and two RAZRs are on their way.
  • All is right, a RAZR arrives in a couple of days. Where is the other one?
  • Oh, another box a couple of days later! Must be the RAZR! Open the box…
  • Inside are the two phones I ordered twice and cancelled twice as discussed above. That’s right kids, Cingular decided to send them to me anyway.
  • And, the other RAZR arrives a few days later.
  • I now have four phones.
  • I call my friends at Cingular again.
  • They are puzzled, to say the least. But, he swears all will be well and he will send me some return labels and I can send the phones back.
  • I get said labels and send phones back. Meanwhile, my wife and I are enjoying our $44 RAZRs.
  • Things are now good and settled and I can forget about Cingular.
  • A few weeks later a bill arrives. From Cingular. For the two phones I did not want, were cancelled twice, and were returned after receiving.
  • I call Cingular. I know the music by heart. My heart aches.
  • Oh well, says the first rep. Can’t help me with this, have to call credit department to get the bill put on hold pending investigation. She gives me the number (why they can’t simply transfer me I will never know). I call the credit folks.
  • The nice lady in credit says “oh no, I can’t help you. You should call customer service at this number (number I dialed in bullet point above). I am really angry now. Really.
  • I call customer service again. I explain again and again. The friendly Cingular rep has to hunt and find out what has happened. He has to call warehouses and other people and maybe even check with FEMA (early warning that they are not in good shape). Finally, they find that my phones are in a warehouse and once they are “processed” (which takes 2 weeks, god only knows why) then my account will be credited. I add one more tracking number and rep name to my long long list.
  • I am at ease. All is right.
  • Until another bill arrives telling me my payment for the phones I did not want and do not have is now overdue and I will have my account cancelled and be charged a $35 re-activation fee if I do not pay immediately.
  • Yes, this is for phones I do not have for an account that does not exist.
  • I am really really a glutton for punishment. I call Cingular. The friendly rep essentially has to go through the entire process the previous rep went through — finding the phones in a warehouse, talking to other reps, calling FEMA — and we spend a pleasant 45 minutes together. Finally, he assures me that the account I do not want using the phones I do not have is cancelled and I should not worry about the bill.
  • That was this morning. How long before I am billed again?

The total amount of time spent in the pursuit of phones and non-phones is in excess of 6 hours. Fortunately I make the calls while doing email in my office in the morning. I am on hold most of the time anyway. I can’t really work without those Cingular ads playing in the background anymore.

No single individual at Cingular did anything bad. They just never did anything good.

This is all the result of the absolute inability of corporations to merge their technology infrastructures the way they merge their legal and business infrastructures. Cingular has multiple systems, agents dedicated to specific systems, and no way to make it all work together. Cingular is busy moving accounts from one system to another, regardless of the fact that customers get screwed along the way.

I have a nice RAZR. Maybe I should call Cingular and see if I can get it upgraded?

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