How-to: Deal With Customer Abuse Departments

At the start of July, Nic, Ben, me and my iPhone all headed up to Canada for a visit with the family. Little did we know that the iPhone crossing the border would trigger a bill for nearly $400.
We got that bill just as we were leaving for Canada a couple weekends ago, and fought with AT&T’s customer support department for the better half of that road trip, succeeding only in getting hung-up on twice. I shut the phone’s GPRS features off as we crossed the border this time.

Last week after successfully negotiating a refund from a failed attempt at moving the website, and feeling particularly triumphant, I called AT&T again, determined not to give up until I got our bill corrected.

337735343_5ea0f63d3d.jpgThe issue was that while in Canada we had been billed for GPRS roaming in Alberta. They had a page full of line items from two different cities in Alberta, totaling $200 in charges. We’ve never been to Alberta. The key to winning these battles is to frustrate each level of support until they’re willing to escalate you to the next level. Here’s what each level was like.

Level 1 explained to me that there’s no way for their bills to be wrong, and that I must have been in Alberta. I explained to him that Alberta was nowhere near Ontario, and promised him I’d never been there. He told me that it didn’t matter, as long as I was in Canada, their information didn’t need to be accurate — the bill was still generally right. We repeated this loop about a dozen times before he agreed to escalate me to a resolution specialist.

Level 2 explained that I must have accidentally gone by an Alberta tower while I was in Ontario, and that’s where the billing was coming from. He again assured me that there’s no way for their billing department to make a mistake — even though he agreed that the billing data was coming from a Canadian roaming partner, and he had no way to verify it. He was able to offer me a $25 courtesy credit and allow us a couple extra months to pay our bill. I explained to him that my bank statements could prove that I was in Ontario, thus disproving the accuracy of the bill, and asked if my next call should be to a lawyer. He agreed to elevate me to a manager.

Level 3 was a completely different experience. He did suggest that maybe I’d accidentally come across an Alberta tower while in Ontario, or maybe the tower was mis-named. I pointed out that Alberta is 2000 miles away from Ontario, and that the odds of coming across TWO mis-named towers was pretty slim. Apparently Americans have a very poor understanding of Canadian geography, because he put me on hold, possibly to confirm my distance claims, and then came back more willing to talk. I explained that our bank statements had us making transactions all over Ontario during the time we were supposedly roaming in Alberta, and he agreed that it would have been pretty impossible for me to hop over to Alberta in between transactions to use data services but since he didn’t have access to our bank statements, he couldn’t be sure he could believe me.
Finally, our break came with another manager suggested he compare our voice usage to our data usage. Sure enough, Rogers (AT&T’s Canadian roaming partner) had us making voice calls in Ontario at the exact same time we were supposedly downloading 7MB files over the Internet in Alberta.

When he realised this, he went from apologetic but not sure he could help, to totally on our side. He very quickly had the charges removed, and agreed with me that it IS possible for them to get bad data from a roaming partner. Unfortunately, he could come up with no way to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I suggested I could put my SIM card in a cheap phone without data-enabled, but unfortunately when the SIM enters a country, its up to the roaming partner to track the activity. So I’m not sure what the moral of this story is except this: Don’t give up! Escalate!

Each level of the process has a limited set of ability to help you. Their job is to try to get you to accept that limited help — don’t do it. Stay on the line, and keep asking for a manager, until your problem is resolved.

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3 thoughts on “How-to: Deal With Customer Abuse Departments

  1. Thanks for the heads-up Jon. My son has an I-phone and snow boards in BC off and on. I’ll give him the warning.

  2. I am notorious for getting to the people that can make a difference. You can be mean all the way up to those people. LOL

    Then you be really nice to the person that has power and eventually get what you want. 🙂

  3. Care to try that here in Asia? We crossed the border into Singapore, the phones went screwy, no voice, only text, no text out on one phone for the whole time we were there. Got back into Malaysia to find that all of that missed service has cost me RM30 on my phone and RM70 on the other. Ok, ok, so 100 ringgit is only $35 Canadian, but it still ticks me off, and there is NO ONE I can call to sort it out.

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