The Saga of AT&T/Cingular/SunCom Wireless

I originally wrote this story in May 2005:

How often do you need help and you call for it and lo & behold – it’s not there?

I have been an AT&T cell phone client since early in 1998. I started using AT&T when I started working in Las Vegas for a public grass seed company. (Yeah go ahead and laugh – grass seed generally refers to green grass and Las Vegas is synonymous with brown dry hot sand.)

I setup an enterprise account with AT&T and rolled out over 150 cell phones to every mobile employee we had in our company. I was proud of the project and excited that AT&T was the key to our quickly growing and powerful cell phone program.

I loved my AT&T phone. It worked well and was not expensive to own. I was a proud user of the AT&T One-Rate Plan. This plan allowed me to use my cell phone anywhere in the United States for no extra fees. No roaming, no LD and no extra fees.

I learned how to text message to it and eventually figured out how to send text messages from it. I never went anywhere without my phone and everyone I worked with and my entire family knew that if they needed to get a hold of me, I would answer my cell phone any time of the day or night.

My cell phone number became a part of my identity. When leaving a message for someone or when sending an email message, I would proudly introduce myself as Teddy Burriss 336-918-5526. This became my call letters. I proudly told everyone that they could reach me anytime they needed me by just calling my cell.

I had a great relationship with AT&T. They knew me by name because of the amount of business that I was doing with them. I could call them 24X7 to get help from any of the polite and professional customer support representatives. I learned the lingo and how the system work so that I could quickly get to the best support group no matter what the problem was.

AT&T Wireless was my hero!

In late 2000 I transferred back to Winston-Salem and started working for a smaller company again. I transferred my AT&T wireless cell phone number to my new company. I was still proud of AT&T wireless and my cell phone.

I added another 8 or 10 new cell phones to my account and made more of my fellow employees happy to have AT&T Wireless cell phones.

My cell phone continued to be a part of my identity.

I wore out a few telephones but the service continued to grow and serve my needs as I expected.

AT&T Wireless continued to roll out new cell towers and better and better coverage. They continued to partner with other cell phone companies to improve the coverage around the US.

In late 2003 I jumped into another area of wireless services – Data. I bought my first Blackberry cell phone. This wireless device cost a little bit more than a phone and the rate plans were more expensive, but I got email on my hip.

Now for those of you who do not know me – the communications method of choice for me is email every time. I tell all of my fellow employees and my family that if they want me to know about something and if they expect me to take care of it – I need to have it in email.

The Blackberry also gave me calendar, contacts, notes and tasks. For the most part my cell phone had turned into my computer on my hip. Life is good!

AT&T Wireless did a great job of transitioning me into a Blackberry user. Many Blackberry users refer to them as Crackberries.

Life was good.

Then all of a sudden (not really), life changed. The wireless world was merging rapidly. Cingular Wireless purchased AT&T wireless. Now on the surface this could have been a great thing. Cingular and AT&T Wireless are both great companies with fabulous strengths and resources. However; the FCC told Cingular that they could not own the AT&T Wireless accounts in North Carolina. They were told to sell these accounts off to SunCom Wireless, a small regional wireless company.

This as well by itself should have been OK.

But it all was horrible.

The service started to degrade and during the transition, calling 611 on the cell phone would connect me to Cingular Wireless where the customer service reps had my account. But they wanted to transfer me to another customer service department responsible for the AT&T Wireless accounts that were being sold off to SunCom Wireless.

My Blackberry started to disconnect from the data network regularly. I had to constantly reboot (OK, here is another word I never thought I would use with cell phones) the phone.
Email started showing up sporadically. Sometimes hours would go by and then I would get dozens of messages at once.

I kept calling 611 and then I started calling the 866 number that routed me directly to the customer service department that the agents at 611 said I had to talk to.
I spent nearly a week working on trying to get my blackberry to work. I commute about 1 hour to and from work each day. On two different days I remember talking to multiple customer service agents all the way home.

Every time I called the 866 number I got the displeasure of listening to Harry Conick Jr. spouting marketing noise about how great SunCom is. I heard this phrase well over 100 times. It quickly became sickening.

One day I called the 611 number and after being routed to a live Cingular Wireless person, they transferred me to the SunCom Wireless agent. As soon as I said AT&T, this new agent transferred me back to the Cingular Wireless agent. Each time I nearly begged them not to bounce me back and forth. My cries for better customer service fell on deaf ears.

Periodically I would get in contact with someone who would make attempts to solve my problem. One agent said that she was sending out a new “service book” to my device. She thought that his could solve my problem. It didn’t.

Each time I talked to a Customer Service Rep (I’m laughing at the definition of this phrase now) I asked them to record my problems in my customer file. Each person I talked to said that they did not have access to my records. I knew this would cause problems in the future. No record of my activities.

Finally I gave up. I called Verizon Wireless and had my treasured cell phone number ported to a new blackberry with them.

Now here is when the real lunacy started.

AT&T wireless called my house and informed me that since I switched to a new cell phone carrier that I would have to pay the $150 early termination fee.

Go figure – I have had this account since 1998 and 7 years later I was being charged an early termination fee.

Now I know that when I got the account in 1998 there was a 1 year commitment. And I know that every time I modified my account they told me that I was required to commit to another 1 year agreement. I was OK with this as long as my wireless carrier (Partner) kept up their end of the agreement to provide quality service.

They failed to keep up their end of the relationship.

When I tried to inform the AT&T Wireless rep calling me what the problem was he told me, “You should have talked to an AT&T Wireless rep before you cancelled your account”.

I tried to explain that I expected calling 611 or any of the numbers that the 611 Customer Service Reps told me to call would direct me to the right people to help me. I was only following the directions given to me.
I tried to explain to this person all of the problems that I have been dealing with for the past week.

This guy stuck to his script and never once offered that my problems were unacceptable and justification for me to terminate my relationship with AT&T Wireless (or Cingular or SunCom, who ever it was at that point)

I repeated my story at least 3-4 times to this guy and he never falter with his position. I was proud of myself because even though I was quite “torked” I also never lost my cool.

Finally I told him that I would not pay the $150 early termination fee and that we were wasting each other’s time.

He then asked if there was anything else he could do to help me and then said goodbye.

The next day I got a call on my house phone from another AT&T Wireless support person telling me that they had looked into my problem and had determined that my problem was with my Blackberry Device – not AT&T Wireless.

I’m a proud Verizon Wireless customer today. Today, April 2011, I still have 336-918-5526 as my only phone number and my entire family (10+ phones) are all Verizon customers.

I have a new wireless carrier of choice. I hope the relationship lasts as long as my AT&T relationship lasted.