Wednesday, September 14, 2011

So I got my son a tracfone...

Wanted to post some follow up to my absurd interaction with AT&T, the beginning of which can be found here. Briefly, all I wanted to do was add one more line to my family plan for $9.99 per month. Instead of making it simple, the web site demanded personal information (including my social security number) for the purpose of doing a credit check. Now, I already have a monthly family plan for which I pay over an order of magnitude more than $9.99, and on time. Yet now they wanted to subject me to an additional credit check. Well, I said no and wrote the post in question.

What was interesting and even encouraging to me was that I got the following comment from an AT&T customer service rep, and responded in kind:

attcathyw said...
Hi Marya- I am with AT&T and saw your post. We would like to assist with and answer any questions/concerns that you may have. Please email your contact information to one of our managers at and include your name in the subject line. Thanks.
Marya Zilberberg said...
Thanks to all of you who tweeted and facebooked (as a verb?) me about this post. My impression that there is growing dissatisfaction out there with the way business is done is being confirmed. I wanted to update you all on what the follow-up has been. I e-mailed Cathy (see comment above) yesterday. Last night I got this message from her coworker: "Hi Dr. Zilberberg, Cathy is out of the office so I am reaching out on her behalf. In order for me to research your wireless account further, I would need either the account number or the mobile number in question. In additionally, a good contact number for you would be great. Once I receive the information, I will partner with a wireless customer service manager to see what we can possibly do. I do hate to see the frustration in your post. While I cannot guarantee, I will do my best to see what can be done to provide the extra line without the credit verification. Of course we will not make any changes without your consent. Please email your contact information, account number or mobile number to me at and include your name in the subject line. Please provide a best time to contact you. Thanks and have a good evening! Thanks, ATTAnnelle M" OK, so again I am the one wasting my time having to contact yet another person because the original individual I was told to contact for customer service is not there? Wow! Nevertheless, this morning I e-mailed Annelle and let her know that I simply do not have the time to keep explaining the issue, and that unless she can do what I need without wasting my time, she should go ahead and let me know by mail. I reiterated what the issues were and also that this is a corporate culture problem that needs to be rethought in light of its ethical implications. Will let you know what happens.

The following correspondence ensued between me and Annelle (emphasis mine; numbers x'ed out to protect my privacy, which I am still interested in maintaining, despite Mark Zuckerberg's assertions to the contrary):

September 8: me
Dear Annelle,

Thank you for your e-mail. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to spend explaining (again!) what I need and waiting for you to see what can be done without any guarantee of the outcome. I hope that you see my point about the futility of a credit check for a $10/month line, since for the last 6 years I have paid my approximately $xxx monthly mostly on time. Additionally, no credit checks were necessary for the last x family lines added, and I was also able to increase my service by about $xx without a credit check. And this does not even get into the minimum $20 for the texting feature on my son's line -- one of my family lines has 50 messages for $2.99, but this option no longer seems to be available.

I realize that you are trying to help me, and I thank you for it. My cell number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. But as I said I simply do not have the time to spend on these endless phone calls with your company. If you can resolve something for me, great, let me know via e-mail. If not, it is fine, as I plan to visit my local AT&T store shortly. 

The bigger issue is how user-unfriendly this whole process has become, and it is your marketing executives that need to do some soul searching about whether this is an ethical or sustainable way to continue doing business.

Thanks once again.
September 8: Annelle
Hello Dr. Zilberberg,
I appreciate your candid response and your patience.  I know your time is valuable therefore I will keep this brief...
What kind of wireless device were you interested in for your son?  I know from your email that you want to keep your same plan and to place him on texting pay per use at a cost of .20 per text (incoming/outgoing, each are charged per text).
Please advise and I will continue to work on this end.  Hopefully you will not have to travel to the store if I can get this done for you.
Thanks so much!
Annelle M
September 8: me

Thank you for following up.
I want to get him a very simple flip phone that is free or very cheap. It does not have to have a camera or any other fancy features.

Thank you once again.
 September 8: Annelle
Good evening Dr. Zilberberg,
After great effort, I have found that ALL entities (including the store) will require a credit verification for new lines of service even though the monthly cost is not very great. The other option, without performing the credit verification, is prepaid. 
I know this is disappointing and I hate to be the bearer of bad news.  However, if you do consent to the credit verification, I can have a nice phone ordered for you son at no cost sent directly to your home in roughly 2 days. There are approximately 15 different devices available for new activations such as samsung solstice 2, palm pixi, sharp fx, pantech impact, samsung strive, etc.
Please kindly respond and let me know how you would like to proceed either postpaid or prepaid.  I will be looking for your response.
Annelle M
September 9: me
Dear Annelle,

Thank you for your diligence.
There is absolutely no way I am consenting to disclosing this highly sensitive information for a $9.99/month fee. Furthermore, my impression was that AT&T charges one month ahead, so there is no credit involved. Is this not correct?  
This feels like a frivolous usurpation of what is reasonable. And given the frequent reports of confidential data breaches, I am not interested in subjecting myself to this risk. I will have to withhold this portion of my business form AT&T and go with the pay-as-you-go scheme. 
Thank you. I would appreciate if this issue were brought to the attention of the management of AT&T so that a more reasonable policy can be developed. 
This was the last correspondence, and I purchased a Tracfone for him. Researching it made me think seriously why more people are not using it and why we continue to allow ourselves to be strong-armed by these mammoth corporations who in a purely Orwellian example of doublespeak want to convince us that handing over the reins to them is a good thing for us. Tracfone: no activation fee, no contract, no intrusive credit check, pay as you go, full texting, web and e-mail capabilities, reasonable rates. What more does one need, especially as an emergency use phone for a kid?

So, thank you, AT&T, I am eternally impressed with and grateful for your customer service.  


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