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Why must phone service be so bad?

 Posted: 2:00 AM June 28, 2013

Does anyone but me ever wonder what happened to the world we used to know? You know, the common-sense world back when we all got a monthly telephone bill for about $29.95, and when we didn't spend hours talking with reps pretending to give us something we used to call "customer service?"

My last cellphone bill was $34 too much. I groaned, knowing this meant a long, frustrating call to get it straightened out. I opted for a "live chat" on my computer, hoping to avoid being put on hold. Well, not entirely true: The other reason was that my minutes were used up, and the handset for my land line wasn't holding a charge even though it had been in the cradle all night.

So, here I was, trying to figure out how to call my cellphone company, and I didn't have a working phone with which to call. The irony was not lost on me.

I took a deep breath, logged on to the chat line, and got a response from, let's call her, "Shandra."

"I hope you are having a good day. I am so glad to be chatting with you! May I help you?"

"Oh, I felt like saying, I'm having a great day, but it would be better if I wasn't spending so much and actually had a working phone to show for it "¦ "

But, I didn't say that. Instead, I dutifully typed in my question, explaining why the charges were in error. (Rule No. 1: In dealing with cellphone companies, presume from the get-go that every rep you speak with will give you a different answer; knowing this ahead of time will save you considerable stress).

As we typed back and forth, a text message come in on my cellphone — informing me that I was out of minutes. Duh. My email also pinged away, till I muted it.

"Shandra" finally confirmed that, yes, the charges should be reversed. Problem was, she couldn't do it. No, I'd have to call Customer Service. That presented a problem, since I didn't have a blasted phone with which to call them.

I looked at my dead handset. After some rummaging, I found an old phone in the closet — the kind that does one thing: ring. I plugged it in and, standing at the counter (I couldn't sit down because the cord wasn't long enough), I called the 1-800 number only to hear that they were "experiencing exceptionally long wait times." And, even though "Shandra" had assured me our call had been notated, this new rep had no idea why I was calling, and requested the password to my account.

Since when do I give my password to someone at a phone bank in God-Knows-Where? No way, I said. Suddenly, it was just fine to help me without it. Makes one wonder.

After a lengthy conversation, she assured me that all was fine, and told me how to set some controls on my account. When I tried it, however, two of the steps could not be done.

Masochist that I am, I called the 800 number back. My call went through to a customer specialist who, also, could not do the steps I'd been given. She assured me not to worry, though, because she had handled it all from her side. Well, I hope so, because this burned up my entire morning.

I wonder: When did we collectively agree to pay so much for phone service that is so much less satisfactory than it used to be? Half of my friends' phones sound like they're either underwater or on walkie-talkies.

Don't get me wrong; I am not a Luddite. I like positive technological advancements. What I don't like is that since we all "must" have cell phones nowadays, even for safety's sake, they can charge pretty much what they want to.

So, here we are, paying hundreds per month for the privilege of being tracked, giving up our privacy and having our data mined. Oh, and if "they" are going to listen in, would they please hear our complaints, too?

As I tried to resolve this simple billing problem, I found myself shaking my head at the pinging, chatting, messaging and texting — all while not even having a functional telephone.

What is the real cost here — not just to our pocketbooks, but to our sanity and spirit? We are not machines; we are human beings. And I do not believe we are meant to live as appendages to the technology that has overtaken our lives in these past few years.

I just checked online and the "overage" has been adjusted — but now there is another new charge of $33.75.

Groan. Guess that means another call tomorrow. 'Course, I could always just throw it in the lake and go back to Morse code.

As Andy Rooney might have asked: when did it become so difficult just to have a darn phone?

Susanne Severeid is a contributing writer and award-winning author and tv presenter who lives in Ashland.

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