5/12/13 Baited and Switched by AT&T

I was tired of my iPhone 3GS. I think it had also grown tired of me. It was time for me to upgrade. Detesting the fact that Apple forced me to use iTunes to do anything with my iPhone, and despising the way iTunes kept popping up on my PC, demanding that I use it, and nearly daily requiring me to update it, always having to download 80MB files, which I would likely have done had it been the least bit intuitive and user friendly, which it was not, and I’m not computer illiterate. I was just ready to go to something that was more PC friendly. What can I say? I am a PC guy. It is too late for me to become an Apple person.

The first thing “Low”, my salesperson at the AT&T store in Meridian, tells me after looking up my account is that I am grandfathered in on unlimited data plans on my existing phone plan and air card. Right off the bat, he warns me that I should never change the plan, that as long as I don’t I can keep them. So I trade in my old 3GS and my old data hot-spot for a Samsung Galaxy 4 and one of the new Sierra Wireless Wi-Fi Unite hot spots. For good measure, I get a Samsung tablet, too. Low fixed everything up at the store, got it all working, and I left with a host of new electronic gadgets to figure out.

I spent so much time the first two weeks getting my very complicated phone working to my satisfaction (they warned me!), and getting the tablet working, that I did not spend too much time on the mobile hot-spot, noting though that I could not get it to work. I could connect devices to the hot-spot, but the hot-spot would not connect to the mobile broadband network. I had no need for it at the moment, and as I said, distracted by other things, I decided to wait. Yesterday, my wait was over. It was time to get the hot-spot working.

Every time I’d try to log in to the network, I’d get the message “Error Code 33.” No error codes were addressed in any of their literature, so I go on-line to AT&T to see if I can come up with an answer. I found it!! AT&T says that when error code 33 is displayed, you must call the 800 number they showed because there is an issue with the account, or the SIM card, or some other issue that must be addressed by AT&T. I call them up, but I call too early. I wait until the business hours indicated in their recording and call them back, my UNITE Hot-Spot device in my hand.

Before I connect with a representative, AT&T’s automated attendant tells me that the conversation will be recorded for accuracy and verification. They always tell me that. I wonder who the recording is there to protect, me or AT&T? They certainly don’t go to the effort for my benefit.

I get a young man named Andrew. When I explain to him about my problem, he has no clue about error code 33 and spends some time researching the issue, no doubt scrolling through several screens to get tot he one with the answer. He is very polite. After a  few minutes, he comes back and says that the problem is with my account . . . the new device will not work with one of the old, unlimited data accounts. He instructs me that I must change it to one of the new, limited data accounts to get it to work. Now this makes me more than a  bit angry. When I tell Andrew about how the store assured me that I could keep my data plan just like it was, advised me against changing it, set the unit up and supposedly got it working, which I’m sure they did, but AT&T later stopped it from working . . . he advised me that he was not sure why they told me that at the store since they are not authorized to do it.

Trying to be helpful, Andrew asked me what my history of data usage on my hot-spot was.

“That’s irrelevant,” I replied. “I’ll likely use the new one more than I did the old one, so history has no bearing.”

“I’ll be glad to offer you a one-time $20 credit for your trouble because you had to call us and it’s not working like you expected, and I can switch you to our 5GB per month plan which will save you ten dollars a month over what you are paying now,” said Andrew.

“So, what’s it cost if you go over your monthly data plan allowance?” I asked.

“Ten dollars per GB or any portion thereof,” he replied.

“Nope. No, Thanks. I just want my old plan to work on this new device like they promised me,” I said, plainly, matter-of-factly, and unequivocally. “I’ve been baited and switched. I have already heard that AT&T is trying to get rid of the old unlimited data plans in any way they can, and here I’ve been baited and switched so your company can accomplish what it wants to accomplish. Nope. I’m not falling for that.

“Andrew, please keep in mind that I am not angry with you personally, but I sure am angry at AT&T’s shoddy and transparent attempt to use unethical means to get me off the unlimited data plan. I am furious.”

“But, Mr. Sharp, your device will not work until you change your plan,” Andrew countered, “and I can do that for you, today. Looking at your history, it is doubtful that you will exceed the data allowances under the new plan.” If he could see it, why did he previously ask me if I knew my usage history? It’s odd how information suddenly becomes available to them when it’s to their advantage.

“No. I am taking it back to the store and letting them figure it out or give me a refund and return my old device to functionality, as well as throw a fit if they can’t deliver on what they promised me as they were taking my money,” I said. Andrew had asked me earlier if I had ordered the new stuff over the internet. When I said no, that I had purchased it at a store and they had gotten everything all set to go, he seemed rather disappointed. This will, no doubt, make it more difficult for them, but not impossible. Looking at the box, I see that there is a $35.00 re-stocking fee on the device. AT&T is going to make it difficult and costly for me to not do what they are steering me to do. We’ll see how this goes.

“So, Andrew,” I said, “Since this is being recorded for quality and verification, I want you to confirm for me that you are simply doing nothing to my account. I am not authorizing you to change it, nor are you changing a thing about it. You will confirm that things are exactly as they were before I called…that I have an unlimited data plan, that my device is not working because it will not log on to the network, and you have done nothing to fix it.”

“No sir,” he said, “I have not changed anything.”

“I will go back to the store and let them fix their screw up,” I said back. “I don’t like this bait and switch. I am not the only person who went into the store and bought this same device only to have this happen. They’ll fix it or give me a refund, or cancel the service entirely. If they are telling folks things in error, then the store manager should know that he has employees giving customers bad information . . . though I don’t think this is the case. I think I am supposed to be so disappointed that my hot-spot won’t work and that you can easily fix it for me so quickly, all while saving me ten dollars a month plus giving me a twenty-dollar one-time credit, that I am supposed to just giddily jump on the offer as if I were a child being offered a Kit-Kat bar in exchange for his left-over Brussels sprouts.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, sir. Is there any thing else I can do for you, today?” he asked, sounding genuinely remorseful, since no doubt all his training as a call center employee had taught him that I was supposed to take the bait. I didn’t, and he was shocked, sorry, and didn’t know what else to do. Had he had something else to offer me, he no doubt would have. No, he had done his job tactfully and helpfully, and done everything within his power to direct me to the only solution he had the authority to offer. I could have asked for his supervisor, probably gotten more, but, no, I am going back to the store and let Low explain to me face to face why he instructed me to never give up my unlimited data plan and then sell me something that would not work on my unlimited data plan. If Low can’t explain it, then he will get a chance to explain it in to his store manager in front of me; then the store manager will get his chance to explain why it is that they cannot do it, or he will fix it, or he will give me a refund, a full, complete, no $35 restock fee refund, and restore me to where I was before I started this new adventure based on their advice, which has not at all played out like they told me it would. Does my anger at this seem reasonable to you? If it doesn’t, then you are not persistent enough. If you think I am unreasonable, why would you think so when I am only asking for delivery of what I was sold and what I paid for?

No doubt, in the store, they will think I am rude simply because I will be persistent. Rudeness and persistence are not connected. Baiting and switching is not only rude, but it’s illegal. Anger, while not being rude, itself, can certainly lead to rudeness; but persistence is not rudeness. Now, their position will be that an employee simply gave me bad information . . . that he gave it to me honestly, but still in error. I already bought once, and I’m not buying that, too. I think what AT&T is trying to avoid is exactly what I am wanting to do, which is use my mobile hot-spot for wi-fi connections for several computers at my house, perhaps seeing the chance to do away with the Hughes Net satellite network, which also has limitations. But, I was aware of the Hughes Net limitations before I bought and have worked well within their framework. They have a 500MB per day bandwidth limitation, which amounts to 15GB per month if I use it all, which I don’t, and unlimited usage between 2:00AM And 6:00AM every morning. That is not a problem for me, because I started writing this at 2:30AM. It is now 3:55, and I am fixing to use some of my bandwidth to upload this to my website. AT&T now wants to limit me to 5GB per month, no matter when I use it, and charge me an extra $10 per GB or any portion of a GB afterward. I can’t help but thinking that they knew this at the store.

I will report back. I’m sure you are waiting breathlessly.

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