Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How do I hate thee, AT&T? Oh, I'm going to count the ways.

This doesn’t happen very often, peeps, but your usually mild-mannered host is gonna hafta go on a rant. It might be kind of long, so I understand completely if you want to bail now. If you do plan to stick around, make sure you’re nice and comfy. And that you won’t be insulted  while I repeatedly skewer AT&T, because they’re jerkin’ me around.

Mr. Nerd and I have had cell phone service through AT&T for at least six years. In June of 2009, we got smart phones, signed a new two-year contract, and upgraded our service (at an extra $30 per month) to include a data plan. We’ve been good customers—I’ve even recommended AT&T to a couple of folks who were dissatisfied with other carriers. Last year, I learned from a co-worker that it is sometimes possible to upgrade your phone prior to the end of a contract. I have never been very fond of our current phones, so I started checking on the possibility of an upgrade last fall.

Due to a bad case of New Phone Fever, I’ve spent a lot of time online looking at phones, where each site has a little widget that can check your upgrade status. I was routinely checking that status on at least five sites. (I tried, on several occasions, to check our status on AT&T’s site, but I couldn’t get it to work, even after a call to customer service.) Imagine my excitement when, in December, I found that we were finally eligible. Yay! I started looking at phones in earnest. Last week, I was able to get Mr. Nerd on board with a great web special for a free Android phone from Radio Shack. Sound the trumpets! Cue the singing angels! Begin the search for cases, car chargers, and all of the other fun paraphernalia that accompanies a new phone. We ordered the phones Sunday morning, and all of our chosen accessories Sunday afternoon. Monday night, after work, I reminded Mr. Nerd to check his email and see if our phones had shipped, since the account is in his name.

The phones had not shipped. The order had, in fact, been cancelled--because we were not eligible for an upgrade until February 23, 2011. The cases and other accessories, however, were well on their way.

Thinking that there must have been some kind of mix-up, I called AT&T. There was no mix-up. I asked one customer service rep, her supervisor, AND one “conflict resolution specialist” why we were suddenly labeled ineligible. Their explanation was that the sites where I was shopping for phones (Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Wal-mart, and Radio Shack) were all third-party vendors, they all had the wrong information, and AT&T had no responsibility whatsoever for the information that was provided. *brushes off hands in the traditional “glad to be rid of you” gesture*

By this time, I was furious. (But polite. I never raised my voice, used inflammatory language, or blamed the person on the phone for the situation.) I politely requested that a) we be allowed to go ahead and upgrade now, or b) a credit be added to my next bill to cover the cost of the accessories we had ordered for the new phones, since I consider AT&T to be responsible for the faulty information provided to the third-party vendors. At this point, I was transferred to the conflict resolution specialist’s supervisor, who will henceforth be known as Ms. Snottypants.

Ms. Snottypants came on the line, her voice dripping with disdain before I ever said a word. She reiterated everything the other three people had told me (no responsibility, not eligible, wait until February 23rd, we don’t care that you  are out money for accessories for the phones that you will never receive, "you can just return that stuff," you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny, etc.), but with an unspoken, “Oh, and you're a massive idiot,” at the end of every sentence. She said that it was ridiculous for me to expect her to approve the upgrade now, and even more ludicrous to think that she would credit our account when we had not purchased any items from AT&T. (Except, I could point out, six previous years of cell phone service.) Ms. Snottypants added that it was our fault that we acted on unreliable information. She insisted that those widgets had nothing to do with AT&T. (I call shenanigans on that. You enter your cell phone number and it tells you whether or not you are eligible, so it has to access AT&T's information somehow.) She noted, as if I was a complete moron for not knowing this, that we could have checked our upgrade status by pressing “star six nine three four pound star” on our phones. (Well, that’s intuitive. How exactly was I supposed to know that? It wasn’t in the manual, and I couldn’t access our online account.) I told her, even after having tolerated her nasty attitude, that I would give her a chance to keep a good customer. If she would approve the upgrade, we would sign another two-year contract. If not, we were going to wait out our current contract and switch carriers in June. More nastiness on her end...rage building...feeling of imminent stroke-out...so I finally just gave up, and hung up. I felt like I was being jerked around, but I doubted there was anything I could do about it.

After I calmed down a bit, I decided to go back to all of the sites where I had received the incorrect information and make print screens of the message that said I was eligible for an upgrade, in case I wanted to make a formal complaint against AT&T. It was at this point that I knew, for certain, that AT&T was jerking me around. All of the five sites--Target, Wal-mart, Best Buy, Radio Shack, and Amazon—are now showing that I am not eligible for an upgrade until February 23rd. To me, this indicates that, sometime during or after my lengthy conversation with them, AT&T realized they were busted, and triggered something, somehow, in their system that would result in a message indicating an ineligible status. I was floored.

Since I am still aflame with the mighty light of self-righteousness, I can't tell if I'm being unreasonable.  Am I making too much of this? I know it seems like kind of a petty thing to be so upset about, but I really, really hate it when huge companies routinely stick it to their customers just because they know we have no recourse. They're too huge for one lone customer to be able to put a dent in them. I know that AT&T has been the subject of thousands of formal complaints and reports to the BBB, so clearly I am not the only person who has had problems with them, but I don't know if anyone has ever had a satisfactory resolution.

So that’s why I hate AT&T with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns, and why I have been walking around all day with stabbing forehead pains and an eye twitch. If you stayed around for the conclusion of this epic tale of betrayal, thanks for reading. Now, I have a favor to ask. I’m not really all that into promoting my blog. I like writing, I like being “blog friends” with a lot of smart, funny people, and I don’t have much extra time to put into all the networking that goes along with serious blog promotion, so I really just write for fun. But, just this once, I am asking for promotion. If you feel like my complaints have merit, and you might like to have some part in helping me stick it to the man, please tweet, Stumble, share, or link to this post. Nothing would make me happier at this point than for some muckety-muck from AT&T to get wind of this and contact me. There’s no guarantee that I would get anything out of it, but at least it would give me a chance to be heard by someone higher up the food chain than Ms. Snottypants. It's going to be hard for me to rest knowing that someone that foul had the last word. Here's a final suggestion, AT&T: PEOPLE WHOSE PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY IS TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS SHOULD NOT TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS LIKE CRAP WHILE ACTING LIKE RUDE, SNIDE HEIFERS. THAT DID NOT RESOLVE MY CONFLICT OR IMPROVE MY EXPERIENCE WITH AT&T. That is all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I'll never be Heloise, but...

Everybody has to do housework, right? And most normal people hate it, right? I hate it. So, when I find things that make doing my chores slightly more tolerable, I like to share. (Please note that I am making these recommendations solely because I like the products, and that I did not receive any free merchandise or payment for my opinions. However, I certainly would accept free swag if it was offered.) 

Bounce Dryer Bar
One of the perpetually aggravating things about laundry is fabric softener. I want to use it, but I hate most of the softener-delivery mechanisms. If you use liquid, you have to remember to add it at the rinse cycle. If you remember to add it, you can never be too sure that it won't stain the clothes. And those stains don't come out, which could prompt your spouse to ask why it looks like someone peed on the leg of his work pants. I also hate dryer sheets, because I don't think they work very well on static cling, plus the whole embarrassment factor of leaving your house with a sheet poking out of the back of your pants. Enter the Bounce Dryer Bar. This is a solid cake of fabric softener that comes with a holder that attaches easily to the inside of the drum of your dryer. It smells great, my clothes come out soft, and I have yet to need to replace it, despite doing at least four or five loads a week. I highly recommend it.

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
This is not a new product, but it definitely deserves a mention. I first discovered Magic Erasers when I was trying to find a way to clean, well, dog slobber off of the wall. (The dogs play fetch in the hallway. Fetch=slobbery ball that sometimes hits the wall. I know, it's gross.) I had tried everything, and was about to go out and buy paint, when I saw the Magic Erasers at the grocery store. Oh. My. Gosh. If you've never used these things, it really is like magic. One of these little treasures and some elbow grease had my hallway looking like it was freshly painted. They remove soap scum, too, and the black crud that accumulates around the edges of sink drains. I keep three or four in the house at all times.

Herbal Essences Tousle Me Softly 
I know, this post was supposed to be about things that make household chores easier. But, since I'm trying to grow out my super-short haircut right now, the daily struggle to make my hair look reasonably suitable definitely falls into the "chore" category. Have I written about my hair here before? It's like an alien creature has landed on my head, and I know there's no chance of conquering it and forcing it to obey my will. The best I can hope for is to try to keep it happy and maintain a good relationship with it so it won't turn on me. (It's thick, super-curly, and as coarse as a horse's tail. I've been fighting it since my first haircut, when I was six.) Since I'm letting it grow, there are all of these weird layers and humps that must be dealt with, in addition to the general unruliness. My sister (who has gorgeous, shiny dark hair that looks perfect curly or straight) recommended Tousle Me Softly, so I picked up a tub--with my usual dose of skepticism that anything could help this wig of mine. It not only helps, it actually makes my hair (the horse's tail, remember?) feel soft. And it smells good. And the tub is huge, and only cost about $5. Score! I think it's going to work even better once my hair is long enough to fall into its usual curl. I'm loving this stuff, and props to my wonderful sister for recommending it.

Have you found any miracle products lately? Anything that makes the thought of doing chores a little less soul-suckingly awful? I'd love to hear about it, because I'm lazy and willing to take any and all available short cuts.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Myriad meteorological miseries

Yep, I’m going to write about the weather. I know, that’s pretty clich├ęd at this time of year. At least I gave it a fancy title.

I knew that the weather here in Kentucky, and all along the East Coast, had been crappy recently, but I had no idea just how crappy. My favorite weather blog had a map yesterday that showed that every state in the US except Florida had snow on the ground. That’s a lot of snow, people. I don’t have hard numbers on this, but it seems like we are averaging an inch or two of snow at least every week and a half. As of January 12th, this portion of Kentucky had already received more snow than we usually get in an entire winter.

But (you might be thinking) who doesn’t love snow? It’s sledding and snowmen and angels and hot cocoa and snuggling by the fire and rosy cheeks! I felt that way, too…until I started driving. And got old. Now, snow is getting stuck in an unplowed parking lot, sliding into a ditch, shoveling (and shoveling again, when the original shoveled area gets covered over), crawling up my sloping driveway on my hands and knees because it is too icy to stand on, constantly having wet frozen feet, and either breaking a limb or getting run over by a bus after falling off the slick sidewalk. Add to that a dog who, when there is snow on the ground, gets confused and thinks that poo is a food item. Oh, and the special joy of receiving a $330 electric bill in the mail, since the average temperature is running about 15 degrees below normal. Can you tell that I’m thoroughly tired of winter already?

There are a couple of bright spots. Mr. Nerd has promised that I can get a new cell phone next month, which gives me something to look forward to for the next few weeks. (I’ve been suffering from a bad case of New Cell Phone Fever. My life is not terribly exciting, in case you can't tell.) And I got these:

Aren’t they adorable? I have wanted a pair of wellies forever, but hadn’t been able to justify the expense. After he had to bodily pull me up the driveway a couple of times, Mr. Nerd heartily agreed that it was worth the $25 for me to get a pair of boots with good traction. So, if you see me slogging through the snowy downtown streets after a long, cold day at work, I might be feeling pretty miserable. But at least my feet will look cute.

Monday, January 3, 2011

You say "resolutions," I say "goals"

Happy New Year! Welcome back to my corner. *dusting off cobwebs* It’s been a while, I know. If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking around through the lean times.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, because it makes me feel way too guilty when I break them. For the past couple of years, though, I have set myself a few goals—areas where I think I need to make improvements over the next year. Sometimes I follow them, sometimes I don’t. I’m hoping that sharing this year’s list of goals with you guys will help me actually follow them. Kind of an accountability-partner thing, or whatever the buzzword-y types are calling it now.

1. Lose nine pounds – I know, very original. Everyone makes this resolution. But just because it’s not an original idea doesn’t mean that my behind is not expanding at an alarming rate. I’ve gained five of those pounds since Thanksgiving. (Seriously. Six weeks, five pounds.) To that end, all treats except peppermint patties have been banished from my house. I have an ice cream coupon that expires on February 11th; if I have lost five pounds by that time, I get to buy the ice cream. Ah, ice cream. The Great Motivator.

2. Focus less on material things – This is really, really hard for me, because I love clothes and shoes and cool gadgets and purses and shopping and trying on and buying. (And boots. I particularly love boots.) But, I realized that I put too much emphasis on those things, and I need to do better. Hopefully this will also help me wait the six months until my cell phone contract is up and I can get a new phone. (Goal or no goal, I’m gettin’ a 4G phone, Jack.)

3. Exercise more – Again, very original. But my thighs have become ever more thunderous since my surgery last August, and I need to get my butt up and get moving. I should not be getting winded from tucking skinny jeans into my boots.

4. Read more – When I was younger, I read four or five books a week. In the last 10 years or so, though, I had kind of lost interest in fiction, with a few exceptions. Thanks to Masterpiece Mystery on PBS, I have discovered a newfound passion for mystery novels. Since the public library is conveniently located right next door to my office building, I have no excuse for not reading. My goal is to finish at least two books a month.

So what about you? Did you make resolutions or set goals for 2011? Have you broken them already? ‘Cuz I ate four Starbursts this afternoon, and I’m trying to figure out if that means I’ve already broken Goal #1.