Monday, August 30, 2010

Remembrance of Time Warner Past

You can check out of Time Warner any time you want, but you can never leave.

I terminated my account on June 11, but here I am on the phone the penultimate day of August, disputing an $85.90 charge. What am I being charged for nearly three months after discontinuing service? According to the bill, there is an $80 "adjustment charge," as well as nebulous fees and taxes. But what is being adjusted? Let's see how many guesses I can come up with while holding:

1) Time Warner's dignity
2) My faith in other people
3) My patience for corporate deception
4) The validity of contracts
5) The meaning of "say hello to simplicity" (Time Warner's motto)

After 39 minutes, I'm still waiting. Any other guesses?

UPDATE: None of the above. In Time Warner, the word "adjustment" refers to the logic-bending "price lock" covered previously. Secondary definition: "whatever the hell we want." Where is my Time Warner-English dictionary? Get on this, Google Translate!

Important question: has Time Warner surpassed Nautica as the single most incompetent corporation in the Customer Service Circle of Hell? There's probably a way to create a poll.

Time Warner's solution: wave an additional fee, not on the bill. I read to them the following transcript, Time Warner formed sentences that didn't make sense, and I hung up the phone and felt sadness.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

They Call It Hotlanta Because It Is in Hell

The last two times I’ve flown, I’ve spent an unscheduled night in a city unrelated to my destination. My first impression of Atlanta was that a disproportionate number of people there wear shirts with unintelligible mottoes like “If you are giving one hundred percent, give ten percent more!” or “I look like I care but I don’t.” My theory is that these shirts are designed for the Rapture, so the Divine has clear instructions on whom to take, and who can stay.

Of course, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to conduct this sociological experiment had my Airtran flight not landed fifteen minutes after my connecting flight departed. A wise man once told me that it’s important to fly early, so you can take a later flight if your scheduled one is delayed. Unfortunately, on Airtran, the noon flight is the last of the day.

When the delay first snuck onto the screen, I scuttled to a checkout counter, where a woman informed me that the weather was not Airtran’s fault (indisputable) and, accordingly, Airtran had no responsibility to get me to my destination that day (disputable). Time: 11:00 a.m. Post-wedding hangover: violent to very violent. When I asked if there was anyone else I might speak to, she told me I could wait for her manager, a man whose plan was to first avoid me, then avoid eye contact, and ultimately intimate that I was lucky to be speaking to him at all. But I did not feel lucky.

Still, I might have made my connection had Airtran not spent so much time ushering people onto the plane who did not, in fact, have seats. Or, more accurately, people who had the same seat. The man next to me, for example, had the same seat as another man. They were both large men and had never met each other and, as progressive as San Francisco is, it seemed unlikely they would share a seat for five hours. Nevertheless, they were better off than my wife, who did not actually have a seat. Instead, she had a hole where a seat was supposed to be (see above). The first flight attendant greeted my wife’s request for a seat as though this was wholly unreasonable, but the second flight attendant helpfully ripped a cushion off someone else’s seat.

In Hotlanta, a kind but painfully slow man confirmed that the next flight left in the morning, but not before a little comedy routine with the other kind but slow people at the counter. This is how the routine went: my program won’t refresh, and we can’t make reservations—wait, just kidding, the program doesn’t have a refresh function! This routine was so funny, he called in his boss to get in on the joke, who agreed that suggesting the program could refresh was outrageous. Then there was some light banter about how cold the fan was. Then he told me he couldn’t offer a hotel on account of the weather—airtight Airtran logic—but he could give me a phone number, where I could talk to somebody who would give me a reduced rate.

I called the number, spoke to a human being, and hoped against reason this would work. This did not work. I walked to the busy area where shuttles arrive. The first driver with Comfort Suites painted on his van assured me that he was not going to Comfort Suites and, in retrospect, I should have taken this as a dark omen, as my wife did, who was convinced the driver had no idea where he was taking his van. I had a good feeling about the second van with Comfort Suites painted on it, even after the driver was assaulted by a man in one of those people movers that only GOB from Arrested Development uses. Alas, this driver was also not driving to Comfort Suites. At this point, I called the hotel and asked what, exactly, was painted on his driver’s van. He said, unsurprisingly, Comfort Suites. After asking each arriving driver where his van was going, I finally identified the correct van. This is what was painted on his van: Econo Lodge, Ramada Inn, Country Inn.

Comfort Suites is a bit of a misnomer, as it’s difficult to feel comfortable when you’re using every last bit of energy not to attack the man who doesn’t know what is painted on his own van, and it’s sort of a stretch to call a room a suite when it’s made entirely of bathroom tile. I don’t recommend staying there, or flying Airtran, or flying, but I do recommend Jeff and Inga, whose beautiful wedding made the trip well worth it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hell is on the Line

T-Mobile has a nifty feature where you can have your agonizing conversation with a representative emailed to you. This saves me a lot of work. If only all incompetent/malicious corporations were this user friendly.

~Jason G: Hello and welcome to [the newest ring of the Customer Service Circle of Hell]. My name is Jason and I will be glad to assist you today. First, please allow me one moment to review your question.
Me: ok
~Jason G: I understand you are asking about the $19.99 Shipping charge?
Me: correct, as well as the tax that goes with it
~Jason G: Ok. The $19.99 was for express shipping.
Me: right, that seems to be in error
Me: i had a defective part that i had replaced
Me: under warranty
Me: it took several weeks to arrive, however
Me: and i was never told i'd be charged for shipping, nor do i think i should be if it wasn't in any way my fault
~Jason G: Ok. Sorry that you were charged. We can look into see if it can be adjusted. One moment please.
Me: thanks
~Jason G: Sorry for the wait. I have requested approval from my supervisor, and what we can do is credit back half of the shipping charge.
Me: why half?
Me: i need the entire charge refunded
Me: i never authorized it
Me: and the express charge is preposterous
Me: it took three weeks
~Jason G: There are unfortunately no supporting notes in your account saying about the charge, so as a result, we can give half back.
Me: that's your clerical error, not mine
Me: i have a very clear memory of the event
Me: i'll remind you that i've been a customer for seven years
Me: this seems particularly shoddy customer service
Me: if you're not authorized to refund the entire charge, please put me in contact with someone above you who can
~Jason G: We do thank you for your loyalty with T-Mobile. As there are no supporting notes mentioning the $19.99 shipping, we can adjust half of it back.
Me: what do you think "as there are no supporting notes mentioning the $19.99 shipping" means?
Me: because to me, it means nothing
Me: surely, you can see the charge
Me: so what's at question here?
~Jason G: I can see the charge yes.
Me: i didn't agree to the charge, the charge was never mentioned to me, the charge is twice your fault (once for the bad part and once for an oversight)
Me: so in what universe would it make sense for me to pay any of it?
Me: i don't blame you, personally--obviously, you aren't responsible
Me: but i'd like to think it should be clear why i shouldn't be either
Me: it would just be paying for corporate incompetence (at best)
Me: or willful robbery (at worst)
~Jason G: In order for us to send the device, it does require a shipping cost.
Me: ok, let's break this one down:
Me: 1) you sent the device, because it was broken (your fault)
Me: 2) you never mentioned a fee to me (your fault)
Me: 3) you sent it express shipping (allegedly), and yet it took several weeks (your fault)
Me: 4) the last time something was shipped to me from t-mobile (a much larger package), it cost 7.99, and yet this somehow cost 19.99 (your fault)
Me: how about you absorb the shipping cost, as the reason for its being shipped is entirely your responsibility?
Me: the item was shipped because it broke within two weeks
Me: that's a bad product
~Jason G: Ok. One more moment please while I inquire about it.
Me: by any estimation
~Jason G: O, sorry for the wait. I have re-requested approval, and we will be able to adjust the whole amount back.
~Jason G: *Ok
Me: that's good
~Jason G: The adjustment for the shipping and handset assessory tax was r efunded.
Me: so the 19.99 plus 1.72 tax are being refunded, in other words?
Me: should i wait for a new bill then?
~Jason G: That is correct yes. The adjustments will show up on your next bill.
Me: so i should pay the full bill this month, and expect a 21.71 refund next month?
~Jason G: No. the adjustments that I just made are balance impacting, which means the amount you now owe is $70.59. Showing the adjustments were done will appear on your next bill.
Me: ok, so when i login, it says i still owe 92.30
Me: will it take a while to adjust?
Me: because my bill is withdrawn automatically
Me: and i'd like 70.59 withdrawn, not 92.30
~Jason G: It may take up to 2 hours to reflect online.
Me: ok, so i'll check back in two hours

Hell's Angels

Flying from New York City to Detroit is quick, only about an hour in the air. So you can understand how frustrated I would be when I arrived 13.5 hours late. Here's the time-line:

Flight #1: New York to Detroit (Delta): Canceled

I'm thinking, well, stuff happens. Weather, mechanical, best to be careful. Surely, they'll put me and my wife on a later flight since it's mid-afternoon. Wait, what's that? You want to send us the next day? Through Minneapolis, which is several hundred miles past Detroit? And you believe this critical information should be delivered via a robot that doesn't leave a phone number where I can ask follow-up questions? Eventually, I found a phone number and an android who would confess, when bullied, that it had lied about (minimum): 1) there being no other flights that day, and 2) their ability to place me on another airline. Eventually, we were placed on an American flight leaving 75 minutes later. It had a connection in Chicago (again, going past Detroit), but at least we'd only arrive four hours late. Why the flight was canceled remains a mystery.

Flight #2: New York to Chicago (American): Delayed

My attempt to get a meal voucher (since we're missing dinner with our friends) is dismissed with something between indifference and abject hatred. To be expected, but I'm getting a little worried because that 75 minute window between when one flight lands in Chicago and the next flight takes off for Detroit is shrinking. And the delay stretches. And now the best case scenario is that the plane lands 20 minutes after the connecting flight is scheduled to take off, and my wife is weeping on account of not being able to see her friends, and hating to fly, and having to spend the night in Chicago for no good reason.

Flight #3: Chicago to Detroit (American): Delayed

Hooray for this delay! After sprinting through O'Hare with despair in our hearts to catch a connection that had surely already left, we find that the plane is still there and the kind attendants are willing to let us board it, even though boarding is over and the doors are sealed. But wait!

Flight #3: Chicago to Detroit (American): Canceled

Two flights--on two different airlines--canceled in one day, surely this is a personal record. There is no mystery here, though. The flight was canceled for the trivial reason of not having a pilot. Hotel and meal vouchers for all, leading to this exchange:

Me: May I have a meal voucher for my wife, as well.
Attendant: This voucher is for you and your wife.
Me: $10 each?
Attendant: $10 total.

We'll dine like kings in Chicago for $5 each! We'll split a "Chicago-style" dog and bottled water--who are you to ask for more? Later, this conversation happens:

Other passenger: You can use that voucher almost anywhere in the airport.
Me (inside my exploding skull): ALMOST ANYWHERE? Thank God, it's only five hours until our next flight leaves because I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight!

Flight #4: Chicago to Detroit (American): On time

This was a relatively painless flight. They did try to move my wife across the plane but failed. We had a nice time in Michigan.

Flight #5: Detroit to New York (Delta): Lost reservation

We're not in the system. The several confirmation codes I have are meaningless. This is confirmed by the attendant behind the desk. My wife explains most of the bad things that happened, while the attendant makes phone calls and whispers things like "this is strange" and "it's just not there." But wait!

Flight #5: Detroit to New York (Delta): Delayed

We're there, after all. You only have to look capable of crying or screaming for long enough. The flight is about 30 minutes late, but by this point, the delay seems positively generous. When the very, very bumpy flight is over, there are other planes at the gate, but this scarcely matters. We're home, and our hatred of domestic air travel cemented.

Final Stats!

Actual flights: 5
Delayed flights: 3 (remarkable since we only booked 2 flights)
Canceled flights: 2
Lost reservations: 1

Monday, May 24, 2010

No Dogs in Hell (Except for Cerberus)

How long is too long to wait for a package--is 45 days too long? I hope so because I could only suffer through 44 days in my most recent circle of hell. Here is the timeline:

April 10: Order package.

April 27: Email company to find out why package hasn't shipped.

April 29: Package is shipped (no reply from company). I receive a tracking number!

May 1: Tracking number declares package "Out for Delivery or Available." Package never arrives. Tracking number never updates. How would you feel if you were waiting for your wife and her flight status said "Out for Delivery or Available" 23 days after you arrived to the airport? I would feel worried. Gratefully, I had a present delivered and not a wife.

May 5: I send the exceedingly polite email: "I wrote earlier checking on my package. You sent a tracking number, which is helpful, but it seems from the tracking number that the package should have been delivered on May 1 (see below). Am I missing something?"

May 8: I receive the mostly-polite-and-ultimately-unhelpful response: "You are right, according to the delivery confirmation it looks like it should have been delivered on May 1st, but the post office has not updated the information which is strange. The best thing to do is to bring that delivery confirmation number (that's why we use those numbers) into your post office and ask them where your package is. Perhaps they had a hard time delivering it to your apartment so it's back at the post office, or some other reason that only the US Post Office can come up with. Let me know if you find it at the post office, and if not we can figure out something else"

Two follow-up points:

1) If it's so "strange," why don't you call the post office and fix this for me?
2) If by "figur[ing] out something else," you mean ignoring my emails for over ten days, well done!

May 11: I send this slightly-less-cordial email: "After physically going to the post office with the tracking number and twice calling the secret phone number they gave me, a post office woman just now assured me that the package was lost and they "don't compensate lost packages unless they're insured." I'm really disappointed because I ordered the package in early April as a present, and the guy's birthday is on Saturday. It seems insane that on May 13 it's still not here."

May 15: We celebrate my friend's birthday 35 days after I ordered the package without the package.

May 20: I send this no-longer-cordial-but-also-not-particularly-vindictive email: "It's been a week since I wrote you. See message below. Obviously, you never resent the package, but I still either need you to resend the package very, very, very late (the order was placed April 10) or refund the order."

May 24: I implore you, the loyal half-dozen readers of the Customer Service Circle of Hell, to never, no matter how thirsty you may be, order a dog collar bottle opener from Bark 4 Beer, also known as Bark4Beer L.L.C. They will take your money and not deliver you a package and send you to the post office to look for the imaginary package and not respond to any of your emails. If you are thirsty, do what I did last weekend at a hotel when I had no bottle opener or even a dog, and call the front desk to have them bring you a bottle opener. Failing that, purchase one for one dollar.

Also: happy 30th birthday to this guy.

June 7 (UPDATE!): Good news: "We have concluded our investigation into your case and have decided in your favor." You know you've had a truly excellent consumer experience when two months after your purchase an investigation is concluded.

Bad news: "If the seller's account has insufficient funds to complete the refund owed to you, please be assured that we will take appropriate action against the seller's account, which may include limitation of the seller's account privileges." Is there any doubt that this is the case?