Cingular Wireless Complaint - I Wouldn't Treat a Dog Like This.
ROCKVILLE, MARYLAND -- A rational explanation for Cingular’s Irrational Behavior
About four years ago my daughter signed up for Cingular service. Leaving our home in Connecticut for a Virginia college, she found the no-charge-for-roaming feature very compelling. In order to “keep it in the family” my wife and I also got Cingular phones a few months later. For several years we enjoyed good service and always paid our bills on time. We basically used the phones to keep in touch with one another, especially in emergencies. My New York-based job was ½-mile from the World Trade Center towers and, like many people after 9-11, my wife became very fearful and security conscious. Our cell phones were our life lines in times of crisis.
In June of 2004 we moved to Montgomery County, Maryland. My daughter closed her Cingular account at about the same time. It had a credit balance of about $85; in the confusion of moving we had apparently paid that bill twice.
We visited the Cingular store on Rockville Pike in Rockville, MD, shortly after moving to get a local Maryland phone numbers for my son, wife and me, along with new phones that would take advantage of the emerging cellular technology. We were shown an area coverage map and the salesman assured us of great service.
When the first Maryland-based bills came in I noticed we still had the $85 credit balance on my daughter’s bill. I called customer service and, after they found my daughter’s account, asked them to merge the two, effectively lowering my new account by $85. The next day I sent a payment for our bill, less the $85 credit — as instructed by the Cingular employee.
About two weeks later our new Maryland cell phones went dead. I called the Cingular customer service office to find out why. They explained that my account was in arrears. How much did I owe? There seemed to be an $85 balance. Well, hang on, I explained. There was an $85 credit that was applied so that’s why there’s a difference of $85. We don’t see an $85 credit, I was told. After a long delay to search for my daughter’s account, there was agreement that I was actually paid up after all. The phone service would be restored shortly.
About a month later, the same thing happened. Our new phones — the ones we bought for security purposes to stay in touch with one another — were all dead. Again I called customer service and, after the same lengthy hunt for the account with the $85 credit, I was advised that I was indeed all paid up in the eyes of Cingular. With one exception. There was a $50 fee to restore service to the phones that were turned back on a month ago. Well that didn’t seem right, I told them, and I explained what happened. No problem, I was told. The phones would be turned back on soon and the service restoration fee would be waived.
About a month later the same thing happened… again. Our phones went dead. For the third time. A phone call to Cingular revealed that I owed $135: $85 balance due and $50 for a service restoration charge. This issue required several phone calls to have the charges waived. Initially I was told it was impossible to take a credit from a Connecticut account and place it against a Maryland account. Seems those two areas are in entirely different Cingular business zones. But on another call someone was able to do the impossible and the credit — it seemed — was actually going to be applied. And sure enough, over the coming weeks the phones worked.
While I didn’t call my wife’s cell phone often, I noticed that, when I did, I usually got a recording that the lines were busy and my call couldn’t go through. I started keeping track and, in a short period of time, fully seventy-five percent of my calls to her terminated in that recording. After hearing that recording one day I did an experiment and immediately called five other people with cell phones — phones served by AT&T, Verizon and others — and they all got through. The problem wasn’t from “my end” of the call — it was apparently a Cingular problem.
In early October 2004, I called Cingular customer service and spoke to Cingular employees Sabrina Reich and Ernie Holmes. After describing my problem, one of these technicians told me that the area I was calling to/from was a known problem area. One of them told me flat out: The tower(s) in your area can’t handle the call volume. That’s why you get that message. I told them I didn’t want to be tied to a phone company that couldn’t handle 75% of my calls. They assigned me a case number: CM20041009-00379. And they told me they would work on it and then call back in a few days to advise me of the disposition of my case. (Were they going to build a new tower in 5 days?!) And if they couldn’t resolve the problem I would be released from any obligation to the company.
I never heard from them. Well I’m a patient man but my patience goes only so far. I had had it.
On or about October 14, 2004, I called Cingular Customer service and advised them that I was canceling my service … or what they said was “service.” That would be fine, I was told, but I would be charged for early cancellation. I explained that I had a case number identifying an unresolved problem; that I had been disconnected three times for no fault of my own; and that about 25% of my calls actually went through. Do you really feel this was holding up Cingular’s end of the contract?
Their only response was that the contract I signed didn’t guarantee that all calls would be successful. I told them I understood that and if I were in the middle of Montana I could see their point but I was 15 miles from the nation’s capital. And if I couldn’t get service there where could I depend on getting it? How would they feel if the paid for four seats to a concert but could only sit in one of them? If they had paid for four meals but could only eat one of them? How would they feel about that!? Because that was what they were doing to me.
In the following weeks I spoke with Cingular employees Devon (last name unrecorded — I didn’t think I would need to keep a transcript) as well as Kelly Chesney of Tulsa. I also reconnected with Ernie Holmes, the very person who promised to solve the problem and call me back; and, several weeks later, one uppity guy named Mr. Ephias Bellamy. Mr. Bellamy basically said that a 25% call success rate was well within Cingular’s range of acceptable service. When pressed, he was unwilling to characterize it as unacceptable. I hope that conversation was “recorded for training purposes.” In each case I indicated that I simply wanted to go away quietly, once I was assured that Cingular had been paid for any services actually supplied to me. I wasn’t trying to run a scam, but enough was enough.
In the course of these conversations there was repeatedly abundant evidence of Cingular’s poor hiring and training practices. This became even more apparent when I learned that whoever I talked with in mid-October cancelled only one of the three lines. Payment was demanded for another month of service on two lines. I swallowed hard and sent them the money for that “service.
I have explained the above story in great detail to at least 10 Cingular employees. In more than 15 hours of conversations, none of them has been able or willing to admit that their treatment of us has been unacceptable — or seek any level of reconciliation. I was obligated to a contract and that was it. End of discussion. At every opportunity I’ve stated to Cingular employees that (1) I want to be sure that Cingular is fully compensated for any and all services we may have enjoyed, (2) that we wanted to part company peacefully, clearly this wasn’t — couldn’t be — their idea of a good relationship either; and (3) I am completely unwilling to pay for any early termination fees. I am also most willing to return any telephonic hardware to Cingular that they feel is due back to them. In mid-November I told Mr. Bellamy all this, again. And that this would be the last such explanation.
In early January 2005, I spoke with a woman named Connie. Connie works for the Financial Asset Management Systems company (800.346.1040 x108) somewhere in the Atlanta area. FAMS is a bill collector for Cingular. Connie and I had several very pleasant conversations. During one of them she actually told me that she was also having very similar problems with Cingular! She recounted how she had recently received “a very expensive, wedding invitation-quality mailing” that invited her to a party that was being thrown by Cingular — to celebrate the company’s multi-billion-dollar takeover of AT&T Celluar. She told me it was incredulous to her that the company was harassing her for a few dollars when they were obviously spending so much on employees of their debt collection agency.
On one conversation with Connie she connected us with Cingular employee Ms. Mariela Estrada of Midland, TX. For one last time, hoping I had reached someone with the intelligence and authority to act responsibly, I recounted everything in great detail — the poor service, the inability to provide even the most basic level of customer service and satisfaction. And Cingular’s Nazi-like efforts to extract a few more dollars from a four-year customer.
In the end, Ms. Estrada demonstrated the total lack of “Customer Service” that characterized each and every one of her cohorts. I am convinced that the problem is endemic to Cingular employees, each of who demonstrated a robot-like inability to reason or say anything other than “… so you owe $X for your late fees.” And always the ultimate threat: If you don’t pay we’re going to report you and it’s going to show up on your credit report!”
The one consolation that Connie and I got out of Ms. Estrada was that she confirmed that any and all monies that Cingular felt I owed them were strictly late fees. I had paid in full for any and all services that Cingular managed to supply us.
Cingular, through numerous harassing phone calls and letters from FAMS, feels I owe them $485.90. We are now happy customers with Verizon. Every call I make goes through. When I’ve had a problem I’ve gotten full and fast satisfaction. I pay that bill promptly every month. As I do with our auto loans; mortgage; the gas company; the electric company; the water bill; Talbot’s; cable; Internet; insurance; credit cards; the dentist; newspaper and college tuition.
If Cingular wants to try to tarnish my credit record, I will make every effort possible to inform as many people as possible of the truth, of what they did to us and why they will never get another penny from me. And if that’s reason for any creditor to not do business with us in the future, I will be very happy knowing that we will not be supporting a company that reflects Cingular’s shoddy products and hiring/training practices or embraces their greedy, short-sighted business philosophy.
It would have been very easy for them to keep my business. But it is impossible for them to regain it.