Anne Anderson and her family have lived in the same West Akron house for more than 19 years.
They have had the same telephone company for all of those 19 years.
They have had the same telephone number for all of those 19 years.
Or rather, they had the same phone number. Had it until one extremely odd day in late November, when suddenly they didn’t.
The short version goes like this:
When an AT&T customer from Virginia was moving to Akron, he asked whether he could transfer his longtime seven-digit number from his old area code to his new 330 area code.
Why sure, said AT&T. Always eager to accommodate a loyal customer.
So the newcomer got his number of choice, and he was delighted.
The Andersons were not delighted. Without any warning or justification, AT&T gave the new guy the same number the Andersons had used for two decades.
They discovered the almost-unbelievable affront when they came home one evening and their phone didn’t work.
When they couldn’t get a dial tone, Anne’s husband, John, suggested she call their home phone with her cellphone to see what would happen. When she did, she got an answering machine — not theirs.
John didn’t believe her. So he picked up his own cellphone. His call was answered by the man who had moved from Virginia.
Anderson told him what number he was trying to reach, and the man confirmed that Anderson had dialed correctly. Then the man explained how he had acquired his new number.
Now, unfortunately for AT&T, Anne Anderson keeps very good records. With her first phone call to the company, she began to document everything, blow by blow — or, should we say, blow-off by blow-off.
She showed me her log. In the interest of brevity, we’ll spare you the entire play-by-play and simply give you the box score:
• The Andersons placed 12 phone calls to AT&T.
• Nine of those calls were disconnected.
• They talked to 19 different AT&T employees.
• They spent almost seven hours on the phone, most of it on hold.
• They had no land line for 14 days (at a time when they were awaiting the results of medical tests and RSVPs to a big holiday gathering).
All this because of a problem they had no hand in creating.
In addition to the box score, I’d like to offer a couple of “highlights,” because they are precious.
On Dec. 15 — two days after the Andersons finally got back their 19-year-old number — they received a form letter from AT&T, dated Dec. 12, that began:
“We’re sorry you decided to disconnect your home phone service. ... If you did not authorize this to happen, please let us know immediately and we’ll correct your account.”
When she called the phone number provided in the letter, she was transferred to a general number — and disconnected.
Did we tell you the one about the supervisor named Lanacia who graciously stayed on hold with them for two hours while waiting to connect to the regional repair center? The one where, when Lanacia finally reached the repair center, she was told that this repair center doesn’t service her particular call center, that it only services the 800-288-2020 call center — which was, of course, Lanacia’s call center? And that, after a standoff, Lanacia finally asked which help center she should call, and the AT&T help center couldn’t give the AT&T call center another number?
As Anne Anderson wades through it all, alternately laughing and fuming, she paints a dark comedy, a comedy of ineptitude that makes you wonder how much further downhill customer service in this country can slide without day-to-day living coming apart at the seams.
Mind you, the Andersons have spent a fortune with AT&T.
Not only do they pay the company for a home land line, but also for John’s home-office land line and the family’s six cellphones.
Yes, six cellphones.
So ... to what lengths did AT&T go to try to retain these highly loyal customers?
The best AT&T could do, Anne was told, was to credit back the regular monthly service fee for December.
What a bargain. Spend two weeks with cellphone glued your ear — “I can’t make dinner, I can’t do laundry, I’m on hold for two hours at a time” — and she gets back one monthly bill for one telephone.
Meanwhile, she jokes, the poor guy “with our number was getting all of our phone calls.”
“We’re having a holiday party, no one can RSVP. [The number] is on my checks. It’s what I have for the [kids’] school and for doctors to leave messages. I have had some medical tests going on, and I don’t know whether the tests were good or bad.”
After recounting the night she was told she could be given a mailing address for an executive in Ohio but not a phone number for the guy, who works at a phone company, she explodes in laughter.
“You know that scene in The Money Pit where Tom Hanks kind of loses it and does that hysterical laugh? At that point, after being on hold for two hours, that was me.”
What else could she do but laugh?
Well, she decided, she could call me.
She rang me up Dec. 13 — 14 days after her number was hijacked, six days after the date she was promised it would be returned, four days after a second promised date also was broken.
I laughed, I cried, I was infuriated.
Infuriation lasted the longest, because customer affronts by mainstream companies are growing more and more brazen as those companies cut more and more employees to keep their stock price up while their ability to conduct their daily business shoots downward more sharply than one of those revenue charts for the Acme Corp. in the Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
The Andersons’ service was restored later the same day she called me, before I made any inquiries. But I still figured AT&T had some ’splainin’ to do.
I sent a detailed email to Holly Hollingsworth, AT&T’s regional spokeswoman in Columbus, asking, among other things, why not one of the first 18 people the Andersons talked to couldn’t immediately point them in the right direction.
Although she never answered my specific questions, she did say AT&T apologized for the inconvenience, and suddenly the company seemed to realize the error of its ways.
The same day I contacted Hollingsworth, a supervisor phoned Anne Anderson and told her AT&T would be delighted to credit her for three months of service, rather than one.
Anderson says she now is satisfied. “[The supervisor] was very helpful and apologetic and promised to review all the phone calls we have made.”
However, even that interaction turned odd.
“I told her I would send her the records I sent you, but — wait for it — she could not give me an address!”
The woman told Anderson that company policy prohibited her from giving out her email address or her mailing address.
“Maybe,” Anderson surmises, “they are worried about disgruntled customers coming to their offices.”
They should be.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.