Tales From The AT&T Landline Twilight Zone

Imagine an alternate dimension. One where you have phone service, but it isn’t working. You call AT&T your service provider, and their automated response system tells you that you aren’t an AT&T customer, and to call your actual provider. When you call up AT&T to wait for an actual human to sort this out, they call you back… to immediately put you on hold.

That’s what Mark experienced. Oh, and they also made him hang up on his mom.

About 11:30 pm Saturday, my home phone wasn’t working. So I used my cell phone to call the AT&T Repair number — we’ll call this the 877 number. After a short wait, I spoke to nice lady who told me they would send someone out the next day to test the line, and my service should be restored no later than 7 pm…on Monday. Since it was the weekend, I figured there wasn’t much I could do. The lady also asked for another number where I could be reached, so I gave my cell phone number. As it turned out, my phone started working shortly after, but I didn’t want to wait on hold again, so I didn’t call back. I now realize this was where Rod Serling gave his opening narration ending with, “…because Mark is about to enter…the AT&T Twilight Zone.”

Sunday at noon, I missed a call on my cell phone, but there was a voice mail message telling me the line had been tested and my service should be restored. If my phone was working, I should call an 800 number to let them know; otherwise a technician would be sent to check the line further. I know that AT&T might charge for a service call, so I called the 800 number and found myself in the usual call center hell: For residential repairs, press 1; for PBX, press 2, etc. Eventually I heard this:

“According to our records, your service is provided by another vendor. Please hang up and call your provider for service.”

This was odd. Not only have I been paying AT&T since they bought out the far-superior BellSouth, but they were the ones who called me and asked me to call this number and they set up the service call in the first place. I called again to make sure I entered my correct phone number, but still ended up with the same message.

Next I tried calling the 877 number from Saturday night. The estimated wait time was 55 minutes, so I tried the 800 number again. My plan was to get a real person by selecting the option to report damage to an AT&T outside facility. I got an actual person, but she was in another region of the country and could not help me. She transferred me to another number where I was again put on hold, with no estimate of the wait time.

By the way, this was Mother’s Day, and I had plans to visit Mom, who lives about 90 minutes away. After about 10 minutes on hold, I put the phone down and took a shower. When I came out, the call was still on hold. I then called the 877 number on my cell phone again (with the hold music from the other call still in my other ear). Still a 45-minute wait. However, AT&T does offer the option of a callback for those who don’t want to wait. I entered my cell phone number as the callback number (the landline was still on hold) and waited to see what would happen next.

Eventually, someone did pick up the hold and I explained the problem. His response to my being told my service was provided by someone else was, “That’s weird.” (To which I mentally added, “and creepy, and has no connection to anything like reality.” The representative cancelled the service call, which would have been the end of it – except for the callback.

While I was calling Mom to tell her about this odd experience, I got another call on my cell phone, which I guessed was AT&T’s callback. It was, so I got Mom off the phone (on Mother’s Day, remember). The recording told me to press 1 to accept the callback, or 2 to schedule a later callback. I pressed 1. And what happened? I got put on hold for another 10 minutes! Apparently AT&T believes that the purpose of the callback is to be stuck on hold at a later time, not to be called back when they actually are ready to talk to you. It’s like those arrogant jerks who have their secretaries call and ask, “can you hold for a call from Joe Bigshot?”

This person had to again cancel the service call, as she had a record of the original call, but not of it being cancelled earlier. Well, if AT&T expects me to pay for a service call, I will point out that according to their records, my service is provided by another vendor.