For the month of August, consumer advocate Christopher Elliott will occasionally be sharing some of the questions and problems he receives from readers. In this week’s case, Pam’s job entitles her to a discount on AT&T wireless service — a discount she’d been promised would be applied to all five phones on her account. But only after she’d changed over — and lost her unlimited data plans — did she find out the discount doesn’t cover all her devices. How can she get the company to keep its word?
I was recently offered a 22 percent discount through AT&T wireless through my employer. When I asked about the details, I was told the discount was off the entire bill. Every time I called AT&T before making the decision, I asked if the discount was off the entire bill. Every time I was assured that it was.
My husband and I decided this was a great benefit and we should take advantage of it. I applied for the discount at work and set the wheels in motion.
The process was difficult. The first time I applied for the discount, we were rejected because our AT&T account was in my husband’s name. Since I am the employee, the account needed to be in my name. I was told that when I transferred the account, we would lose our unlimited data plans and any other discounts as it was no longer offered. I asked about the new plans, took notes about the plans and said I would do the math and call back.
It made sense that the 22 percent discount would well offset the new package prices so the decision was made to open a new account in my name.
I applied for my own account and restarted the process of transferring all 5 wireless lines in our household.
After my account was approved and opened, only 3 of the 5 lines came over. I was told to go to an AT&T store to transfer the remaining two. when I got there, I was told that my husband had to do this. It was a circus.
Finally, the account was opened and all the numbers were transferred over. Then I received the first bill, and there was no discount.
That’s when they told me the discount would only apply to the family plan. I was shocked and explained what I had been told. The agent said he would look into it and someone would get back to me. I spent an hour on the phone with the retention department, explaining and pleading my case. I was offered $50 off for the first three months, or free messaging for six months, or $10 off messaging for life.
I am exhausted, furious and at my wits’ end with this company. If I had lots of money, I would sue them as I am sure there are others as frustrated as me. Can you help me?
AT&T should have honored the offer it made — and repeatedly verified — by phone. But that’s the trouble with verbal offers: They’re impossible to prove.
You should have asked to see the deal in writing. I mean, a “22 percent discount” could mean anything, as you now know. It can mean 22 percent off the first bill, or one of the accounts or before taxes. You require details.
Cellular companies seem to dislike interacting with customers in writing, but you have to force the issue. That also applies to the resolution; stay off the phone and send a brief, polite email to AT&T.
Who should get it? Start at the front door, which is the AT&T website. Outline the offer you believe it made as succinctly as possible and the resolution you’re looking for. This is far more efficient than spending an hour arguing with its “retention” department, believe me.
Of course, you could just send an email directly to Randall Stephenson, AT&T ‘s chief executive and ask him to do the right thing. His direct email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or you could try email@example.com or call him at (210) 351-5401. I’m sure he has a whole hour to argue with you.
Then again, maybe not.
Chris also contacted AT&T on Pam’s behalf. The company reviewed its records and found that the details of the offer did indeed change between the time she first contacted AT&T and the time she opened the new account. It is offering 22 percent off all monthly charges for the next year.