Sunday, December 12, 2004

SBC Cingular AT&T Wireless "synergy"

Got a call Thursday night. It was an automated call. “This is just to confirm that your order with SBC has been completed. If you have any questions about this order, you can call SBC Customer Service at 1-800-244-4444.”

I looked at my wife. “Did we order anything from SBC?” “No.”

So I called. How foolish of me.

The first person I got on the phone (pleasant surprise: no hold time, and the person I spoke to was most definitely a U.S. resident) told me that the problem was that my credit card didn’t go through. I explained we cancelled that card a year ago, and had stopped SBC’s auto-billing because of the numerous errors in processing. “But it didn’t go through!” she insisted. “What did we order?” I inquired.

After finally getting her to agree that the credit card issue was not, in fact, the reason for the automated call from SBC, she told me she had to put me on hold while she checked that info. Except that she didn’t put me on hold — she took advantage of the slow computer response to inform me that I was “pre-qualified” for four free cell phones from Cingular. “I’m already an AT&T Wireless customer,” I replied, and since the two companies are really now just one, I explained that there was no reason to “switch” me to Cingular (who is an SBC partner, see here for more info).

Prepared, she had a response ready: “OK, then — just move your billing over to us and you can save money each month on your bill with a consolidated bill.” (Remember, this is synergy at work.)

deep breath

“What did I order?”

She explained that it was actually a fluke — a simple upgrade of the DSL system that triggered an automated call to subscribers (how many, she wouldn’t say) but that I hadn’t ordered anything nor had I been charged for anything. Score one for Rick.

Foolishly, I wasn’t content to end the call, happy in my small victory. No no — I could save $5/month by putting my cell bill on my phone bill. (Which, now that I’m thinking more-or-less rationally, makes no sense — this call started with me reiterating my frustration at SBC’s billing! But nevermind.)

“Let’s do that cell thing, so I can save a few bucks.”

The next twenty minutes were spent trying to recreate my AT&T (ahem! Cingular) service — though there’s synergy at work, God forbid their CRM systems talk to each other — since she couldn’t see what plan I was on, there was no way to put me on the “same” plan, I had to essentially re-order services I already receive. Whatever, I had invested enough time in this call that I was prepared to see it through.

She insisted on “giving” me two free phones. Nevermind that I love my Motorola v600 and my wife loves her v500… no, we’d have to take our free phones. Five minutes of Googling later, I settled on one of the free models, picked solely for their selling price on eBay.

So now we were ready to finish up, and by “finish up” I mean “call AT&T-I-mean-Cingular-to-finish”. So we call, and get an automated system, which makes me enter in my cell number, and social security number, which then tells me I have a $400 balance. (Nevermind that we just paid the bill two weeks ago, and are well under our minutes for the month. Now the rep’s on and I’m determined to finish this damned thing which will save me all of $60 this year, and isn’t my hour spent on the phone worth more than the freaking $60 I’ll save?)

When I explain that I’m concerned that switching from AT&T to SBC will likely screw up my billing and/or service plan, my guy from AT&T Cingular explains that “even though I’m Cingular, I’m really just AT&T” which apparently means he only takes customer service calls for AT&T customers. (Who are, if you’re paying attention, Cingular customers.) (No, I don’t quite understand either.)

At some point in the endless conversation (about 1:10 in the call, I believe), AT&T Cingular guy explains that “as soon as you switch over, you can use your Cingular phone.” I wake up at that point and say, “that’s my v600, right?” No, as it turns out: “That’s an AT&T phone, and it won’t work on a Cingular system.”


“What?” I’ve roamed before, been on Cingular GSM networks countless times. Except that, according to my guy, it’s an “AT&T phone” and isn’t set up to work with Cingular service, only to use the Cingular network when roaming. I suggest that maybe he’s referring to the fact that AT&T locks its GSM phones while Cingular does not, and that it’s a trivial matter to rectify, to which he responds, “I don’t know anything about that.” (I suggest Google, to no avail.)

Whatever. He’s telling me I’ll have to use the POS free phones I agreed to earlier (so much for putting them on eBay), at which point I cancel the entire thing.

But the call does end in victory, of sorts. Now that I didn’t order something from SBC (for a second time, as it turns out), I asked AT&T Cingular guy about that $400 balance. “Well, you’re on a local plan and you had a lot of roaming last month.” Well, I did go to the east coast for a week at the end of October, but I’ve been on a national plan since I joined AT&T (ahem! Cingular). “But you switched in October.” No, I did add my wife’s cell phone as a second line to my account, to, um, save money. Except that when I added her line to my account, they mistakenly put us on the local plan.

Incredible. Rumor has it they’ve put me back on the national plan, and waived the more than $300 of roaming. I should be happy — it’s not Joi Ito roaming, at least!

Bottom line? I wasted 90 minutes on the phone, only to confirm that I didn’t order anything to begin with, ended up not ordering the switch from AT&T/Cingular to SBC for billing purposes, and finished up by rescinding my non-order for GSM local service from AT&T Cingular.

If you’re interested, here’s the FAQ on how the Cingular/AT&T merger will affect you. I’m afraid to look.


  1. INTERESTING. I got an e-mail from SBC saying the same thing last week, but I had not followed up on it yet...

  2. This is why Nicole and I have only T-Mobile Phones...SBC screwed us up so bad, we got rid of our land line 3 years ago, and will not touch a SBC affiliated company.



  3. I received a call to my voice mail _at_a_client_site_ a few months ago that claimed Cingular needed to contact me about my service. This sounds suspiciously similar. I'm guessing they were just phishing.