No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

This is one of my favorite expressions: “No good deed goes unpunished.”&#185 It speaks to the law of unintended consequences. Let me give you today’s example.

A few years ago, my cell service provider was AT&T Wireless. I’m sure they’re lovely people, good to their families, active in their church. To me, running a cell phone company was not among their strong points.

AT&T had this strange way of dropping calls. Granted, every cell phone provider has ways to tick off its customers – but AT&T’s was special to me.

Technically, as you drive around with a cell phone, it transmits to different cell sites as signals and conditions vary. The handoff from one site to another is a complex dance choreographed at the cell sites with instructions relayed back to your phone. AT&T’s equipment seemed to be set in such a way that by the time they got around to telling your phone to switch, you were often already unable to hear the site – and the call would drop. There were favorite locations where this would happen like clockwork.

Once your cellphone has dropped the call, it becomes free to hunt on its own for the best cell site. So, what I would often experience on AT&T was a call that became unusable with low signal – that frustrating period when all you say is “can you hear me?” After a period of time the call would disconnect. As soon as it did, the signal bars on the phone would jump up to full scale.

So, even in areas where there was good signal, because of how their cell sites were configured, AT&T would drop my call. Now that’s a business plan!

It finally got to the point where I had to make a change and went to Cingular. Even without service at my home, Cingular was a better deal because my calls from the car were more likely to work.

Recently, Cingular made an offer for AT&T Wireless and will buy it. And, in what should be a nice gesture, Cingular has integrated AT&T’s network into the system – giving me access to those towers along with Cingular’s. I have service at home because it’s an AT&T tower.

Unfortunately, AT&T’s dropped call problems have now moved to Cingular. That’s right – the addition of all these new towers, all this new coverage, has meant more dropped calls!

Because the AT&T sites show up differently on my phone (it shows Cingular Extend instead of just Cingular) I can see whose service I am not getting when the calls drop – or when I ride around with unusable service in an area that used to be just fine. The problem is with the AT&T sites.

I’d like to call Cingular and tell them, but anyone with the ability to act or even understand this problem is totally hidden from the pubic. Try finding an email address. Try finding a contact for snail mail. It’s impossible.

Cingular is not alone. Many companies have discovered that dealing with their customers after the sale is expensive with little quantifiable financial upside – so they hide as best they can.

The local Cingular office (and I know folks from there who read this blog) has always been very nice and helpful as can be. Unfortunately, they too are totally removed from the actual operation of the company (in fact most of the ‘showrooms’ that say “Cingular” in big letters are neither owned nor run by Cingular).

Here’s the tragic part. When Cingular made this move to allow me the use of AT&T Wirelesses towers, they thought their customers would benefit. And, in some small ways we have. After all, I now have service at home. But the biggest effect has been to lessen the coverage and frustrate this customer.

&#185 – The quote is from Clare Boothe Luce. Here’s how the Library of Congress characterizes here: Talented, wealthy, beautiful, and controversial, Clare Boothe Luce (1903-1987) is best remembered as a congresswoman (1942-1946), ambassador, playwright, socialite, and spouse of magazine magnate Henry R. Luce of Time-Life-Fortune.

6 thoughts on “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”

  1. Geoff,

    Did you try calling Cingular?

    Customer Service 1-800-331-0500 or 611

    Mon – Fri : 7am to 9pm

    Sat : 9am to 6pm


  2. If you call Cingular, budget a bunch of time for waiting on hold. I switched to Verizon a month ago, and the network is stronger and customer service is much more responsive.

    Or if you’re not under Cingular contract, take a look at Nextel. Their tower locations might be a better match.

  3. Let me remind you why I wrote this. Cingular did something and tried to make their service better. It was that ‘good deed’ which has brought me trouble. The fact that there’s a firewall between anyone I can speak to and anyone who could even begin to address this problem is a damn shame.

  4. Geoff,

    OK…here’s something that may help. A site I found that gives addresses…

    How To Complain About Your Wireless Service

    Got a gripe about your wireless service? Here’s how to file complaints with federal and state officials and with your cell phone company.

    Complaining to your cell phone company

    We found that sending a complaint, concern or question to a cellular server is not always as easy as it should be. Physical addresses for these companies are sometimes difficult to find. In some cases you need to call customer service numbers and wait for automated operators to direct your call before you will reach a service representative. You will always need to have your cell phone number ready. Below are ways that you can contact major cellular companies via phone, mail or email.

    Mailing address:

    Cingular Wireless

    Glenridge Highlands Two

    5565 Glenridge Connector

    Atlanta, GA 30342


  5. Geoff…

    Although I have transfered to the New haven Sales Center [months ago], it is fun to see where your life goes… I have forwarded your http up to our corp office before and they have taken an interest in it…My girlfriend even randomnly goes on to see what you are doing (sounds “stalkerish”)…

    Your phone issue is somewhat common…The thing about GSM phones is that they are supposed to “switch towers smarter” meaning less dropped calls. The GSM phones can get overloaded though, and we remind all users to power thier phone off and on at least a couple of times per week.

    I am going to email our Network/Tech guru a link to your article [[[if you dont mind]]], and let him see what he can do for us…he’s generally pretty good at this.

    One thing they did give us was a “map tool,” which allows us to enter an address and approximate whether there is service or not at an address or area. Your neighborhood is in a low-medium gsm service area for “Cingular” Service, but you and I know where that AT&T tower is.

    I’ll let you know what I can find out or if I can get a more-detailed timeline on this project…

    Keep up the good work…


  6. Geoff, I’ve been with SprintPCS, Verizon and now T-Mobile over the past few years. The worst customer service experiences I’ve *ever* had (ever) were with SprintPCS. Verizon has been a pleasure to work with on the occasions when I had to speak with them. One occasion in particular: When I worked at my last company, one of my analyst colleagues was a cellular industry guy. He’d get boatloads of demo phones from the various manufacturers to try out. Afterwards, they’d collect in his bin. He passed me a shiny new v60 back when the v60s were still the new thing. I called VZW to get the phone activated. I know a thing or two about phones, so I asked to speak to someone that could provide me the system ID and phone number and whatnot. I already had a StarTAC and was looking to transfer from one handset to th eother. The first person I spoke to – the front line customer agent, was top notch. Not only polite, but smart. She talked me as far as she could (considerable) and then handed me to a tech guy who finished up. Between the three of us, we had the phone singing in no time. It was a good experience. Later experiences with them were also generally positive. T-Mobile has been reasonably positive so far, but the network is weak. I switched to T-Mobile to take advantage of their flat rate GPRS data service (20/mo on top of your voice plan for unlimited GPRS.) I also find GSM telephone handsets to be far in advance of their american-only CDMA counterparts. While I can’t speak to T-Mobile’s customer service in great detail, I can tell you that the handoff issues occur with them as well. Since the banner on the phone doesn’t change when this occurs, I assume it’s one of T-mobile’s towers or a tight roaming relationship (as opposed to roaming where the banner reads “AT&T” or “Cingular.”) But I think this may have something more to do with the 1900/850mhz band situation rather than the configuration of their switchgear. My phones only support one of the two bands on which GSM can be found in the states. The SonyEricsson T610 does 1900, 1800 and 900mhz. The T616, Cingular’s offering, has 850mhz, which is the longer range band for the USA. Chances are I got told “switch to 850” and couldn’t negoiate the next 1900 before it dropped.

    Or maybe its 1800mhz in the US, I always get them confused. Suffice to say, it works great in 90% of the places I operate, but there are some weak spots along I-95 where the handoffs go poorly.

    Geoff, I agree completely on the isolation between those that know and the customer base. But this has been the case since day 1. The best thing we can do is get unlocked GSM handsets and just hop between the available GSM providers on a month-to-month basis when we can’t stand them anymore.


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