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.

A Good Cell Choice?

Contracting for cellular service was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. There are no really good choices, just a series of compromises. Everyone is offering something different. It’s nearly impossible to comparison shop. Each company has different coverage. None of the companies make full, easily understood disclosures of their coverage or limitations.

In many ways I’m reminded of the airline industry. They’ve made life so miserable for customers that, by and large, airlines are reviled. Meanwhile, the major carriers have made so many cuts that their one unique selling point against the low cost carriers – full service – no longer exists.

Back to the phones (airlines are too easy a target).

This morning, right under the masthead, The New York Times reported Vodaphone as the likely purchaser of AT&T Wireless. Bzzzzzzzzz – wrong. The ink had hardly dried on page one by the time it was announced that Cingular was buying AT&T Wireless.

Call me selfish, but this is wonderful news for me. My only real (current) complaint about Cingular is their coverage at home. AT&T, on the other hand, has a compatible tower within spitting distance of my house. So, I can only hope that the two networks are quickly combined and the green light on my phone starts blinking.

This is too easy. I’m missing something, I just know it.