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And you call that customer service?
By Christi Gillentine

The phone rang in the middle of feeding my children breakfast. I dashed and grabbed the cordless so I could pour milk and take the call.

"This is a courtesy call."

Oh great, I thought, a phone solicitor before I have even brewed my morning coffee. But it wasn’t. It was my phone company; South Western Bell. The automated phone call was to inform me that I had reached my long distance limit, and if I kindly make a minimum payment of $51.00, my long distance service would be turned back on. Wait a minute, I thought, I hadn’t even received my phone bill! How could this be possible! Not understanding what this was about, I pushed a button and waited for a "live operator". After a few moments a woman answers. She tells me that my home phone has been "put on restriction because of the disconnection you had last month". Yes, I explained, my phone had been disconnected due to an accidental under payment, and as soon as I realized the problem, I made the correction that same day over the phone. That was all well and good, she said, she would just need me to make a payment over the phone and the matter would be settled.

Wait a minute! It was early, and I was with out coffee. I was not about to give my credit card number over the phone. This could all be a scam. I pictured myself on the evening news telling the world how I was duped out of my credit card number, and warning others of the latest phone scam! Also, I knew I hadn’t even received my phone bill yet! I informed her that I would call back at a more convenient time and hung up.

Like most people today, I am a busy person. As a mother of three children all under the age of two, managing my family and working from home can take up every moment of my day. I have learned that it is best to plan all business related calls in the small windows of opportunity I have when my children take their daily afternoon nap. I would call MY phone company, South Western Bell, as soon as possible. Surely, this must all be a mistake.

Three days later, on a Friday, I receive my phone bill and promptly put it in my mail box to be picked up after the Memorial Day week end. I would find out later that was a huge mistake! Giving proper delivery time for the bill, I called South Western Bell in an attempt to get this cleared up. It turns out that they had not yet received my payment and, "sorry", I could not make long distance phone calls from my home until they received a minimum payment of $51.00.

"But wait!" I explained, "I paid my bill in full of $102.00 on Tuesday, June 1st, and it isn’t even due till June 6th! I need my long distance. I have important calls to make related to my business!".

"Well, if you use your phone for business related purposes, then you could get a business line. They don’t have this restriction".

No, I did not want a business line. I thought, what is this, extortion? I know the phone company is always trying to get me to buy more of their products and services but this is ridiculous! I asked to speak to the supervisor. From my own experience with working in customer relations, the supervisor is always empowered to satisfy the customer. After all, I wasn’t a problem customer. In my 5 years of receiving local phone service from South Western Bell. My bills were paid in full and on time. And, I had mailed my full payment four days before and it still was not yet due for 5 more days!

The operator, Mrs. James, told me; fine, she could get her supervisor but she would just tell me the same thing. There were also no supervisors available; one would have to call me back.

Later I received a phone call from Mrs. Bucey. It turns out Mrs. James was right; no one was able to help me. I followed up and spoke with a Mrs. Keck who informed me that this was a blanket policy of South Western Bell. My phone would be on restriction for 6 months! When I reached my long distance limit each month I would receive a courtesy phone call. I could opt to pay a partial payment or lose my long distance privileges until I paid. Even if my bill was not yet due. There is no way around this Mrs. Keck explained.

By this point, I was furious. Yes, I understand that some people are problem customers and need to be closely monitored. That was not me. I always pay my bill. Except for the one single incident of underpayment, I had never been disconnected. I would like any of those women to try paying bills, balance the checkbook, while entertaining, supervising, refereeing 3 active toddlers! I am a paying customer who is dissatisfied. Period. In our society of competitive markets, customer service is supposed to be number one. If not, than the customer walks away to a better, more service oriented competitor. In this case, because I have no choice but to carry South Western Bell as my local phone carrier, it seems that I then have no choice as to what kind of service I receive. Funny thing about it is, I don’t even use South Western Bell as my long distance phone provider. I use a competitor who has great rates and even better customer satisfaction.

Just because South Western Bell decides to implement a blanket policy that would effect customers in this way does not make it right. I am writing this as a customer who has no other choice; or so they tell me at South Western Bell. My consumer voice will be heard, and so will others.

If you think this restriction is unfair, tell South Western Bell yourself 800- 6161-1171 ask for Mrs. White, manager of customer appeals.

Christi Gillentine is a Freelance Writer and full time mother of three children all under age two, including boy/girl twins. You can read more of Christi’s writings at her web site


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