Cingular just sent an email with the bold title of "Raising the Bar". I wish. The email said "Your wireless bill is ready online. Account Number: ***-****7607. Phone Number: XXX-XXX-0000". The account number was not mine and the phone number obviously belonged to no one. But wait, it gets worse.
My recent email from Vonage (more on that coming up), the Internet telephony service that I use, started out with "Dear John Patrick". The Cingular email started out with "Dear JOHN PATRICK Service". Huh? The all caps look is reminiscent of 1960’s technology. The email went on to say "Your current monthly bill is now available at http://www.cingular.com/ocs. If you have chosen to have your Cingular bills paid automatically through our recurring payment option, your payment will be made for you in approximately 10 days". If I have chosen? They don’t know?
I had started out with AT&T Wireless and had numerous bad customer experiences with them as has been written about here in the blog (See mobile category). The merger with Cingular was said to have great synergy. That may be true long term, but so far I have seen nothing but problems. The "0000" phone number was a result of the merger. It was a carryover from the prior account. When I called the number on the bill I got Cingular and keyed in my 10-digit phone number. Predictably, when a customer service agent came online, their first question was "what is your ten-digit phone number". After giving it to them, they said it was not a valid number. I said I have been using it for years. They said it might be an AT&T number. Yes, but isn’t that now part of Cingular. Well yes, but it is a separate system. "Would you like to be transferred?". Why doesn’t the statement say something like, "if you are a former AT&T Wireless customer call the following number"? The finale was that if I want to have the correct number for future reference, "Get a piece of paper and I’ll give you the number".
Comcast (which has also appeared in this blog) is struggling with the transition to an on demand world also. I enrolled online to have my monthly charges automatically debited to a credit card. No problem. "The enrollment process for recurring credit card payment can take between 30-45 days". Online. Real time.
The telecommunications industry is under huge pressure from every direction — regulatory, customers, competitors — and they are working hard to integrate, improve coverage, move to VoIP and get better at customer service. They are making progress but at this stage I would have to say that consumer expectations are rising faster than what is being delivered.