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"I was just so PO-ed that I had called and spent all that time on the phone, and they still didn't do what they said they were going to do. I had never called the Better Business Bureau before about anything in my whole life," she says. "After I contacted the Better Business Bureau, [EarthLink] went ahead and credited the $13.90, and then like a week later they turned around and put it right back on my credit card! I was just so mad. I knew they were doing it on purpose."
She is still struggling to get her money back.
With 1,224 complaints against it, EarthLink tops the list in number of complaints at the Atlanta Better Business Bureau. But that number can be misinterpreted. In EarthLink's case, the grievances come from across the country. The 328 complaints against AT&T Broadband, for example, are all locally generated. BellSouth is another company Atlantans love to hate. Among its 305 complaints is Ruby Ann Patton's. Back in March, she ordered DSL service from BellSouth. She was told it would cost $45.
What she wasn't told, she says, is that there's another BellSouth charge -- this one for "upgraded phone service." Yet, it was the upgraded phone service that she was charged for during the first four months. She thought she was paying for DSL, but she wasn't. She realized that when, out of the blue, she got a bill for $400, seeking back payments for the DSL service.
To Patton, it all seemed like a trick.
She says, "Had I gotten the first bill and saw that it was going to be over $100, I would have canceled it and gotten rid of it right away."
But the over-billing was just the tip of the iceberg: "The real problem is you get a person [at BellSouth on the phone]. Say his name is Michael. You tell Michael your whole problem. He tells you somebody is going to call you back so you hang up. Nobody calls you back. So you call that number again. Nobody knows who Michael is, so you get a new person and you have to start all over again and they are going to switch you to the supervisor, except they lose you so you call that [customer service] number again."
Patton wrote down the names of every person she ever talked to and logged how long each phone call took. Over the course of two months, she says, she talked to 13 different people and spent more than 15 hours on the phone. But nothing happened until she wrote the Better Business Bureau of Atlanta.
She got all her money back and then some.
"When I finally went to the BBB, I got credit after credit and ended up not having to pay for any of it," she says. "But they credited me with more than they should have."
For that reason, and partially out of fear of BellSouth, Ruby Ann Patton is not her real name.
BellSouth spokesman Joe Chandler pointed out that the company regularly receives awards for its customer service, including one shared with EarthLink for outstanding DSL service.
He also says, "I'd like to say to you, if we don't meet expectations of our customers, there's an indication that we need to focus on that a little bit more."
Maybe Burke and Patton shouldn't be so surprised. Personalized service has been going the way of the mastodon since well before Wal-Mart crushed its first mom-and-pop.
As acquisitions and consolidations became the law of the land, large corporations have raced to please shareholders. Maximizing profits now far exceeds what used to be a company's pride and joy: excellent customer service.
Says Banja, "A company that is just wildly profitable and wants to be more wildly profitable will justify all of that [acquisition and consolidation] by simply saying, 'We want to be not more profitable, but more competitive. We want to position ourselves better in the marketplace.' And unfortunately, that kind of peer-competitive marketplace ... doesn't bode well for good relationships."
Consolidation, in the guise of lowering prices for customers, is really just another word for no choice. "It's one of the great paradoxes of capitalism because you don't want monopolies," Banja says. "That's another interesting thing too because it's almost the case that these ISPs are monopolistic. The market doesn't have enough of them. What kind of alternatives do people have?"
@ Mark from Atlanta "Which he was as Executive Officer on the K1. "Command of…
@ Mark from Atlanta "He was Executive Officer on the K1. No matter what his…
@ Mark from Atlanta "Politics? What part of yours or mine comments was not political?!"…
" The politics and insults are your issue and I'll leave them to you.." ______________________________________________________…
"I call it remedial since he was remedying deficiencies in his academic training." _______________________________________________________________ You…