Seven Degrees from Normal

Two people, eighteen years of marriage, seven college degrees.

Friday, May 20, 2005

I am pretty sure this makes me a jerk.

But I don't care. Last month I called our phone "provider," SBC, to cancel two services we never use: Call Return and the "In-Line Service Plan," which supposedly covers repair in the event that the phone lines inside your house are damaged. For these two services we were paying ten dollars a month, or $120 per year. How much does it cost to replace a phone wire, I wonder?

Anyway. I got this month's phone bill and it was for about $20 more than usual, instead of the $10 less I was expecting. Turns out they charged me a $5 late fee (I had put the bill aside for a few days before I got around to calling about the service change). They also charged me a $16.60 "Service Connection Fee." Huh?

So I called, talked to the lady ("How can I make you a very satisfied customer?"). The $16.60 (plus tax) charge was a mistake. She took it off. My payment had reached them three days late, thus the late fee. OK. So I go about my business.

But then I started thinking . . . They overcharged me by $18, with tax. I had to notice that overcharge and call to get it removed. If I'd paid it, they never would have said anything to me. And then they're going to charge me $5 for paying them three days late. I know, I know, the two things aren't really connected . . . but why is it that my mistake cost me five bucks and theirs cost them nothing? And in business terms, wouldn't it make sense to drop a small, basic fee in order to preserve the goodwill of a customer who just caught you trying to rip her off?

So I went to the SBC web site and sent them an email asking, basically, if they held their customers to a higher standard of accountability than they held their own employees. Short answer: Yes, they do. They "sincerely apologized" for the "human error" that led to the overcharge, but they could not refund my late fee. Even though my late payment, as I had explained to them, was also a "human error." My human errors are evidently of a different caliber than SBC's.

Thus, the jerk part: I replied with another email asking for instructions on how to access my account records for the last five years, so I can check EVERY BILL THEY'VE SENT ME for overcharges (because, I said, it's clear that they expect me to be more conscientious than they are). I'm sure there will be at least a couple of dozen charges in the last five years that I can write polite inquiries about, all of which will have to be answered by someone. You may have guessed that my goal now is simply to cost SBC five bucks one way or another. Assuming the person who answers my emails makes at least minimum wage, I think I'm well on my way.


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