We were on the phone with our relatives, the Smiths, when the line went on the fritz. We could hear them, but they could no longer hear us. It was most disconcerting. The Smiths aren’t getting old. They’re already old. And they’re not exactly in good health, either. Our uncle, in his eighties, has a […]
We were on the phone with our relatives, the Smiths, when the line went on the fritz. We could hear them, but they could no longer hear us. It was most disconcerting. The Smiths aren’t getting old. They’re already old. And they’re not exactly in good health, either. Our uncle, in his eighties, has a had a triple heart bypass operation and sports a Walkman in his chest. Our aunt, nearing 80, has her own collection of ailments and you wouldn’t want it. Nevertheless, they take good care of themselves, run a shipshape household, feed us mercilessly when we visit and never spare us their opinions. We are proud to have them in our family. When the phone pooped out, leaving the Smiths at risk, we got in touch with Bell Atlantic’s repair service.
The whole megillah
It was nearly seven in the evening on a Saturday night and we were calling from a different state, but an intrepid operator found the right number for us. The Bell Atlantic employee who first fielded our call heard the whole story and (reluctantly, we felt) passed our call to a higher-up with authority to send out a repairman in a hurry. Once again we had to go through the story: who, what, when, where and why. Finally, we got some assurance that Bell Atlantic would speed help to the Smiths. At nine o’clock, having not heard from the Smiths, we called Bell Atlantic just to make sure that everything was copacetic. No such luck. We had to explain ourselves at length. Once again our call was forwarded up the line, to a different person. Once again we had to recite the whole megillah: old folks at risk, trying for more than two hours to get help and so on and so on. Our composure was wearing thin. We were going to have our call bounced again. And this time, it turned out, we got somebody who actually was going to try to locate a repairman, something that apparently had not yet occurred to Bell Atlantic. This last person had a secret special phone number, from which calls were forwarded to her home. We emphasised our determination by vowing that the next call to Bell Atlantic would be from our lawyer who would explain that it was generally a wrongful act for Bell Atlantic to bump off the Smiths, even if by indifference and incompetence and even, after all these hours, if nature had a hand in the assassination. We were lying. We had already called our lawyer, who wasn’t immediately available, and we were trying to decide just how late that night we dared call again. By half past ten we had heard from one of Bell Atlantic’s field personnel who assured us that a technician would happily visit the Smiths as soon as possible even though it would entail waking them up at midnight or one or two in the morning. We declined the kind offer and instead extracted a promise that somebody would be on their way at first light. Next morning at eight and change we called the secret special phone number that forwarded calls to the home of a Bell Atlantic person charged with assisting in emergencies, which we felt the Smiths’ situation certainly was. The shift had changed, and with it the number to which calls were forwarded. Only this time, Bell Atlantic set up the patch wrong. The call went through to a man who said he was with Shady Knolls or something like that. It was a cemetery. Were the Smiths goners by now? Was Bell Atlantic telling us where we could reach them because their phone was out when a crisis had hit? No, it was just more of the old Bell Atlantic treatment, which they have the nerve to call customer service.
By Hesh Wiener
Happy ending: by nine, Bell Atlantic had determined that the problem was caused by a new phone, which the Smiths had obtained from AT&T a few days earlier. Bell Atlantic had no responsibility for the instrument and its technician explained this and walked away. But by this time, another relative, alerted to the plight of the Smiths, was on his way with a new phone. Bell Atlantic is the phone company that, for Christmas, provided not food nor clothing nor shelter for the homeless, but voice mail. The minute a cable TV company or anyone else for that
matter offers local phone service to the Smiths, you can count on Bell Atlantic being unplugged. These little adventures never happen in isolation. Just before the phone incident, the Smiths decided to replace their refrigerator. They went to Sears, found out a machine they liked would cost a grand and just about bought it. Then Sears told them they would have to pay something like fifty bucks to have their old refrigerator taken away. Sears felt it could charge this because if the Smiths disposed of their old refrigerator in the wrong way, the ozone police would be on them in a minute. They would be sent to Leavenworth, where the only advantage is that there is a different phone company. The Smiths may be old, but they don’t take too much guff. They went down the road to Trader Horn and found a better machine, a Maytag, for less money… and a merchant who would happily remove the old cooler as part of the deal. No more Sears for the Smiths, either. The way their luck was running, we were expecting the Smiths to buy an AS/400 next. We wonder how they would take IBM’s new software deal. You buy the new operating system. It will have bugs galore, guaranteed. If you don’t find all the bugs in three months, according to someone who is supposed to know about these things, you will probably have to pay IBM to fix the defects it left in the code. Maybe the Smiths won’t get an AS/400. What if they decided that their life would be richer with a giant parallel mainframe. They could buy a 9672 and later find out, as one expert told us, that if you don’t have an obsolete 9021 mainframe hooked to it, you can pretty much forget about having enough input-output capacity to keep all those service units working on IMS jobs.
We’re sure they will be comforted by the chance to buy an upgrade next year that will of course eliminate any inadequacies this year’s model might have. The Smiths won’t have to worry about its cost; IBM will come up with an appropriate figure. We are confident the Smiths will get the best price, just like everyone else. But what if big iron was a little excessive for the Smiths. They could buy an IBM Ambra personal computer in an effort to save some money for their even older age. They could surf the Internet looking for senior citizens’ discounts. Chances are, they would learn that IBM’s Ambra outfit has a remarkable business plan: instead of using rigorous testing to see that a computer works before it is shipped, Ambra apparently relies on hope, which springs eternal and cheaply. The next time the Wall Street Journal writes about unhappy Ambra buyers, the Smiths might become famous. If the Smiths kept dealing with institutions that are living more on myth and public relations than on the recent experiences of their customers, we’re confident we could reveal a plot to bump them off, an evil conspiracy in which Bell Atlantic, Sears and IBM would figure prominently. Our lawyer would just love it. But somehow we think that the Smiths would prefer a slightly different social climate, one in which big companies did not display so much greed, stupidity and callous contempt for their customers.Copyright (C) 1994 Technology News Ltd