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Firms try public's patience page 2
How does Corporate America thrive when it drives away customers?

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Date published: 5/19/2002


Word must have gotten around that I was a long-distance switcher. MCI called, then Sprint, each telling me what wonderful deals they had to offer.

After hearing these offers from an endless line of suitors, I began to feel like a cheap long-distance harlot.

The interesting thing is that big companies may think they know about you, but they really haven't got a clue.

I would bet that AT&T records tucked away on a chip somewhere would show that except for one short period, I've been an AT&T long-distance customer since the beginning of time. Call it loyalty or call it laziness, I don't make such changes arbitrarily and I don't make them often. I've got more important things to think about, and don't lose sleep if I'm paying a penny more per minute for long distance than I need to.

So if I did switch, I had my reasons and certainly wouldn't switch back immediately.

The main reason I did make a change was that a new long-distance service caught my eye that donates part of my payment to a variety of organizations I admire. I also get a coupon for a free pint of Ben & Jerry's each month for my first year. Keeping customers fat and happy is not a bad idea in such a competitive industry.

That one short period that I'd abandoned AT&T previously was to try out AOL long distance. America Online was offering a combo deal that provided both Internet and long-distance service at a great price.

I didn't stick with that very long. It may have been something about the billing I didn't like. Whatever it was, it was enough to motivate me to switch back to AT&T. On my own terms.

Now comes the really scary part. I'm about to tell AOL to take a hike as my Internet service provider. We've been AOL subscribers since we entered the modern computer age
at home more than four years ago.

I know AOL is an aggressive company, and I'm expecting a deluge of calls and letters pleading with me to come back.

They may be sorry that they called, though, because I have plenty to say about AOL's so-called service, the advertising, the spam, the way they respond to questions, and the challenge it has become just to dial up, log on, and stay online.

Once again, a major corporation's best efforts at consumer relations have vexed me to the point of becoming a former customer.

The front-runner in the race to become my ISP is offering a free DVD player to lure new subscribers into a six-month commitment.

OK, so I can be bought--but only when I choose to be.

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