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Firms try public's patience

May 19, 2002 12:58 am

HEY, VERIZON: Your stock is
down 15 bucks compared to
a year ago. I know the communications industry is hugely competitive, but there is an economic recovery going on. How about you and me getting in on the good times?

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

Please, stop it.

Not only is your stock down, but you're annoying the heck out of everyone with those commercials. This hardly seems to be a business-savvy approach coming from the upper reaches of corporate America.

But it is just one example of what seems to be an alarming trend: Attract customers by irritating them. Constantly.

While Verizon may be a bother--not to mention a strain on my portfolio--its former Ma Bell really takes the cake.

Why would any company intentionally pursue a strategy that alienates its customers and its potential customer base?

AT&T long distance seemed very concerned when I discontinued its service recently. Their telemarketers called and called--usually at dinnertime--to plead with me to come back.

Such telemarketing calls all have one thing in common: They are annoying. But they are also as different as the people who are doing the calling. One caller was very concerned that AT&T had offended me in some way, and wanted to make it up to me with a sweetheart of a deal if I would just please come back.

Another caller seemed to be berating me, telling me that I should know better than to leave AT&T. I thought she was going to tell me
to come back to AT&T--or else.

There were numerous such calls. I must have taken four or five. My wife told me at least a couple of times that AT&T had called when I wasn't home.

Then I got direct mail from AT&T with a $40 check. If I cashed it, I would automatically be switched back to AT&T. The company was so very sorry to lose me that it was prepared to bribe me to come back--with a smorgasbord of discounted services and free minutes to boot.

Before all of this maybe there was a chance I would go back to AT&T in the future. That will never happen now.

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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