Guest Commentary 

Fear and loathing in the Qwest customer-service trenches

Sir, if you'd lost service, you would have been compensated. Since you weren't compensated, you never lost service," she said, triumphantly.

On some level, I admired her creative logic, but on another level, I wanted to bash my head against a telephone pole, for I was deep in the trenches of Qwest customer service.

It began months before, when a friend tried to call me but received a disconnect message. I didn't think much about it, but then I started hearing the story from lots of people.

The first few customer-service representatives (CSRs) either hung up on me or told me that the problem I described was impossible. Finally, I got someone who feigned interest and took lots of information. I spoke with her for about an hour, and I specifically asked if all this info was now on record. "Oh, yes." Later, I found out there was no record at all.

The next CSR, upping the ante, asked for the names, numbers and phone companies of all parties who tried to call me but couldn't get through. When I expressed how unreasonable that request was, he hung up on me.

After a few more blood-boiling calls (including one with a CSR who demanded to know the phone company I used years ago in Maine), I finally got a technician to come out. He didn't know what the problem was, but promised to call me the next day. He didn't.

Fifty or so calls into this month-long odd-yssey, someone had enough empathy (or apathy?) to give me "a different 1-800 number," a secret one. When I called, a woman answered with a brusque, "Hello," followed by, "How did you get this number?!" Irritated, she put me on hold for 20 minutes before hanging up. I called the secret number back and, in a flash of genius, calmly said, "You know, I'm writing about all this for a local paper."

Poof! It was fixed in 24 hours. I wasn't actually writing a story. Well, not at that point.

Recently, I picked up my phone: no dial tone. I go to work and call my home number: busy signal. Hmm? After work, I call Qwest from a downtown payphone. I feed info to the nice robot. He cheerfully says, "Just a minute," and then disconnects me. I pop more quarters in and work my way up to a human who says, "They probably turned off your service; I'll call over there and see if they'll reinstate it." Then he hangs up on me.

I drive to a different pay phone, this one outside of a seedy bar. I land "Sherry," who informs me that I'm not the primary contact (my wife is), so she ain't telling me anything—but she'll take my credit-card number. Strange. Without notice, dumps me onto "Carl," who's pissed from the start: "You're not the primary, so we can't tell you anything. She already told you that!"

"But I pay the phone bill, and I always call about ..."

"What did I tell you already!? I'm hanging up on you, sir! I'm hanging up on you, sir!" I plead to speak with someone else, and Carl kicks me to "Steve" in Idaho.

I get the feeling Steve's a rookie; he implies that he knows this is a prank call, but he'll play along. Steve tells me that there's nothing wrong with my line. Then, "Wait, no, there's something wrong! I'll take your payment, no, wait! I'll do a test; hold on." He doesn't hang up on me, but he doesn't come back, either. "Tara" does.

Tara is bewildering. I'm never exactly sure what she's saying: "There is no problem with your line would you like to speak with repairs to fix the problem?" she says. "Are you calling from the phone that has or has not been disconnected?"

I need a drink.

A few drinks later, a yet another Qwest rep says, "It's a short. There's a short in your line, somewhere. We're sending someone out, tomorrow." Hey, maybe we're getting somewhere!

The Qwest technician arrives between the hours of 3 and 7 p.m. He comes in and out a couple of times and soon calls me from an undisclosed location. Awesome; the phone is working again! Using said phone, I happily pay my monthly Qwest bill.

The next morning, my phone is dead.

I thought about Robert DeNiro in Brazil ... then I switched phone companies.

David Kish is a Tucson-based writer and cartoonist (hoopleville.com) who endorses no telecommunications company in particular.

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