BrandedPosted: August 15, 2008
A company’s “brand” is “the sum-total of their consumer’s experience with them. It’s how the consumer remembers them…the emotions they associate with the company, the images they think of when they hear the company’s name, that knee-jerk reaction when the company comes up in conversation.” (MojoLoco LLC)
And with that, I would like to say that I’d like to kick that blue-and-white striped AT&T ball to hell and back. I got branded by AT&T with a hot sizzling iron. The letters are still raw and bleeding on my rump. I won’t ever forget their company brand, and I’m sure they spent a lot of money to create it.
What you need to know, if you don’t already, is that when you sign up with AT&T for a 12-month term or a 24-month term or a 36-month term, that term automatically renews for another 12, 24, or 36 months every time it expires. In other words, your contract never ends. Even when you die. Unless you take action and sit down and write AT&T a letter 180 days beforehand and tell them you don’t want the contract to renew. The burden is on you. Of course.
What I didn’t know is that my husband was going to die. It happened suddenly.
We were probably the last business in the country to cling to our ISDN line, simply because we did not want to enter a contract with AT&T. We called on at least three occasions to add DSL and change our service plan, but backed away because we did not trust the salesperson to deliver. Hmmm. Prophetic. Then when we finally negotiated an agreement with Mr. Ruffin, we made sure to ask that it was a short-term contract (I initialed 24 months) and we could move the contract if we moved our business to another location.
“So this contract will be over in 24 months?”
Our business signed the 24-month contract 30 months ago. We did most of our negotiating up front. Unfortunately. Somehow the word “renewable” slipped into that contract. The salesman neglected to explain it, and in the course of business and busy-ness, all was overlooked. Boy golly, how stupid we were and how we were duped into thinking we had covered the bases and gotten what we’d asked for and wanted! What in the world ever made us think that could happen?
No problem. We’d been loyal AT&T customers for 19 years in that business and longer than that with home service. We weren’t planning to leave them. E-ver.
But it all came back to bite. My husband died.
When I called to cancel the phone lines, the representative said she didn’t see any contract on the account, and I agreed that it was signed well over two years ago. She also said if they did pull up one and charge a termination fee, she didn’t see any problem with them releasing me from that because of the death of the business owner involved. Extenuating circumstances, you know. Just call back, she said, if that happens. I’m sure there won’t be any problem.
We didn’t count on death. When death comes suddenly and takes away the person whose name is on the phone bill, the contract remains in place and must be honored by the dead person. When death comes suddenly and shuts down the business, the contract remains. The dead person must pay a hefty fee to cancel his phone service.
I got a bill for breach of contract in the amount of $360 from AT&T because my husband died and can no longer run his business or answer his phones. Total with taxes: $394.38. Yes, I must pay taxes on the penalty for death.
AT&T said they were sorry their customer died, but he still had to pay the penalty for canceling his service early. They couldn’t help it, couldn’t do a thing about it. A contract is a legal and binding document, after all, and even though he is dead and his company doesn’t exist, he has to pay that contract termination fee. AT&T said they have no provision for extenuating circumstances. It’s just too bad. Make payment arrangements, they said. They didn’t care.
I have had to make dozens of calls since my husband died to cancel this or that because it wasn’t needed any more. Big companies have been gracious and quick to deal with the situation and have resolved it with professionalism and compassion and have treated me like a human being, as well as a respected customer. Thank you: Chase (the best!), Bank of America, Globe Life, Verizon (over and above the call of duty!), State Farm, Auto Owners, Holiday Inn, Social Security Administration…and the list goes on and on.
AT&T is not on this list of companies trained to handle a death situation. They are cold and hard and unreasonable and they do not care about their customers. Nor do they care about their own brand and what their customers think about them.
If you have service with AT&T, write them in your will because you will be paying. Set aside a chunk of money to cover your contract after you die. After all, a contract is a contract. People die. Contracts don’t. And contracts are important. People aren’t.
I won’t be showing loyalty to any company any more, whether I’ve been with them 3 years or 30. It’s a dog eat dog world. And I certainly won’t forget the image that sickening blue-and-white ball conjures up in my mind.
UPDATE: [September] AT&T reconsidered and wiped out the contract termination fee. My balance is zero. There is a little heart in that circle after all. Thank you, AT&T.