Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An insider's Guide to working with AT&T Wireless (Or A Phone of One's Own, Part 3)

Have you read the story of how many times I got conflicting information about procuring a new phone through AT&T? Are you thinking about using my advice on buying a new phone from someone other than AT&T but not sure if that's the right choice for you? Are you as confused as I was by AT&T in general, but specifically about the differences between AT&T Next and the traditional  system of wireless contracts? Then read on for a crash course.

In the past, getting a new phone every two years was as simple as renewing your contract and saying thank you. Maybe if you were into newfangled technology, you'd have to pay a bit for your fancy-schmancy handset, but you got a hefty discount as long as you renewed the contract. This is still possible, but AT&T is moving away from this system. Nowadays, most everyone is using a fancy-schmancy phone, and it's not economical for AT&T (and, from what I hear, other carriers as well) to continue offering them for next to nothing. So they are encouraging all their customers to switch to the new AT&T Next plan, where you buy your own phone (still at a discount, but a smaller one than you would get with the new contract), but in exchange, you pay a lower per-line monthly access fee (if you're using the Mobile Share Value billing plan). Although I didn't believe it at first, you actually save money in the long run by going with AT&T Next (because if you choose the new-phone-with-contract option, you lose that discount on your access fee). If you're as skeptical as I was, check out this handy calculator that they have created for you.

Now, here are a few caveats. They kept specifying that this pricing system applies to the Mobile Share Value Plan. If there are still other plans available, and if you're on one, I don't know whether it's still going to be cheaper to use the AT&T Next purchasing option. But since that's the plan I'm on, I'm telling you how it is for me! The other caveat: AT&T also allows you to bring your own device. If you are willing to do the extra research and the shopping around, you can almost certainly get the same phone for less if you buy it from another retailer. That's what I chose to do (the phone that I chose isn't even available through AT&T).

What is a Mobile Share Value plan? Well, I don't know exactly. What I do know is that while before, my line was allotted a certain number of gigabytes of data all to itself, now everyone on my family plan is sharing all the data in one big pool (cue the "MOM! Billy's hogging all the data!")

If you are going to put on your gauntlets and do business with AT&T Customer Service or visit a retail store, I strongly encourage you to do four things first:
  1. Make sure you are an authorized retail user. If you're on a family plan, only the account holder has permission to actually make changes to the account. But an authorized retail user, such as Yours Truly (I'd like to thank my dad for making this possible!) can buy a phone and renew his or her contract and things like that. This is a must for those who are geographically separated from the account holder by 500 miles or thereabouts. You will need to get the account holder to add you as a user, but once you have, your life will be easier by at least 5-fold.
  2. Make sure you have the last four digits of the account holder's social security number. Even if you're an authorized user, they won't allow you access to account details without additional proof of authorization. For example, I could not get the refund on my ill-advised SIM card purchase until I provided these magic numbers.
  3. If you're going to visit an AT&T store, make an appointment first. When I arrived for mine on a Sunday afternoon, I was the only one with an appointment, which automatically put me ahead of the 7 walk-ins on the waiting list. Even so, I had to stand around waiting for a good 10 minutes, and then someone messed around with the wait list and accidentally removed my name before I was called, just adding to the annoyingly long wait and obliging me to have a loud conversation with my boyfriend about what had happened to my name until an employee noticed I'd been skipped over. This leads me to my 4th point.
  4. Be ready to be proactive.* There are some very stupid people working for AT&T. All sorts of accidents happen and all sorts of misinformation are dispensed like candy. Everything you get told, check and double-check. It's a hassle, but it's better than getting billed too much, which seems to be the usual result of these miscommunications.
And lastly, before you put on those gauntlets, be aware of the distinction between AT&T and an AT&T Authorized Retailer. This is a tricky one, because AT&T authorized retailers are apparently allowed to have huge signs with the AT&T logo (albeit with the words "authorized retailer" next to the logo). They can look just like an AT&T store, but they can apparently charge you 20$ for a SIM card which a company store would give you for free. Who knows what insidious other ways they may be different!? So be cautious when shopping; visit an Authorized Retailer at your own risk, and be sure to double check on any of the fees before you hand over your credit card.

Following these steps to success, I am pretty sure that you can navigate the morass of confusion and have a happy (OK, OK, I'll settle for semi-functional) relationship with your cellular service provider!

*Some people would argue that my strategy for getting service in point #3 would be better classified as passive-aggressive, not proactive, to which I have to agree, if it had been an actual strategy. To my credit, at the time, I was just trying to figure out what had occurred and not actually opening a conscious bid for attention. It just happened that the issue did get resolved without my having to actually approach anyone—phew! Another win for the avoidant person in me!


Ray Hoy said...

A very informative posting. I agree wholeheartedly with the second sentence in point #4. I seem to have managed to find many of the intellectually challenged employees. Have I mentioned lately that I hate AT&T ?