Phone company can reach out and ‘access’ this

Hello! Welcome to AT&T Customer Service! I see that you’re calling from 555-GET-REAL. Is that the phone number you’re calling about?”


“OK! Now, please say your account number, your address, your Social Security number, your mother’s maiden name, the Pledge of Allegiance and the VIN number off your car … while jumping up and down on one foot and tapping your nose.”

(You race for the information and begin jumping around like a crazed woodland creature, kicking the dog, upending the candy dish and falling into the TV, anything it takes not to be put on hold again. You are a prisoner, trained like a hamster in a cage.)

“Great! Now, please tell me what your exact question is. If you’d like to reach us online, you can access your account information, make payments, change your address, get a car loan, order a pizza and reconstruct your family tree! Just go to AT&!”

(Pause … hoping you’re gone … no dial tone … rats.) “All right, then (huffy), Main Menu. Press 1 if you’d like to change your address; press 2 for new accounts and sales; press 3 for lawn and garden equipment.”

(You press 0.)

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your request. If you’d like to reach us online, you can access your …”

(If you’d wanted to “reach her online,” you would have done so, duh.) Agent!

“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your request. If you’d like to reach us online, you can access …”

(You breathe deep, go to your “happy place,” rip off a thumbnail.)

“Press 1 to change your address; press 2 for … (yeah, baby, you gotta listen to every single possibility!) … press 6 if you had bacon for breakfast and feel guilty; press 7 for complaints about the weather; press …

Hey, she never said 5! It’s got to be 5! (You press 5.)

“Buon giorno, Sal’s Pizza, will this be for delivery?”

Nooooo! (You frantically press 0 again, then 3, then 7, then every number on the phone to get back to the Main Menu. Not gonna happen. Redial.)

“Hello! Welcome to AT&T Customer Service! I see that you’re calling from …”

(You seethe through the entire thing, until the absolute end of the “pressing” instructions.)

“And, to speak to a Customer Service representative, presssss … (dramatic pause) … 88.”

What?! How could it be 88?! Who chooses 88!?


“Hi, welcome to AT&T, this is Becky (and “Becky,” it is obvious, lives in one of those hard-to-pronounce countries far, far away, where, evidently, they love American names). How can I help you today?”

Well, Becky, I have a problem with my bill.

“Certainly! I’d be happy to help you! But, first (what she says: Can you please verify for me your name, address, telephone number, etc.?); (what you hear: I’ll be torturing you for another minute and a half, even though I know it’s you, due to the information you already entered way earlier in the call — like when it was still winter — in order to induce an aortic aneurysm, in the hope that you’ll hang up). OK, thank you very much, Ms. Wentz, now how can I help you?”

Well, Becky, (you really chafe at calling her Becky when, by her accent — and the sound of native women beating laundry against the rocks — you know darn well her name isn’t Becky!) I need you to help me understand the charges on this bill. See, I was told my plan would cost $52 a month. This bill is for $73.36, and as far as I can tell, I haven’t done anything to precipitate that. I haven’t called 411, I haven’t called my mother (she doesn’t need to know that was a “given”) and I haven’t called Tibet in ages!



“Ahem … well, Ms. Wentz, it looks like the extra charges are due to taxes and fees.”

Yes, Beeeecky (you drawl sarcastically — hey, we need jobs in this country, too!) I managed to figure that out. So, can you tell me exactly why I should pay a “Federal Universal Service Fee,” or a “Federal Subscriber Line Charge,” or a “Federal Excise Tax,” a “Telecommunications Relay Service Fee,” an “Emergency 911 Service Fee,” a “Worldwide Occasional Calling Fee,” a “Federal Universal Service Fund Fee,” a “Carrier Cost Recovery Fee,” and the North Carolina state and local taxes? Can you tell me that, Beeeecky?

“Well … uh, let me transfer you to my supervisor, Ms. Wentz. She will need to verify your information again. Of course, if you’d like to reach us online …”

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at

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