Who is "they"?

I received the following e-mail this week:

Dear ,

Your current monthly bill is now available at http://www.cingular.com/ocs. Log in, then go to My Account and select View Bill.

Your payment will be due approximately 10 days from the date of this e-mail. If you have chosen to have your Cingular bills paid automatically through our recurring payment option, your payment will be made for you in approximately 10 days. To make a one-time payment, log in and select Make a Payment.

Ordinarily, I suppose, receiving this would not have been noteworthy, except that I had canceled my Cingular service about two months ago (I had moved to an area with iffy coverage). No worries, I would just reply to the e-mail, and point out the mistake. Except, of course, for the following postscript to the e-mail:

Please do not reply to this e-mail, as it will go to an unmonitored mailbox.

I find it annoying to receive e-mail ( or visit a website ), where there doesn’t appear to be any way to notify people about a mistake. Why wouldn’t Cingular (or any company, for that matter) want to accept an e-mail inquiry or response? The alternative, as we shall see, is likely to be a phone call — more expensive for the company, and more frustrating for the customer.

Following the instructions in the e-mail, I logged in to the web-site, where I received the following page:

There is no account information available. Please call 1 800-208-3081.
For your reference, this is message number 4001.

Aha! Progress, of a sort. Now I have a phone number to call, where a human can respond to my problem. Noting, always, that had I been able to respond to the e-mail, it could have been queued for processing by the very same customer care representative — and I wouldn’t have had the added frustration of listening to the on-hold music.

Once I’m talking to the representative, things start to get more frustrating. She informs me that I don’t appear to have an account. I know this — the reason I’m calling is to encourage Cingular to stop sending me e-mail reminders to pay my (non-existent) bill. Ah!, she says. I’m afraid I can’t do that. “They” will have to do that.

“They”? Who is “they”? I ask. “They”, I am told, are the people who fix these kind of problems. Do “they” work for Cingular? I ask. Yes, “they” do. In that case, I point out, since “they” work for Cingular, and so do you, then to me, as a customer calling the customer care number, you all appear to be part of the same group.

There is a word in the English language for the “they” that includes you.

That word is “we”.

The customer care rep would have none of that. “They” were the only people who could help me. How could I contact “them”? I couldn’t. Could she talk to “them” on my behalf? No, she couldn’t. She might be able to ask her supervisor to talk to “them”, but she wouldn’t commit to it.

My guess is that the system that sends out the e-mail uses a different database than the actual billing system. There was a hiccup in the account deletion process, resulting in what the IT people call an out-of-sync. So now, somebody from IT is going to have to manually delete that record in the mailing list database, because the system that the care reps use probably checks the account against the billing system, and if it isn’t there, isn’t designed to look in the mailing list system. So “they” is probably somebody in IT. I guess.

The story has a happy ending. Even though I was getting error message 4001 (the representative had no idea what that meant — shouldn’t they have access to the list of errors? shouldn’t we?), I could still log in. And the menu item links beckoned. So I opted to “disable paperless billing”.

The result?

Paperless Billing Disable Confirmation

You have just successfully disabled your paperless billing. Either on your next billing cycle or the one after that, you will begin to receive a paper bill by mail.

If I guessed correctly, that will have the effect of deleting my ID from the list of people being e-mailed.

Way to go, “they”. I love it when the customer can resolve problems more effectively than the care rep. It means your website works. But I’d still consider how to allow e-mail responses to be monitored.

Then again, I wonder if I’m going to start receiving paper bills with nothing on them…

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