Sunday, February 6, 2011

Week # 6: Land Mine... er, Line - The Battle to Cancel MCI

Okay... any guilt I had about reducing our contributions to the national economy is gone for good after the effort I had to expend to make this week's budget cut. I have no idea what "MCI" stands for, but after  this week I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it's Make Customers Insane.

We've been in the current house for almost 11 years. When we moved in, for whatever reason, AT&T was our designated local service provider, and MCI provided long distance service for our land line. That's just how it was set up and we never bothered to change anything.

Now that we're taking a closer look at things, we don't need long distance service since we have cell phones with national range. We considered getting rid of the land line altogether, but Trish is required to have a back up contact phone for her days on call. We haven't figured out a way around that yet. At least  we could cancel MCI's long distance service, so I set out to challenge their phone menu system on Friday afternoon.

First attempt: I dialed the number and warily stepped into the voice maze. This particular system felt like a video game, and I quickly defeated and advanced through several levels until I got to THIS challenge, asking what kind of change I wanted to make to our account: press 1 to add services, 2 to change services, or 3 to cancel service. I pressed "3". Wrong answer... first life lost. A cheery voice informed me that all representatives were very busy indeed, and my wait time was estimated at "18 minutes." I dug in my heels and tried to keep the elevator music from starting any permanent loops in my head.

Ten minutes into my hold, I tried to look at the time on my cell phone and inadvertently disconnected the call. Since I had a chance to start anew, I decided to try a new strategy, just as you have to try a different move the second time through a video game if you don't reach the end the first time.

This time, I told the nice virtual lady that I wanted to "add" service. When presented with a menu of services that they would be more than happy to set up for me, I feigned ignorance and refused to push a button, for fear that I might actually finish the call owing more than when I started. Sensing confusion, the helpful virtual lady placed me into a queue, presumably the one for those who had expressed an interest in spending MORE for additional unnecessary services. This time I was not given any estimate of the wait.

Guess what? Jennifer, a very helpful real person, was on the line in 45 seconds. She was obviously caught by surprise when I told her the reason for my call was to cancel. After some shuffling through papers to find the appropriate and unfamiliar script, Jennifer informed me that they could replace AT&T as our local provider for basic phone service for the low price of $6.11 monthly, and would that be okay? AT&T charges $27/month for that same service, so I said... "sure!"

"Great" said Jennifer, and she put me on hold to process the change request. Three minutes later, she returned to take care of the details. "Now", she said, "is your income less than $24,000 per year?"

I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been paying $16 per month for years for basically nothing if that were the case, but I still should have seen that coming. Giving her some benefit of doubt, it's possible she just took a wrong turn on her flow chart before quoting me the impossibly low rate. I told her that we weren't going to qualify for any special programs based on low income. "Oh, okay... we'll just enroll you in the Neighborhood service at the regular price then." Before I could object, I was holding again.

When she returned, I had to turn the conversation back around to get the details from her before she completed the transaction. $25 per month plus per minute charges for long distance calls plus fees. The old bait and switch! That's basically our deal with AT&T. So I politely requested to just cancel the MCI bill... again. This brought on a fourth round of elevator music.

Upon her return, Jennifer, apparently out of sales pitches, informed me that she would be transferring me to the voicemail system which handles service cancellations. (Why, then, couldn't I have simply been directed there after punching "3" the first time around?) Finally... the last level... the chance to slay the dragon! After another round of silly menus requesting information I had already discussed thoroughly with Jennifer, I was finally given a confirmation number.

All in all, it took 40 minutes to make a simple cancellation. Makes me wonder how much MCI depends on revenue from accounts which users try to cancel, but are unable. At least I succeeded at jumping out of the understaffed or non-existent queue for cancellation calls, and we are no longer obligated for the monthly payments of $16 for land line services.

We'll probably examine the remaining land line charges later in the year. Any ideas about cheap services are welcome!

MCI savings for one year: $187.20.

Total savings so far: $1,224.40!


  1. Been reading this with interest. You have the savings to have a very nice vacation already and it's only the first week in February. Well done.

  2. Thanks, Webfoot! Nice to see you!