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How the term "slamming" came to be coined.
 
Someday it may become part of the telecommunications industry’s folklore, but at present very few people can explain how exactly the term “slamming” came to be. A generally accepted view is that the term came out of AT&T and was intended to make the unauthorized switching of a customer’s long distance carrier sound like the onerous business practices that it is.

But that is only part of the story.

As Mike Ahern describes the moment, it was a chilly October morning in 1987 when as the AT&T National Marketing Director for Equal Access, he noticed a disturbing trend in his outPIC report. The report listed the customers who had recently switched from AT&T to a competing long distance carrier.

“I was looking at customers who had switched in Wheeling, West Virginia. They were in numerical order right down the line. They were leaving (ATT) in blocks on the same day to the same company. I had never seen anything like it before.”

When Ahern called some of the customers to confirm their decision, the customers admitted that they had been telemarketed but that they had rejected the company’s offer. Yet a few days later, they received a letter from the same company thanking them for switching their service.

Ahern had stumbled upon one of the first cases of slamming. . . just one problem.
The new practice didn’t have a name yet.

“Sometimes we called it unauthorized switched PIC piracy, but this technique of wholesale switching customers deserved a new name. The night before, I had seen the movie `Ghostbusters’ and you know the part where they say `We’ve been slimed.’ Well, after I made those calls and had figured out what had happened, I came out of the office and told my staff `We’ve been slimed.’”

Ahern, a marketing professional through and through, said the expression didn’t “resonate” with his colleagues so after playing with the term a bit more, he ended up requesting a meeting with his boss on the topic of “slamming.”

“When I came to the meeting, she asked, ‘What the hell is slamming?’” As Ahern worked his way up the inner decision making process of AT&T, he continued to explain the term. But it wasn’t long when Merrill Tutton, vice-president of AT&T’s customer Service, was quoted using the word “slamming” in a speech in Newark and the term was ready for the big time.

With “slamming” now addressed in FCC rules and widely cited in the media, Mike Ahern is a little wistful about his role in coining the term. A few years back, when serving as an expert witness for AT&T in a case in Baltimore, he fed a question to his lawyers so that he would have the opportunity to explain his role.

“The judge and clerk all laughed because they had been wondering how that term came to be.” And now you know too.

By Tim Sweeney
WUTC Consumer News
WUTC Public Affairs section

 

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