Monday, September 22, 2008

AT&T: Pathetic Customer Service

Taking a break from all the political news, today I set my sights on the phone company. All the phone companies are lousy in the service category when it comes down to it, but AT&T is on my list today. Let me preface this by saying that I used to be director of a customer service department for a large distributor, so I have a tendency to be very sensitive to service lapses. (Must be all those years of me being on the receiving end of some very nasty customers.)

My cell phone contract will be up in a month or two, so I thought it might be time to change my cell carrier from Verizon to AT&T, since they tout better rates when you group, or bundle, services. I tried to get some information about “bundling” some of their services from their web site. It looked easy at first blush, but the deeper I got into it, I found myself sucked into one of Dante’s circles of hell. I was directed to a link which addresses existing customers, then told to build my “bundle” with the available choices, and every time I tried to go through the process, I got a slap down saying that what I had chosen was for new customers only.

Getting very frustrated, I decided to check out where the closest AT & T store was located that handled all their services, including cell phones, AT & T U-verse (TV), long distance, and Internet. Luckily, there was one only a few miles away. So I drove there, and was helped very quickly, which was a good sign. (Usually when I visit the Verizon store, which is my cell carrier, I have to wait 20-30 minutes just to ask a simple question.)

My optimism was short lived when I found that they really couldn’t help me. They took one look at my phone bill, and declared that I was paying too much (I have AT&T as my home phone provider). But, despite the fact that it was a full service store, I was told to call their customer service office for help. They proceeded to the cell phone issue – which was my other need – and without asking how many minutes I needed, tried to sell me a low minute national plan. The problem is, the whole issue with my cell phone is really based on me getting unlimited long distance on my land line at a reasonable price. Since they couldn’t help me on my land line issue, the whole cell phone thing was moot. But, they still weren’t paying attention, moving on to trying to sell me the AT&T U-Verse television service. But OOPS, it’s not available in my area yet, so they really can’t save me any money because – they say – the real savings is gong from cable to U-Verse.

They also couldn’t speak to all the mystery charges on my AT&T land line bill…you know, things like the federal access charges, the long distance base fee (I make NO long distance calls on my land line), carrier recovery fees, etc. etc. In essence, they were worthless to help. I’ve come to the conclusion that the phone companies all tack on these little extra charges just pass along their own expenses. It seems like I am being ripped off somehow, but it’s hard to prove it.

My next step was to call the AT &T customer service line. Of course I knew I wouldn’t get a human being right off the bat, but had to laugh when it repeated my phone number to me and asked if I was calling from the number in question. You see, I had to clear my throat while he automated attendant was talking, and before I could answer, it said, “thank you, I’ll just look that up.” (I’d sure like to know what he was going to look up, maybe the clearing of a throat, cough, or sneeze has a special meaning?)

Needless to say, even though the automated attendant said I only had a 8-minute wait to speak to an agent, I was on hold for 30 minutes before I decided to hang up. While I was waiting, I was also looking - again - for the information I needed on their web site (there was nothing there to help), and I can’t tell you how many times I clicked on links that offered more information on a subject, but then took me right back to the page where I started.

The bottom line is that I came to the conclusion that if I can’t get help easily from AT&T on my land line, then I don’t think the service will be better for the cell service. In other words, they just lost a potential customer, and not just for the cell phone, but probably their AT&T U-verse when it becomes available in my area.

So here’s my message to AT&T – customer service is important. And by customer service, I don’t mean automated attendants, followed by 30+ minute wait times, web sites that don’t answer questions, and retail people who don’t know the full product they are selling. There are many other choices out there for phone, Internet, and television that they can’t operate like the monopoly of old.

And you know those annoying Alltel “My Circle” commercials? They are looking better to me every day.

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Music Wench said...

Alltel is great. I've had no problems with them at all. Customer service numbers come programmed into the phone, etc.

The commercials are getting rather annoying though. LOL

Anonymous said...

This is such a common're certainly not alone in this frustration.

Even if you had gotten through quickly to an AT&T rep, the carriers often incentivise these reps to get you on certain plans that may not be the best plan for your specific usage.

I'd recommend that you check out a client of mine called Validas who offer an online service that enables mobile subscribers to upload a recent phone bill and receive a detailed analysis including any billing errors, over charges etc.

The report they provide also makes cross carrier comparisons to let you know the best rates available from AT&T vs. the rest of the major carriers in the US.

This way when you do contact the carrier, you know exactly which plan is the right size for you and you're not at the mercy of the rep at the call center.

Good Luck!