Friday, August 1, 2008

AT&T: American Theives and Total-incompetants

What is it about the name AT&T?

A few years ago, Southern Bell (SBC) bought the remenents of AT&T and changed their name to AT&T. More recently, the new AT&T merged with Cingular and became AT&T Wireless.

Its like the name is a curse. Call yourself AT&T and instantly, like magic, all care about the customer vanishes. People as old as me might remember the old joke about the old AT&T monopoly: "We're the phone company. We don't care. We don't have to." Well , that attitude is alive and well in the new AT&T. Here's my story, I'd be curious about similar stories others might have:

Last month, the Iphone 3G was released. Its really the Iphone I've been waiting for. The price is right ($200) and the 3G service with an all you can eat data plan for $30 is just what I need. So I went to the store, only to discover that I could not "upgrade" my current contract "til August." This seemed odd as Sprint, my previous phone company, was always willing to write me a new contract whenever I wanted a new phone understanding that getting me recommitted for another two years was *always* of value to them no matter where I was in the old commitment. Alright, the Iphone maybe is more expensive to them. It was annoying but I could accept that.

Just to double check I went to another AT&T store a few weeks ago and confirmed that I would have to wait "until August." Well, waiting 2 weeks was tough but I wasn't going to spend $100 a week ($200 being the upgrade discount, $399 list, $199 if you were a new customer or upgrade. Remember that new customer clause, we'll come back to that) to have it early. It wrankled that
as an existing customer I was less important then a new customer, but I could wait.

So today, August the first, i go bright and early into the Apple store praying they have some. Hurrah! They are in stock and the line isn't *too* deep. I wait and then go through the whole buying procedure.... and the palm computer my friendly and helpful Apple sales rep has in her had comes up "Not eligible for upgrade".

WTF??? She suggests I call AT&T and lends me an Iphone to do so. I get AT&T customer service on the phone and they tell me. "Oh, your not eligible til the thirty first of August." Nice of them to not tell me that the two times I was in the AT&T store in July. The 31st??? Why the hell didn't they just tell me "September?"

I start full time as the Rebel Monkey CTO Monday and I *really* wanted to start in style and with all my tools in place. I go back to the office and I'm pretty pissed. I IM my buddy Chris who does a lot of business with the cell phone companies in his role as Sun's "Chief Gaming Officer." "They only care about your account," he tells me, "threaten to quit and buy a Samsung Instinct on Sprint instead." Well, I'm not sure how serious I am about quitting but decide I can at least find out what it'll cost me to quit. I call AT&T custoemr service and ask them. They tell me there is a $175 early cancelation fee.

Now, I'm a cheapskate. I probably would have waited the 4 weeks and gotten my phone then rather then spend $175 to cancel my account (though that still cheaper then the $200 extra I would pay if I kept my account and tried to upgrade.) However, since I said the magic word "cancel" they connect me to the "Customer Loyalty" department. A very nice lady there looks at my account and says, "Oh, I have access to information they don't in the stores and I can see your eligible now. Here is what you have to do. Go to the Apple store and buy the phone at retail. Then call us back and we will give you the $200 as a credit towards your phone charges."

This seems perfectly reasonable to me and I get off the phone a happy man, close up what I am doing, and run to the Apple store. It takes me about 90 minutes and a reset of the Iphone but I get my phone bought and connected and I leave a happy man. On the way out of the Apple store I start playing with my gmail on it and Im pretty much in instant love. On the way back to the office I sync my bluetooth hand free car system and call my office phone just to try it out. Its all real cool and it *works* in a way that none of the previous "smart phones I've owned have.

I get back to the office, catch up on some mail,and then call AT&T back to get my credit. And here is where the trouble starts.

I get a rep on the phone and I tell her exactly what the previous rep told me to tell them about the refund. She says "I need to *request* this of the supervisor" and puts my on hold.

WTF??? Request?? I was told this was a done deal and the deal was I buy the phone and sign up for the plan and they do the credit. That was an oral contract and I'm starting to get an uneasy feeling that someone is going to try to weasel out. Sure enough, the supervisor gets on the phone and says "Oh no. We cannot do that. You will have to return the phone."

I explode. I just spent 90 minutes in the middle of my last day at Sun to do what THEY told me to do and now they decide they don't want to after all? He insists that the rep never should have told me that. That it was a mistake and that the rep will be reported.

The rep wasn't the problem. Mistakes happen. The problem was THIS supervisory jackass who refuses to stand behind his people's promises.

I point out to him that they made a deal with me, he says it'll be his job to go through with it. I say then let me speak with YOUR manager and he says thre sin't one. (Obvious nonsense, there is always a boss unless your the bloody CEO and this bozo wasn't it.)

He gets smarmy and says "I see here in the record you were told twice by reps in our stores that you had to wait til August 31." I tell him "NO. Your reps told me I had to wait 'til August' NOT 'til August 31." He compounds the smariness by saying "August 31 is in August." "So is August first," I reply, and he finally drops the point.

He tells me that he can't do the credit because "Apple is involved." I call him on it and tell him to his face thats nonsense. That I work in this business and I know that Apple doesn't give a rats rear what they charge me or don't charge me for service. That they made their money on the retail-priced phone. He doesn't respond to that but just repeats that he can't do anything "because its an Iphone."

He offers to credit me minutes. I point out to him that he has been LOOKING at my account and right in front of him is the fact that I have 2500 rolled over minutes already and that extra minutes aren't worth anything to me.

I point out to him that I am NOW ready to close my account and take the $175 hit because I am livid that he's been feeding me garbage and won't stand behind what his people say. How, I ask him, can I do business with a company that doesn't stand behind what its people tell its customers?? He offers to waive my $175 cancellation fee.

I ask him if hes really willing to lose a $2400 contract over $200. He gives me a non answer and I finally say "Okay I will go waste more of my time returning this thing and canceling my AT&T account" and mean it.

So, although he has done *nothing* to keep my business, he has now both ticked me off to the point that I want to quit and removed the only impediment to my quitting. Good job "customer loyalty" manager. Since the only consideration they seem to be willing to give me is if I leave, I accept and go back to the Apple store to return the Iphone and cancel my account with AT&T.

I return the Iphone and call AT&T customer disservice from the handy loaner Iphone again. I tell them I am canceling my account. They say I can't because I have an Iphone. I tell them I just RETURNED the Iphone. They say they don't show it. I tell them I am standing in the Apple store and ask if they would like to talk to the man who just processed the return, or maybe the Apple store manager?

We go around in customer service script circles for a few minuets with him telling me that they need to receive a particular piece of paper from Apple before they can believe I have returned the phone. Funny, when they knew INSTANTLY when I bought it just a few hours before. I finally tell him that I want him to talk to the Apple person directly about this form.

The Apple rep nicely gets on the phone and confirms that I have returned the phone. that doesn't seem to mean anything to the AT&T person. He and the AT&T customer disservice agent go around in circles on the process. That the Apple rep sees confirmation on his screen, that the AT&T rep does not. Finally, it comes out that, if it fails to process on a return, I'm supposed to go to the AT&T store. It *might* still process in 72 hours but the Apple rep suggest I just go right away. I thank him and go down to the AT&T store to cancel my account.

The AT&T retail rep asks me why I'm canceling. i give him the whole story and he says, "let me try." He calls customer service... and we both wait 20 minutes on hold. Well, I suppose its nice to see they don't treat their customers any worse then their own staff.

Finally we get through and he explains the situation. That it was their screw up. That he understands why I'm pissed, and that he's trying to save the account. He goes around in circles with them. He even suggest that they just move up my "eligibility" date by 4 weeks. I nod and say, "Thats fine. If you can do that I'll even buy it here." No go. he gets the same stubborn "go to hell and take your business with you" attitude I got.

He finally hangs up thoroughly disgusted and says "Alright. lets cancel you. Customer service are idiots." I nod, tell him that its like talking to the state home for the mentally challenged, and that I've been doing that all day. I tell him AT&T doesn't deserve him. And I mean that too.

Final insult to injury, because it involved an Iphone he discovers he can't process the cancel in the store. I have to call customer disservice again. He can put a note in the file though that he has seen the return receipt and that the phone has been returned, and he does so, very apologetically and looking clearly disgusted by the whole thing. I thank him, tell him he really did all he could and that I appreciate it.

SO. Bright and early tomorrow, I will call and cancel with AT&T.

Here's the irony... remember that clause I told you to remember? Once I am canceled, I will no longer be a customer and Apple will be able to sell me the Iphone I wanted at the price I wanted.

I have to ask myself though, at that point, do I really want to get back into bed with a company that shows SO little respect for its customers? The Iphone is way cool... but now that I will no longer be beholden to AT&T, maybe I'll go look at a Sprint Instinct after all, before I decide what I want.

Good job, AT&T "customer loyalty" group.


Random Earthling said...

So despite everything they've put you through, you're still seriously considering giving them your business?

It's no wonder they act like they do - no matter how bad they get, people still keep coming back for more. Anything for the Jesus phone.

quarkie said...

As the Queen of Cell Hell, I would like to warn you that they all suck. However, you can get more for less (sans phone cost, perhaps) with Sprint, as a general rule. T-Mo is the WiFi one & now has 3G in the NY market, or so I hear. Their customer service has consistently been the best of all of them.

Me, I'm starting to become partial to the BB... Wanted the Bold, but AT&T has No Bars in More places for me... And, yes, I have some horror stores of my own. (Their cancellation department didn't do anything to try to keep me from leaving, either...)

Good luck & congrats on your new adventure...