Customer Service is Broken

June 18, 2007

Over the weekend I added international calling to my phone. This seemingly simple goal was made overly complicated by the "customer service" paradigm employed by AT&T.

Online Ordering Repeated attempts to access my account in order to add the new service via AT&T web account manager failed. The error message displayed was ambiguous as to whether the problem was with their server or my account.

Eventually, on the second day of trying, I was able to access my account and add the new international calling plan. I got a printable confirmation page and later an email with the same information.

Verification Since the phone companies are all greedy and have in the past "slammed" customers by unilaterally changing their service, verifications are required before customer initiated changes go into effect. I suppose the protection is a good thing, but putting the onus of implementing the protection on the customer is rather insulting.

Calling the provided 800 number to verify and confirm my order request was fruitless. They were unable to find any information regarding my account when provided my phone number. I was told to call back in "a few days."

Customer Service Further reading of the confirmation email revealed an AT&T customer service number that I called. The automated attendant very helpfully wanted to look up the account for my cell phone (as that was the phone I was using to make the call), and once I entered my home phone number, he offered to give me "new information regarding your recent long distance options changes." Selecting that option was a dead end; I was given useless information about the number of minutes I had used (zero) and no way back to the initial menu.

After hanging up and calling back I managed to get into the queue for a human being. Ten minutes of cheesy elevator jazz music at an incredibly loud volume, punctuated by advertisements for the AT&T web site, followed. Eventually "Brian" came on the line and wasn't able to find my order using my phone number. Eventually he discovered it and said that the "Internet orders are slow to process." He was able to complete the process for me today (the plan will be in effect by 8:00 pm this evening) but along the way he persistently wanted to review my other telecommunications needs ("Did I want to switch to AT&T DSL and save?, et cetera...) By repeatedly saying no I didn't want to change anything else, I was able to short circuit their process.

At the end of the call he wanted to know how his service was today. I said that his was fine, but that the entire process was demeaning and frustrating. Three days, several phone calls, and more than a dozen attempts to set the service up online do not make for a good customer experience.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.