I haven't posted anything here in a while but over the last month or so I've had an experience with AT&T that is so disquieting that it has caused myself and everybody in my household to shake our heads in utter disbelief. For decades, Americans have been conditioned to practically expect poor customer service and even borderline unethical business tactics but my recent interaction with this firm was so terrible that it truly bordered on the bizarre and surreal. At this point I wonder how this company even keeps its doors open and I also would like to know how many others have shared this type of experience. It was all so bad I actually started taking notes, but where do you go with this information? Hopefully, you'll follow me over the fold.
We live in Southern California. With a move to a new location, my wife and I were happy to be getting away from cable and signing up for satellite. That wasn't painless, but a day after our move a few glitches got solved and we were up and running. Satellite TV for half the price, at least for 24 months (yeah, I know that drill). For internet, we had a choice of ATT and Charter and since we didnt want to deal with any vestige of cable and ATT had a good price, we opted for U-Verse thru ATT. The sales rep (situated in Wisconsin) ran me thru the particulars, signed me up, even got me a 100 dollar gift certificate for getting satellite TV. I stipulated that even though it was three weeks before the move, I wanted the modem device shipped to my current home address way in advance, so that I could bring it to my new home forty miles away. I did not want to sweat out waiting for the modem to be delivered either to our new location when we werent there or old location when we were already gone. Fine, no problem. The modem will be shipped in 3-5 business days. Five business days go by. Nothing.
I call back. My first call, clearly to order new service, took only a few seconds to get a human being on the line, but this time with internal ATT voicemail knowing that I had a customer service issue, it was much longer. About twenty minutes on hold until someone got on the line. When I asked for my modem and where it was, I was told after some hesitation that "Oh, it is shipping today." When I asked where it was being shipped to I was told "Oh, to your service address". When I explained that I wanted it shipped to my current address, I was met with some confusion but ultimately the ATT rep said that he had noted the change and that the package would be shipped later that day with the change. Innocently, I hung up thinking that my package was only a few days away, hurtling towards its proper destination.
Moving can be very disorienting and time consuming with all sorts of vendors, tasks and concerns so I did not even think of my modem until the Monday of our scheduled Saturday move. Nothing had showed up. Best to call and see what up. This time in the customer service loop, I was warned of long delays to speak to a customer service rep and gently urged to get on the internet. For me that was not an option. My modem would not be able to email me as to what location it was in. Finally, after about thirty five minutes (!!) someone got on the phone and after hearing of my plight and asking me for my security code and account number (which I had already provided long before in the initial voicemail interaction) I was told "Your order has booked and your modem will be delivered no later than Saturday, the date of your installation". Interesting. Where, I asked, would my modem be shipped to? "To your new service address.!" The ATT rep was taken aback when I was not obviously as elated by her revelation as she was. Inquiring about why I had not received my modem after two previous calls claimed it had already shipped and explaining that we might not be present to receive the modem, she asked to place me on hold to try and resolve the problem. Within a few seconds when my cell phone returned to its normal time superimposed over a tranquil scene, I realized that I had been disconnected. Luckily, the music ATT plays while you are on hold is so earsplittingly discordant that you can place your phone under several layers of cement and railroad timbers and it will still be audible enough to allow you to wander through your house working on other move related tasks. I was also getting better at the introductory voice activated greeting that got me back in the "all customer service representative are currently busy" line within a matter of seconds. Another twenty five minutes passed before a rep got on the phone. By now, based on the rising decibel level and teeth gritting responses to "Your order has been booked" I was now identified as a customer who was a tad disgruntled and would benefit from some human empathy. "I'm very sorry Mr. (Name garbled and mispronounced) and I understand the situation. I am going to do everything I can to fix the problem." Again, I was told that my package was on route and would definitely arrive by the installation date on Saturday. When I asked how it would be shipped I was told "UPS". Fine, give me the UPS tracking number so at least I can contact them. This seemed to be out of the standard service box, because I got put on hold for five minutes and when my rep returned I was told "You must contact UPS for that information". And then it dawned on me. This is not customer service, this is deflect, ignore, stall and above all get the customer off of the phone. When I asked how I could possibly get UPS to help me without a customer service number, I was told "They will be able to find your package with just a name and address." Where are you by the way? "We are in Manilla, the Phillippines" If UPS doesn't know me from a hole in the ground, do you have a direct line where I can call back without waiting for thirty minutes? "No" Well, do you have a number or name that I can identify you with if (I should have said when) I have to call back? I got a first name and five digit number. Meaningless, but at least I wanted to induce some anxiety over such a bald faced lie.
Needless to say when I called UPS, they practically laughed at me. "We can't track a package without a tracking number." After I insisted that there must be a way to track my package, the UPS rep at least went through the motions of tracking the package by both addresses. With elapsed time of two hours, fifteen minutes, I decided that this was enough of this sort of thing for one day. I would start fresh again tomorrow.
A new day brought another twenty five minute wait in the sales customer service seventh circle of ATT with the same "the modem will be delivered by Saturday" brushoff followed up by the inability to answer whether UPS even delivered on Saturday. I asked to speak with someone in management. Although I was advised in a tone that indicated that I was akin to an arrested murder suspect pleading to detectives for an attorney, I was told that a manager would get on the line soon. After forty minutes of musical repetition that was about to induce a Grand Mal seizure, a women based in San Diego performed major surgery on my order and assured me that by at least Thursday or Friday, if I didn't receive my package I could call back for the UPS number and go and pick up my package. The UPS number that headquarters in Manilla had assured me I had not needed, ah, but I was now aware that that guidance had been nothing short of a cruel hoax. With the move approaching, I no longer had the time for additional such interaction. I would leave it up to the internet gods.
On Friday, our modem unceremoniously showed up on our front step at our old address. Since we were still there, I figured maybe I shouldn't have been concerned. Maybe ATT doesnt want to ship your modem weeks in advance because, well, you know, folks are pretty disorganized and they might just lose or not be able to find the thing and then waddyado? Maybe, for a brief interlude, I thought ATT was smarter than I thought.
In the chaos of our immense moving van being unloaded at our new address, I noticed an ATT truck slithering in reverse toward a light pole in the vicinity of our house. Wow, turn it on at the pole, I get on after the 8PM installation time and Voila!, ATT and I are now soulmates! Several minutes later I noticed the hard hatted ATT repair guy on a cell phone, on the street near my house. As i approached, he wouldn't even look me in the eye. When I merely asked if he was here to work on my address, he replied "I just get it into the house, I don't do anything else." Workflow process, clearly defined. When I asked if everything was okay, at least outside?, he put the phone back to his ear and stuck his finger into his other ear and turned his back to me. I sensed that this was not a good sign.
And it wasn't. I must say that the modem set up was also clearly defined, and all lights were flashing green, except the only light that mattered. The light that indicated that the external internet connection was connected properly. It kept flashing an uncooperative yellow. Time to get back on the horn. Luckily, most human beings avoid this sort of masochism on a Saturday night so I was able to connect with a human being in a lightning like six minutes or so. "Congratulations!" I was told, "You have successfully installed your ATT U-Verse modem!" Unfortunately, based on your successful configuration there is either a problem with the line leading to your home or the phone jacks in the wall. This will require an in person repair and an appointment. And no availability until Wednesday. Four days later. No apology, just a cheery assurance that the repair visit would be at absolutely no charge. Kind of like "The operation was a success, but the patient died." I sensed that I was being set up for the dastardly "you need new phone jacks fraud", but I figured I'd play along. I didn't want to have to send back the modem and maybe this still could work and I had a mountain of other stuff to do until mid-week
The local library got me thru to Wednesday but I was really looking forward to 8-12 AM and resolution. Eight to twelve came and went and no salvation. In fact, no nothing. Well, there was a nifty email welcoming my new account and imploring me to open my online account so I could handle things like bill paying online. How considerate. I realized that Plan B, call Charter, order an installation was my only recourse. If ATT ever showed up and tried to install, I'd retreat to my Panic Room. Thursday, midway through the 8-12 window, Charter appeared, installed internet, even wore nice plastic booties that were a nice touch and was gone inside of forty five minutes and a full hour before the noon deadline. Awe inspiring!
Now navigating the ATT voicemail process like a virtuoso, I got thru to some Southeast Asian call center and uttered the most satisfying phrase in months: "Please cancel my order and account." "But there is nothing pending on your account." No record of a repair appointment, no service issue no nothing. "Why don't I walk you through the troubleshooting system and if that doesn't work, we can make another service appointment." I briefly looked over my shoulder for the Candid Camera crew. and then thanked my rep for her newfound account saving determination. But, no, I want to cancel my account. "Well, okay, let me transfer you to our cancellation department." Somebody else took my account number and promised to cancel my account.
Since the modem incurs a one time $100 charge I wrestled with whether or not to return it. So far, it seemed, no one even knew who I was much less had the ability to actually install service. How would they even know that I hadn't returned the modem? But when I looked at the packaging and it had a prepaid label with explicit return instructions, I figured return was the right option. You needed to call AGAIN to get a return authorization number, but I figured that much like major surgery much of the malignancy had been removed and I was only yards away from victory. The next day there was some confusion as to whether I had actually had cancelled my account but when I was adamant that I had, I was given a return authorization number. I dutifully wrote it on the appropriate label, placed the pre-paid mailing label on the box, walked it into the post office like a character out of the Hurt Locker and gingerly handed it to the clerk. An incredible relief accompanied my walk home. I wasn't disconcerted by the website that days later kept spitting back "BAN number is either incorrect or system has not been updated". One of these decades my package would be correctly accounted for.
I was thoroughly enjoying perusing my email on Sunday when out of nowhere in my inbox I receive "AT&T:Your online bill is here!". I open it up and sure enough, for my convenience, a nice peek at my first month's bill. One month of wonderful U-Verse service, one third of my modem charge. The fact that this never even got installed much less has been cancelled twice, has not penetrated the Accounts Receivable process. Why did it not surprise me that the only thing that was accomplished in a timely and seemingly exact fashion was the billing process? Everything else was screwed up, ignored, mishandled or downright lied about. Not your bill! Got it right here! And the paper copy will be there in seven days! Actually, I received it within two days but even if I started taking hostages on an airplane you knew the paper copy would be generated. I called ATT again and got someone on the line who got so confused himself that he directly patched me into a cancellation center for a lengthy conversation with a "customer service manager" who actually started to try and convince me that I should keep the service and was actually digging in when I insisted keeping it wasn't the issue, I had already cancelled. Sheepishly, she finally offered that I should keep ATT in mind should my customer needs change. Like if selecting an ATT product might rescue me from being burned alive at the stake? Okay, if those were the options, I might consider it.
I'm not out of the woods, yet. Even though the last lady gave me a cancellation "order number", I still get no acknowledgement that my modem has arrived, safe and sound. And I still got another ATT email, telling me that my recent service issue "had been resolved" without defining exactly what issue that was. I have a bad feeling that I haven't heard the last of this.
I don't believe for a second that senior management in this company doesn't completely understand the type of customer service "experience" that they are providing. There is only one way to deal with the type of arrogance and stupidity that this corporation inflicts on even a POTENTIAL customer. Run, don't walk in the other direction!