Drive by customer service

I wrote previously about my poor experience with AT&T customer service. Maybe this is some sort of weird retribution, but AT&T has managed to top that experience with something even worse. They are now providing poor customer service even when I am minding my own business and not trying to interact with them.

It started last Friday afternoon, when I received a text message from AT&T on the iPhone my company provides to me congratulating me for upgrading my phone. That made no sense, since I had not upgraded my phone, so I figured it must have been sent to me in error.

A few minutes later our office administrator sent me a chat, “Why did you upgrade your phone without telling me?” OK, that seems more than coincidental. I looked at my phone more closely and found that my voicemail was no longer working and when I manually entered voicemail it said I needed to reset my password. However, it did not give me a way to reset it. Great. Maybe someone stole my identity and got a phone in my name.

I walked down to the admin’s office to see what she knew. She was on the phone with an AT&T customer service rep trying to find out who had upgraded my phone. The rep was able to determine that someone had gone into a local AT&T store and used an upgrade associated with my phone to get a new iPhone. Even worse, they used one of our company credit cards to pay for it.

After a few minutes the rep was able to give her the last 4 numbers of the credit card that was used. It did not match mine, but she was able to find one of our cards that did end in those 4 digits. A quick chat to the person holding that card, and he confirmed that he went and got a new iPhone that afternoon after his old one was damaged.  Apparently the salesperson at the local AT&T store noticed that one of the phones on our company account, namely mine, had a discounted upgrade on it, and he used that to help pay for the new phone.

So things were getting better, but I still did not have voicemail on my phone. The AT&T rep on the phone had several suggestions for fixing the voicemail, but finally he suggested I dial into the voicemail system and then he told me how to reset the password. Success! Everything was back to normal and it only took about 30 minutes. Thanks AT&T!

That is not really a big enough deal to blog about, but it gets better. Later on Friday, I received another text from AT&T asking me to take a survey about my customer service experience when I visited their store on Friday. I gave them the lowest marks on everything I could, and then explained at the end what had happened.

Today, I had the day off, so I spent a good part of the day catching up on some yard work. When I came back in from that there was a voicemail on my iPhone: (This is paraphrased and the name has been changed.) “Hi, this is Jim from AT&T. I am the regional AT&T customer service manager, and I understand in the survey you filled out last week you gave us an opportunity. I am calling to make sure all your expectations were met.”

To prove how gullible I am, my initial reaction was to think this really was a good opportunity for AT&T to improve their customer service. I think I have some good ideas of ways they can improve. So I called “Jim” back.

After I introduced myself, Jim gave me the same spiel about this being a great opportunity and wanting to make sure my expectations were met. Again, this is paraphrased, but this is how the conversation went after the introductions.

Me: “I realize I was very negative in the survey but I have had several bad experiences with AT&T customer service lately and in this case I was just minding my own business when AT&T reached out to me with more bad customer service.”

Jim: “I want to thank you for this opportunity. Did the problem you were having last week get resolved to your satisfaction?”

Me: “Yes, my phone is back to normal and everything is taken care of.”

Jim: “Good. I am glad we were able to meet your expectations. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.”

Me: “Let me be clear. My problem is solved, but my EXPECTATION is that AT&T would not have caused this problem in the first place. And I would not have complained in the survey so much if I did not have several other bad experiences with AT&T recently.”

Jim: “We are aware of the problem using an upgrade from a different phone can cause and we are working on it. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to improve.”

Me (finally realizing he is just trying to get rid of me): “OK. Thanks for your help. Everything is working fine now.”

In my mind, Jim just made things worse. I can understand that mistakes are going to happen sometimes, but for a manger to call with a “follow up” that is really just intended for him to be able to check off some box shows the hollowness of their service efforts.

How could Jim have done a better job handling this? First, when someone says something really bad about you, do not call it an opportunity. Yes, opportunity is a much more positive word than complaint, but it describes what you can do with the information you were given, not the information itself. If you then follow up by ignoring everything else said during the call and not being interested in other, unreported, problems, you sound arrogant and not really interested in improving.

Instead, Jim should have acknowledged that I had reported a problem. He did not even have to agree there was a problem, only that I had reported what I thought was a problem. Next, he should have asked me to explain the problem. Then he should have listened without interruption. And listened. And listened. The only interruption should have been if he did not understand something I was saying or if he needed more detail. Once I had my say, then was his chance to say thanks for reporting the problem, and he either could offer an immediate solution or would consider this for improving their customer service systems going forward.

The difference is that in one case he is immediately trying to put a positive spin on things to get them off his desk, and in the other case he is trying to understand the problem so maybe he can do something constructive about it. Sadly, Jim is continuing the AT&T tradition. They invented the telephone, you know.

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