05-17-2012 05:17:22 PM
As my login name implies, I became an AT&T customer in 1969. My Mother worked for AT&T, we had AT&T at home, so it seemed like a logical choice when I went off to college. I have remained a loyal customer throughout all of these years, regardless of which state and/or community I lived in. However, I did terminate our landlines service three years ago because of horrific and incompetent service, and a totally disrespectful Corporate attitude passed on by Customer Service reps to me, The Customer.
Today, I obtained the end of contract dates on our 4 -line cell phone account, so that one-by-one I can pull off each line and switch to a different carrier. Why? Because of the illogical, smart-aleck, ignorant remarks made to me today by a CSR and her Manager during a conversation today pursuant to our phones being suspended for alleged non-payment of an alleged “broken” payment arrangement. Here are the facts: (1) our account history notes will reflect that from time-to-time, month-in and month-out I personally have great difficulty with transmission and reception on my phone at my residence, as was the case this past Sunday, when I needed to call 611 and make my scheduled payment. I was’t able to get reception until right around AM the next morning, Monday, and promptly made the payment, which was confirmed and posted to my account immediately.
(2) Yesterday, Wednesday, May 16, 2012, our phones went down, so, using a landline elsewhere, I called Customer Service to find out why. The first question out of my mouth was: Did my phones go down because of the late payment? Of course, I was referring to the fact that my payment arrangement payment posted about 8 hours and 12 minutes late on Monday morning, two days earlier because of the lack of reception on Sunday. The CAR took some time to check the account and told me emphatically that my account was fine, it was active, and NO, it had nothing to do with billing. He then transferred me to Technical Support. I spoke with one of the most capable, thoughtful and intelligent employee that I have ever had the opportunity to speak with at AT&T. She very quickly learned that a cell tower somewhere in Georgia required a repair, necessitating the replacement of a “blade”. When they first attempted to do this, the part was faulty, so the repair was incomplete and caused many customers’ phone service to go down. She emailed the Engineering Department to advise them of the locations of our 4 phones so they would know what geographical areas were affected. I was told that I would receive a text message when the repair was successfully completed. As of yet, I have not received one, but the phones seemed to be working correctly yesterday evening.
(3) Sometime this morning, shortly after 8 AM, our phones went down again. But because I had not needed to call or text anyone yet, I was totally unaware of this fact until just about Noon, when I checked my email on the computer. I opened an email from one of the people on our account informing me that his phone service was suspended, and the recording which came on when he tried to make a phone call said it for non-payment. Again, I called Customer Service from a landline. First, I was told that I did not keep a payment arrangement and make a scheduled payment on May 15the so my service was suspended. I said the date it was due is incorrect as she stated, because it was not due until May 22nd. I was very rudely told I, the customer, was WRONG! I was then told it was because I broke the first part of a two-part payment arrangement by not making the scheduled payment on Sunday. This statement contradicted the first one she stated, so I was a bit confused. I then tried to explain what happened on Wednesday with the phones going down and that when I called in my first question was if it was because of the late payment, and what I was told. The woman was totally discourteous, and I could tell I would not get anywhere with trying to resolve the problem, so I asked to speak to her supervisor.
When he got on the phone, I explained what happened Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and this morning. When I asked why- after- the payment Monday morning was confirmed and posted to my account, and why – when I asked about it on Wednesday and was told my account was fine – was my service suspended, and why at the very least was 1) not notified on Wednesday by the CSR that a problem existed, and/or 2) by text or email that my service would still be suspended for a “broken” payment arrangement and that I would not be allowed to make the scheduled payment on May 22nd? His reply was contemptuous at best. I hung up simply because I truly could not bear to hear him be so insulting anymore. He had not expressed any concern, let alone sympathy, for the disruption of service, and never offered any help to get it restored or to find a solution to the problem. He was COLD, just cold, and detached, and insulting. The Corporate philosophy he communicated through his responses was void of any level of caring about and/or desire to provide the customer with excellent customer service. At the end of any call you make to AT&T, the CSR thanks you for your business and states you are a valued customer. Really? Those are just empty words. The actions necessary to sustain those words are non-existent, and the Corporate Culture at AT&T does not promote anything different or better.
I called back and spoke to someone in the Escalation Department. I reached that department by selecting the menu option to terminate service. I spoke to a very nice man who was polite, courteous, understanding, sympathetic, but still watched out for the company’s bottom line, as well he should. After explaining everything in great detail to him, it was obvious he clearly understood why all that happened did, why I was legitimately upset, how and why the “system” failed me, and actually agreed that there is definitely more that AT&T could do for its customers by improving how their billing computer is programmed. We discussed the ”if – then condition” programming, and I suggested that since he also had professional experience in programming maybe he should create and submit a proposal to alter current system programming by adding new coding that would offer more intelligent communication between their systems to avoid the repetition of suspensions like mine. The point was, there was a valid reason why my payment was’t made on the 12the, and I specifically asked on Wednesday about my account and was told everything was fine, and the disclaimer sentence given you when you make a payment arrangement is that” failure to keep this payment arrangement MAY result in service interruption” - not that it WILL, and why would they wait 4 days to cut service if, despite receiving their money, they felt that service still had to be suspended?
It is interesting to me that AT&T is able to recognize that people, whether it involves a business or residential account, sometimes need to make special arrangements regarding the payment of their bill and as a result came up with the “payment arrangement” solution, but then not have something in place to stop suspension of service after the payment has been made. It is not illogical to think that it is better to keep a customer by allowing them special arrangements – it is a good business practice so you can keep your customer base. But they only went half way, and blame the inability to do more on the excuse that “the system won’t allow it”. Then change the system! It is possible to make easy, yet significant changes to avoid losing customers because of laziness or lack of vision. RETHINK POSSIBLE. Ever heard or seen that expression?
Someone, or a team of people at AT&T, could surely be able to use the newly touted philosophy and improve upon the policies and procedures that led to my service interruption today. I refuse to believe it is too far outside the box to think it impossible. I am not asking for special privileges, but rather, to expand the existing policies and system parameters to provide for better internal communication between systems. If they are going to remove more humans from the mix, and use computers to do more of the work, then they need to build more “if-then condition” scenarios into the software to create a more intelligent and sensitive way of relating to their customers. We cannot settle as a customer or a culture to accept the practice that, uh – gee – duh – I can’t help you with that teeny-weeny problem ‘cause uh – duh – the computer won’t let me.
One way this whole problem could have been avoided is to have 24/7 Customer Service available. Yes, that’s right! If you didn't’t realize it, you can only reach Customer Service if you call during certain business hours. Ok, well if a payment is due on a day when the hours are more limited like on a weekend, and/or a person has a question or problem they need help with, well tough! Some of you may say – hey – you could have paid online and the problem would never have come up. That was not an option for me. The only way to do it was to call and do it on their automated line, but if you can’t get reception to make an outgoing call, it is not possible.
If AT&T were a small, start-up company, I could maybe begin to excuse this ridiculous and illogical situation. But they are not! Are they not the original telephone company (I don’t care about all of the break apart companies brought about by deregulation decades ago) that went global? If they were able to grow and develop the way they did, it was because they had vision and were resourceful, solved problems, and filled a need. If you are going to remain successful, you must not stop doing all of the things that worked well in the past, and, you must anticipate future market needs. Businesses have customers not only because of the product or service they offer is appealing, but also, because of the way in which they do business with their customers. It is called Customer Service. Just having it doesn't’t make you a good company. Having excellent customer service is what keeps your customers as customers. We all know the simple definition of customer service: treating every customer the way you would want someone to treat your Mother – with consideration and respect, using fair practices, thorough and truthful communication at all times. What part of that definition was satisfied when 3 days after they received my payment they still suspended my service? Seems like there should be a “law” that if you are going to sucker-punch” someone you should be required to warn them!
Apart from the wasted hours of time I spent on the phone with AT&T this week, the time I could have spent on being productive with my personal or business life, the down time and loss of income the other account users experienced which was considerable, I feel a tremendous amount of sadness – actual grief – over the situation because this is just another example of the nasty way so many business are treating their customers today. Things have changed and not for the better. The worst part is that businesses are not structures or inanimate objects. Businesses are people. People providing products or services to other people. The extreme sadness comes from seeing again and again how we are willing to treat others on a daily basis, and how accepting we are of the ever deepening trend to do so. Many employees don’t care how they do their job as long as they get their weekly paycheck. The “business” they work for is just that: a business. They don’t realize they are the limbs of a living organism that reach out and touch customers, who by the way, are people too!
So AT&T, how about getting some of those people together to create and develop more ways to RETHINK POSSIBLE? Be a leader, rise above the primordial slime that seems to have engulfed your Corporate attitude, and do what is right, moral and logical for the customer. You would be surprised how many more bees you could attract with honey!