Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Transferring a wireless account from 'business' to 'personal' - my 2 hour and 20 minute Kalfkaesque oddessey with AT&T 'customer service'

Because I am no longer a university administrator, having returned to faculty status, I needed to transfer my cell phone coverage from 'business' to 'personal.' I wanted to keep my same number. This required AU to contact AT&T informing them that they had 'freed' the number. AU's Telecommunications did so immediately. Completing the AT&T side of the transaction was more complicated. Here is my diary of what happened.

1. The process began last night when I called the number I had been given to effect the transfer and after a 10 minute wait, punctuated by advertisements on my speakerphone that made it impassible to work, I reached Marisol. Marisol listened to my request, said she could help and took detailed personal information for a ‘credit check,’ putting me on hold several times. However she was not able to activate the transfer. Nor did she save the information I had given her, which I would have to repeat in its entirety to Jared, the next day. She said I would need to contact the Small Business Activation Department and forwarded my call to ...

2. James - I explained my problem to James, including a repetition of much that I had told Marisol. When I had finished , James asked quizzically "why are you speaking with me?" I said I had been referred to him because he was with the Small Business Activation Department. James said no, he was just another customer service agent. He didn't know whether the department was open but, he would call and check. After calling he said no, it had closed at 8PM. He gave me a new number to call at which I could reach the department, the next morning after 8 AM.

Time spent with Marisol and James, about 40 min.

3, Calling that number after 8 AM, I reached Crystal . After bringing her up to date on my previous calls, she said she was not the right person to talk to. When I mentioned the Small Business Activation Department, she said she was not with that department, she was just another customer service agent, however, she forwarded my call to...

4. Jared (who also gave is last name - there is a different protocol for business and personal customers.) I quickly discovered that business customers get better service, from more capable individuals who are actually able to solve problems. Jared was patient and helpful. He didn't put me on hold once. The only problem came when I asked if he could activate the automatic bill paying feature of my account, he tried but was unable to do so. He said I would have to call 'customer service ( presumably Marisol, James, Crystal and colleagues). Alternatively he said I should try registering on line. I also asked Jared if there was some way I could avoid speaking with the likes of Marisol, James and Crystal if I had problems in the future. He said no, this was not possible, but he was sure my dealings with customer service were a special case or an exception and that I could surely expect better service in the future.

Time spent with Marisol, James, Crystal and Jared - 1 hour and 40 minutes..

5. After completing my conversation with Jared, I went on line. The AT&T site performed more or less as advertised and Jared had, in fact, activated my account. I was able to activate the automatic bill payer feature in about 30 minutes.

Total time spent on the entire process, with the benefit of a high speed internet connection and a speakerphone, 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Conclusion: AT&T has set up its ‘customer service’ system to save time and money, but not the time and money of their customers. That is viewed as a free good. As a Cingular Wireless (the predecessor to AT&T) manager told me after I had spent a fruitless and still memorable 90 minutes at his “Cingular Store” several years ago, “The customers keep coming, so why should we change.’

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