AT&T Still Doesn’t Get It: Tales of Tech Hell

Posted: August 19, 2010 in Consumer Power

On Tuesday I ventured out to buy a new wireless router for my home network. I wound up taking an all-too-familiar trip though consumer technology hell. Everything that happened that day is a testimony to what is wrong and what is right about how some companies are facing the new world I write about in my book, the C-Scape.

One of the key take aways from my book is that technology-driven changes have provided the Consumer with many more choices for almost any product and service. The Consumer has become empowered and gained even more leverage in his or her relationship to companies. Smart companies recognize this and have begun listen to what those Consumers say and also begun to serve them better.

The worst think a company can do today is take its customers for granted and assume they don’t have the choice of going somewhere else.

My day started at Best Buy, which is the last easy place standing to buy a router. In Marin County, CA, Good Guys, Circuit City and Comp USA are gone. Best Buy recently added a second store.

I had only a couple of questions for the Best Buy salesman, who was helpful without being overbearing. And he was patient as I was having trouble choosing. In the end, he said the best performing device with the least trouble setting up was The Apple Airport, even, he said, if I wasn’t a Mac user. And he told me why, citing some features. Clearly Apple has done its job both with the product and with its distributors.

So I bought the Airport and brought it home.

I have a simple setup. I have a wired network around the house, but mostly use wireless anyway these days. I have a couple of computers, a printer and two laptops that work off of the network.

I followed the instructions, plugged everything in, set up a password and lit it up. I was getting great reception everywhere, but even though I showed full reception, I couldn’t get on the Internet.

I assumed it was a setting on my DSL modem, because nothing I could do would connect me through to the internet. So after several attempts to figure out my problem on the AT&T DSL provider’s website, I called their tech support. After waiting about 30 minutes, someone came on to take down all my information for 10 minutes and then finally asked me what the problem was. Then they said, because it was not AT&T equipment, I would have to go to the manufacturer, in this case Apple. I said, “Are you sure, I think I may just need some information about my settings on the modem?”

The AT&T support person said they were sorry, but they had an alternative call line that could help me, but they would have to charge me. I was increasingly desperate (my wife was not happy to have no connectivity) so I told her to transfer me.

I waited more than an hour on hold (with constant reminders about how I could go to their website for help). Finally a customer support person came on the line, asked me what the problem was, and started to ask me a lot of questions about my account, getting a ton of background information and my credit card numbers and telling me it was going to cost more than $100 for the call but assuring me three different times that I had come to the right place and, “we will be able to fix your problem.”

While I could hear that he was chewing on pretzels, I told him our dinner, which i cooked on the barbecue, was sitting on the kitchen table getting cold because he came on the phone just as we were sitting down. And I said “All I care about is getting this fixed quickly…so please tell me you can do that or I’m giving up.” He heard that and assured me several times it shouldn’t take long. But after 10 minutes of questions he still hadn’t asked any more questions about the problem, just about my account and profile information.

Finally, I said, “Look, aren’t you going to ask me about the problem?” Then he said he was only a customer support person and would have to transfer me to technical support person who would fix the problem. Before I could even get out a legitimate curse, he put me on hold, presumably to transfer me to the agent. But I started hearing that same tape again.

So I took my phone, put in on speaker, and went to my now cold steak dinner. My wife was just thrilled to have the AT&T hold tape playing continually through dinner.

It played for two more hours. I had to switch cordless phones because the battery on one died. No one ever came back.

So I finally hung up (it was after 10 pm) and reinstalled my old Linksys, which was giving me trouble but worked.

The next morning I called AT&T back and the person gave me the same speech about having to go to their specialized service for the additional charge. I gave her my story and said “By the way, can you check to see if I have charged for last night’s call”. She came back and said that I was charged but agreed to take the charge off. This time I said “thanks,” hung up, and decided to call Apple.

I went to the Apple website, found several choices for customer service, and picked the one where you write down your issue and they will call you back quickly. So I did. Inside of 5 minutes the phone rang. I talked to the tech support guy for about five minutes, did a couple quick tests and he told me I needed an ID and password from my provider for that modem, and that would do it, but I could call back after I got the info and he would walk me through entering it.

So I reluctantly called AT&T back. After a 15 minute wait, this time the first person quickly confirmed I was the account person, did some checking and said yes, I did need an ID and password. They said the ID was my AT&T email address associated with the account. They could issue me a new password but they needed that email address. I told them that in the 10 years I had this DSL service, I never used the email on my DSL and didn’t know there even was an email address. They said I could find the address on my phone bill. I told them I auto-paid on line and didn’t have any print bills. They told me to look back for old ones. I found a 2005 bill (from predecessor company SBC) and on it was an email address for me! Once I gave that to the AT&T service person, she generated an email to me with a new password.

Before calling the nice people at Apple back, I took five minutes to set up the new router again and figured out on my own how to enter an ID and password onto the modem.

Bingo, it worked. I didn’t even have to call back the enormously helpful people at Apple.

So now I have a terrific new Apple device and as soon as I have the energy and time, I’m canceling my AT&T internet AND telephone service and will sign up with Comcast’s Xfinity. I might even cancel my Direct TV service and go with Comcast cable if the numbers are right, which would mean that AT&T isn’t only shooting itself in the head, but taking down innocent bystander companies like Direct TV, too.

Which company do you think has a future?

  1. susan says:

    Good luck with Comcast. You’ll enjoy the same sad support with them as you received with AT&T and actually worse. They’ll bill you for things you didn’t ask for, raise rates when you least expect it, and make it so difficult to cancel, what you went thru will seem like a cakewalk.

    Face it. Connection companies suck. And the way they handle customer service horrible. You got luck it was that easy and you only spent that ‘small’ amount of time.

  2. Nick says:

    I have always wanted to make a documentary on this very issue. At the top of my list is certainly ATT&T…Followed closely by Time Warner and Delta…

    I would document the ridiculous lengths and time I had to waste in order to get mediocre customer service. Not to mention 50% of the time you get someone completely inept. it would be a Michael Moore style film hanging these guys out to dry…

    I think it has legs….

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