Saturday, April 9, 2011

AT&T Customer Care (or lack thereof...)

This was one of those roller coaster weeks I just had to write about. I apologize now for the lengthy, text-heavy post.

It all started on Tuesday after Julie gave her vocal recital at UH Manoa. That evening, we went out for a celebratory dinner. Unfortunately, her White 32GB iPhone 3GS never made it home with us (if you should happen to find one in the Ward area, please let us know).

She spent the better part of Wednesday searching, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. I quickly checked her upgrade eligibility and saw that the date was April 29, so we decided to head over to the nearest AT&T store to see if we could work something out. The sales associate basically told us "no way." She threw Apple under the bus by giving us canned responses like, "I really wish there was something I could do for you, but Apple sets the pricing and we can't sell you another iPhone without violating our contractual obligations." Whatever. At this point, I started tweeting about my experience and a bunch of people like Jeff (@FATJEFF), Joannie Pan (@trulyjoannies), Reid (@onokinegrindz), Eric Uyeda (@MrEricPiRaTe) and Kat Jones (@KJChoreography) jumped in and tried to help by retweeting and replying, but nothing really panned out. Back in the store, I tried everything. I even mentioned the "V" word. No dice. So the lady proceeded to sell us a Go phone and told us to come back in three weeks to get a new iPhone. The whole ride home, Julie and I joked about how primitive the Samsung A107 looked, but at least she could talk and text.

Some people suggested I might have better luck dialing 611, so on Thursday, I tried calling Customer Care. I basically got the same message, except that the lady on the phone wasn't as nice as the one in the store. Frustrated by the experience, I decided to tweet AT&T's corporate Twitter account (@ATT). A couple hours later I got this response from Troy (@ATTTroyW), one of the managers on AT&T's Customer Care Social Media Team. We talked on the phone and he was very cordial and helpful. Troy made it clear that he couldn't make any promises, but offered to call a store manager in my area to see what could be done. A few minutes later, he called back with some very good news. He instructed me to go see Daven, who happened to be an assistant manager at the store we had gone to the night before. I called Julie to tell her, but got a message saying her temporary phone was not accepting calls. Not long after that, she showed up at my office. Livid. Her Go phone had been deactivated for no apparent reason. She, also, had tried calling Customer Care to reactivate it, and was given the same infamous pre-memorized responses we had received the previous evening in the store. It was just about time for my lunch break so we drove over to the store and spoke with Daven. He apologized for all the trouble and said because the phone was reported lost/stolen, our account was in good standing, and we were within 30 days of our upgrade date, he was able to make an exception for us. We walked out with a new iPhone 4.

Why did it have to be so difficult? Where was the customer SERVICE when we walked into the store on Wednesday night or called on Thursday? Don't get me wrong, I am very appreciative of the fact that it all worked out, but the process should not have been so convoluted. We were simply asking for what I thought was a reasonable exception to the rule. I mean, seriously, we all know that a new iPhone is due out in a couple months. This is hardly the opportune time to try to game the system for an early upgrade.

I am convinced that the outcome of our little adventure would have been very different had I not been on Twitter. About a year ago, I had a similar experience with Adobe. I got the runaround on the phone for weeks while trying to upgrade to CS5. One tweet and the whole situation was resolved within a couple of hours. It's nice to know that social networks have given consumers a voice, but when will companies realize that in-person interactions are just as important?

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