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To AT&T Wireless: I apologize for not being the ideal customer, I’ll try to do better!

by David Brock on June 25th, 2008
My mobile phone died. I did the logical thing, I called AT&T Wireless (my vendor of about 15 years) to get a new phone. Below is just part of my experiences:

Dave: My phone broke, I’d like to order a new one, can you help me.
Agent 1: I’d be delighted to help……your account indicates you are eligible for an upgrade by extending your contract for 2 years.
Dave: OK, I’d like to get the Nokia XXX in Black.
Agent 1: Nice choice. I can get you a brand new one in Black. After your mail-in rebate, it will be free! Should I place that order?
Dave: Yes, that would be great, how soon can I get the phone?
Agent 1: I’m sorry, I just noticed that your account is handled by a different group. I’d be glad to transfer you to that group, they can take the order and send you the new phone. Here is the information you need to give them…… I’ll transfer now, if it is OK.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): How can I help you?
Dave: I was talking to another agent about ordering a new phone, they said your department handled my account. Can you help me?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I would be glad to help you…. Let me look at your account…. You are eligible for an upgrade…. What phone would you like?
Dave: I would like the Nokia XXX in Black.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I can get you a refurbished version of that phone in Black, after rebates it will be free.
Dave: No, I want a new one, the other agent said I could get a new Nokia XXX in Black.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I can get you a new phone for $20, but I cannot get it to you in Black, we have no inventory.
Dave: I’m confused, the previous agent was said it would be free and she had plenty of inventory in Black. Why can’t I get a new Nokia XXX in Black? For free—after rebates?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I can get you a re-furbished Nokia XXX in Black for free.
Dave: No you don’t understand, I want a new Nokia XXX in Black and I was told it would be free after rebates.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I am trying to help you. I can get you a new Nokia XXX, but not in Black and it will cost you $20 after rebates. The new Nokia XXX’s in Black are available for free to new customers opening new 2 year contracts.
Dave (getting a little angry): Wait a minute, let me understand. If I were a brand new customer, I could get a new Nokia XXX in Black for free?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): Yes, but for you, I can only sell you a new Nokia XXX in a different color for $20—-after you extend your current contract for another 2 years.
Dave (hovering between anger and sarcasm): Let me understand, I have been a customer of yours for 15 years, I am extending my contract for 2 years, and I can’t get the same deal that a brand new customer getting a 2 year contract can get?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): Yes, that is correct. Which phone would you like to order?
Dave (past anger, heavy on sarcasm): I don’t understand this, apparently new customers are more valuable than current customers.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I am trying to help you…..
Dave (heavy on sarcasm): Tell you what, I am currently not under a contract. I’d like to cancel my current account and open a new account, transferring my current number to the new account and getting a brand new Nokia XXX for free–after rebates.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): I don’t understand….. You can’t cancel your account….. I am trying to help you…..
Dave: You are helping me. You have told me that new customers get a better deal than old customers—doing the exactly the same thing. You have told me that new customers are more important than customers who have been loyal to you for 15 years. I got it…… Now I’d like to cancel my account and open a new one.
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): That doesn’t make sense, you need to keep your old account. You don’t understand, I am trying to help you…..
Dave (about ready to blow up): Can you give me a new Nokia XXX in Black for free after rebates and through extending my current account/contract 2 years?
Agent 2 (Heavy Indian Accent): No, I can give you a refurbished Black Nokia XXX for free with the contract extension. The new Black Nokia XXX’s are reserved for new customers, I can’t even sell that to you. But I am trying to help you……
Dave (very heavy sarcasm): I now understand, you have been very helpful. You have told me new customers are much more important than current (15 year) customers. I get it…… Do you have the number for Verizon…… I’m opening a brand new account with them.

In fairness to AT&T all the wireless service providers are equally bad—–or arrogant. I fully understand the concept of “subsidized” phones and the need to open/extend contract business. I also understand the concept of churn and the economic consequences of churn to the vendors. Yet the service providers’ policies actually encourage churn and reinforce customers moving from provider to provider in a regular 2 year migration.

It’s a shame, there are much better ways to do things—both in serving the customers and in driving profitability.

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