Goodbye AT&T

When I was a little kid, I remember my parents were given one option for telephone service—renting rotary dial telephones from the telephone company—the only telephone company—AT&T. Then in 1974, “Ma Bell” was deemed a monopoly, and by 1984 she was divided up into Baby Bells by government order. Our service changed its name to Pacific Bell, but still there was little else that changed—including the lack of choice as to who supplied our telephone service.

Of course, times have changed. The Baby Bells are AT&T once again, and AT&T has become even bigger than it once was. The other change, of course, is that we have options of who to get our telephone service from. Cable companies now can supply phone service to my house, and a growing number of households are forgoing landlines all together—opting for a mobile service option.

So, after knowing no service other than AT&T, it was a big moment when I decided to untether myself from Ma Ball. My decision to use Verizon for my mobile devices had been easy. They had a reputation for better reception than AT&T, and I liked the idea that after 30 some odd years, I had an option to NOT go with AT&T. But I remember my hesitation as I called Comcast Cable recently to inquire about their home telephone service. The feeling was akin to moving out of my parent’s house to go away to college—I was excited by the opportunity for freedom, but afraid I might make wrong decisions, and be worse off than with Ma Bell.

Thankfully, two actions made my decision easy.

1). Comcast Cable demonstrated they are experts at customer service, as they oozed a mission of “customer first” at every turn.

2). AT&T on the other hand, clearly plays lip service to customer service. They have a shallow, corporate tone and customer service system—only that only works well when you are a monopoly and your customers have no other choice than to take what you give them.

The folks at Comcast sent me emails while we talked on the phone, and followed up at every step of the way. My service guy, Michael, even pointed out several items that people sometimes miss in the contract—just so I wouldn’t be surprised later on. The service appointment was scheduled online, the tech arrived on-time (with an advance call to let me know he was nearby) and his supervisor called afterwards to make sure everything worked out as I expected.

As for AT&T, they required me to sit by my phone for 30 minutes to wait for a confirmation call so I might register online. To reach a phone representative I needed to set aside a minimum of an hour of my day as they transferred me from representative to representative, and being cut-off several times as they transferred calls (yes, they are a phone company so you’d think they’d know how to transfer a call). Then I received the ultimate insult after I switched my service. I received a letter from AT&T addressed to “Dear Customer” to thank me for my patronage.

“Dear Customer?” you’d think their system could find the name on my account---an account that I had faithfully kept up-to-date for over 30 years. In fact, over the years I’ve had over a dozen accounts with AT&T—business accounts, fax lines, phones at vacation houses, etc. 

But to AT&T I was “Dear Customer.”

When you contact an operator at AT&T, they are trained to read from a script: “How may I provide you with excellent service today…”

I’m afraid there isn’t time enough in the day to list all the ways AT&T could improve their customer service. But the first item on the list would be to stop paying lip-service to the concept of “customer first” and start doing the work necessary to genuinely deliver quality service.

Companies like Comcast, and Apple have found a way to embed customer service into their mission. It is time AT&T does the same.


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