AT&T Wireless Customer Service, Incompetence Redefined

I am an AT&T Wireless customer, and have been for several years. Between my various phones, data plans, International callings plans, and more, I pay them thousands of dollars a year. And today I wanted to give them even more money. AT&T is rolling out EDGE over GPRS, it should provide data throughput of up to 200K, considerably faster than what I get using straight GPRS on my cell phone. And of course I need it (ok, want it); card, plan, and all.
But I had a few simple questions: The card requires that I purchase a data plan, but I already have a data plan for my cell phone, so can those be combined? Can I share plans? And can I have a consolidated bill? Simple, huh? Apparently not …
10:05 am: After browsing information on data plans on the AT&T Wireless web site, I realize that I am going to have to call customer service, and do so. I get through, and am told that due to heavy call volume my wait time could be greater than 10 minutes. I put the call on speaker phone and keep working.
10:17 am: Twelve minutes later I get through to a rep, I explain what I want, she puts me on hold twice. After 5 minutes it becomes clear that she does not even know what a data card is. She offers to put me through to someone who can help, and puts me on hold
10:25 am: After being repeatedly told by a recorded message that I’d be helped shortly, I am hung up on. Great.
10:26 am: Let’s try again. I call customer service, and am put back on hold. Only a 5 minute expected hold time, things are looking up.
10:41 am: After a longer-than-5-minutes 5 minutes I go through the whole explanation again, and am once again put on hold.
10:58 am: Still on hold and browsing the AT&T Wireless site. I find a “live customer service” option on the AT&T Web site. I ask for a rep, if the online rep answers first I’ll hang up the phone.
10:59 am: Fast response online, I hang up the phone. Big mistake. “Michael” says “hi”. I explain to Michael online what I want, after 5 messages and no response I send a “Hello?” message. I get a response telling me what GSM is, and instructing me that as a GSM user I had to call the customer service number. I am guessing that “Michael” was a bot, and the word “GSM” triggered a standard response. I tell him so. He responds with a “Goodbye” and disconnects. Wonderful.
11:05 am: Let’s try the customer service line again. 5 minutes expected hold time.
11:09 am: I explain it all again, and tell the rep about my experiences thus far. She promises to help, and puts me on hold 3 times but keeps coming back to tell me she is there.
11:16 am: She hangs up on me.
11:17 am: She calls me back and apologizes, she hit the wrong button. She tells me “I am going to transfer you to someone in the data department who will be able to help you”. I tell her that I don’t want to sit on hold anymore, she promises no hold, someone will pick right up, and then puts me on hold.
11:31 am: Fourteen minutes later the call drops. Back to square one.
11:32 am: I call back, and am back on hold.
11:36 am: Call drops again.
11:37 am: Now I am ticked off. I call back again, and just about yell at the poor rep. She promises to help, keeps putting me on hold and coming back to tell me she is still researching it.
11:43 am: She is back, “no, it can’t be done, you need a new plan”. I ask her if she is sure, that as far as I knew a voice plan could be signed up for with an EDGE card, so if it could be done then it should be doable now. She’ll check.
11:46 am: She is back, “yes, it can be done”. I’ll transfer you to sales. Another transfer? Uh oh!
11:52 am: Sales answers, I explain what I want. “You called sales, let me transfer you”. What? I thought I wanted sales. “Sorry sir, I need to transfer you”. Back on hold I go.
11:58 am: After 6 minutes on hold, a new prompt: “If the call was transferred in error please press 1, if the customer needs to be transferred please press 2”. Huh? I press nothing, and get another obscure prompt: “Press 1 for G2, press 2 for G3, …” I press 1. Back on hold, average wait time is 10 minutes.
11:59 am: Someone answers, the first person who even knows what an EDGE card is. He tells me that want I want is indeed doable, but not on the phone, nor online, I need to go into a local AT&T store. I ask for a supervisor, none is available. I hang up.
Unbelievable. In my books AT&T Wireless has just set a new record for incompetence and stupidity.
[Updated 03/17/2004 10:58pm]
For any of you who are interested, I have a couple of updates to share:
1) First the good news. I did go to my local AT&T Store this afternoon, and spent some time with a friendly and knowledgeable young lady named Kristen who understood what I wanted, and was able to make it happen. I now have my EDGE card (essentially free, thanks to a rebate), an additional way to get online, and a single bill that is no larger than my previous bill. So, success. Although, I do find it ironic that in order to obtain Internet access technology from a phone company I could not use the Internet or my phone, and had to go visit a store.
2) And now the bad news. Like many vendors, AT&T hosts a support forum on their Web site. I posted a message earlier today in the “Customer Care” forum describing my problems. Within minutes I had eight responses from people with similar stories, one of which contained practical suggestions and another phone number to try. But this evening that entire thread has been removed. So, AT&T’s solution is to censor the forum to make the problem go away. Customer care indeed.

15 responses to “AT&T Wireless Customer Service, Incompetence Redefined”

  1. JesterXL Avatar

    I read an article once that said the downside of a good economy is poor customer service.
    So, the silver lining to this story is that the economy must be good.
    …er, yeah, I tried…

  2. Simeon Avatar

    I have had a very similar experience when my cable internet was still through at&t. 8 calls and 14 transfers later they tell me that I can not transfer service, and that I must disconnect and reconnect service. So rediculous.

  3. Alex Hubner Avatar
    Alex Hubner

    It sounds so familiar! :o)
    Believe or not, this is the regular "via crucis" on the brazilian’s telecos (wired or wireless) when you need something that can’t be solved via Internet or via the online "representant" (their names and default messages are so funny…).
    BTW: "lecos" in portuguese is kind a colloquial sufix for small and stupid things.

  4. PaulWeston Avatar

    I had serious issues with the level of Carphone Warehouse customer service in the UK, so can sympathise with your situation.
    Every time I’d ring, they’d not be able to find my details and took them down again. Apparently, they were tapping them into some call history log. After this (recording details) happening quite a few times in a week I rang for the final time and explained to the girl who I was (for her records) and why I’d never be a Carphone Warehouse customer ever again. My favourite part was telling her about the time I listened to the dozy girl in Finance talking to her friends for five minutes (she forgot to put me on hold) and the automated response system that actually told me that I had got through to an area that would not be responded to by anyone and advised hanging up and retrying. The bad thing about that last bit was that it immediately goes to on-hold music. Anyone who missed what was said could have continued waiting until they finally decided to hang up.
    Oh, back to my final call: I put the phone down and forgot all about it. That night I got home and my mother rang me. Carphone Warehouse had rang her, desperate to contact me. I’d not lived at my mother’s house for 2 years and it was not the telephone number I’d repeated ad nauseum. It was off their original records (that they repeatedly told me didn’t exist). I laughed it off, my friends just said ‘told you so’. They’d all told me that I was stupid to buy a phone through them but I’d not listened.
    I ended up speaking to the phone network, Orange, directly and they were a shining example of customer service and sorted me out within a day.
    As you might have noticed, these telephone systems aren’t jammed because there’s so many callers. They’re jammed because the staff have no customer service skills and their only drive of the day being to get to 5pm and go home.

  5. Chris Wigginton Avatar
    Chris Wigginton

    Well, I think I figured out the problem….
    It was 8:30 PM at night in New Delhi and you just can’t get good help for the night shift.

  6. Bob Sifniades Avatar
    Bob Sifniades

    I’m starting a similar process with my cable company, Patriot Media:
    March 3: I call to ask if I can get broadband at my address. They ask me a few questions, including, "Have you ever had cable at your address?" No. They say a salesperson will check on it and call me back within 2 days.
    March 11: I call again, since the salesperson never called back. We start over. "Have you ever had cable at your address?" No. I get an appointment for installation for March 14.
    March 14: The installer shows up and the very first thing he asks is, "Have you ever had cable at this address?" Still no. He can’t install anything because it requires 2 people and a bucket truck. He schedules a bucket truck for March 17.
    March 16: I attend an excellent presentation by Ben Forta at the Central Jersey CFUG. Meanwhile, a cable salesperson leaves me a phone message saying he was at my address today, and they can’t install cable at my house on March 17 because I’ve never had cable at my address. He also says he left me a rate card. I get home and the rate card is stuffed between the mailbox and the flag. The card is wet and frozen to the mailbox because it’s been snowing and sleeting all day. The card disintegrates when I try to remove it.

  7. Spike Avatar

    You you want to try getting a comcast digital phone line installed for something to test the patience…
    My girlfriend and I recently moved to a rental property where the previous tennant hadn’t paid their AT&T bill. We ordered Comcast cable and Internet which was all installed with no fuss, so it seemed sensible to order a digital phone line from them too.
    After a screw up on the original installation date where the engineer turned up during the 10 minutes when there was no-one at the house I called comcast to re-schedule the installation. After about 25 minutes on hold and bouncing around the various queuing systems I got to a customer service representative and was told that the installation had been cancelled because there was no-one there when the engineer called.
    I was given a number to call to request a new installation, and was back on hold for another 90 minutes or so before I was told that I needed to call a different number to request installation in my area. So I call the new number only to be told by the automated system that I have to enter my current home phone number. wtf? I don’t have a home phone!!! That’s why I’m calling the phone installation line!! So, back to the original customer support number and back on hold for another 45 minutes or so. When I finally get to speak to a customer service person again I’m told that I don’t have the authority to request an installation. That has to be done by my girlfriend who ordered the original cable and Internet package. Grrrr!!! ok, so now I’m pretty pissed off, but thanks to an Irish blessing or two the customer services rep speaks to her supervisor who agrees to allow me to request a new installation. So… Back on hold for another 30 minutes while they sort out the ‘correct procedure’ to put me on the account even though I don’t have a Social Security number yet.
    Finally, 4 1/2 hours after I originally picked up the phone I had a new date for installation.

  8. David Avatar

    We need a tool/weapon to empower us. I want to be able to tell the person on the other end of the line when they answer the phone that "this call is being recorded for MY quality control purposes". But what would this tool/weapon be?
    It should work with a cell phone or a land line. It should be portable. It should record to a standard file format with good audio quality and good compression. It should have a simple interface for transferring files to my computer (usb, firewire, Bluetooth). It should have the ability to mark a point in the recording: e.g.; when I begin a detailed explanation of my situation it would be great to press a button to mark the beginning and end points so I could jump back to it during the call when I’m transferred to the tenth person who needs to hear my story, and easily resume recording without overwriting exciting data.
    Once recorded the conversation could be e-mailed to company execs. Or burned to Audio CD and/or transcribed and sent via postal mail to the same.
    I’ve seen some software solutions for this, but that involves a PC. I would love this tool to be standalone and portable.
    some software:
    some thing like this would be nice:
    but it also needs the ability to jack into a phone.
    What about Smart Phones, is there software that will handle this? I’ll buy all the compact flash I need to hold hours of incompetence.
    I need this tool! Anyone who has ever had to wait on hold needs this tool! If any entrepreneurs are reading this… what are you waiting for?
    If anyone knows of a device or combination of devices that could fit this description please share.
    Maybe it’s already in the works…
    CNET Article on cell phone recording vs. privacy.
    CNET Article on wireless phone co’s move to MP3

  9. Michael J. Dyer Avatar
    Michael J. Dyer

    I’ve been ‘AT&T-free’ since 1997 and my life is better for it. Of course, the other guys are that much better.
    Whenever someone from AT&T contacts me I always let them know that I will never, EVER give their company another dollar.
    Additional companies on my ‘do not call’ list:
    And soon to be added: Supra Telecom.
    Ben – I feel your pain.

  10. Brad Fogle Avatar
    Brad Fogle

    I feel for you on the hold problems. Something that I feel has gone really sour in the corporate world is the fact you can’t get hold of anybody. I guess I’m old-fashioned even though I’m only 18, but gosh darnit! When I need tech support or help with a product that someone made I think I deserve some help, and immediate help at that. One thing I disgust personally are answering machines. I do not trust them, when I can’t get hold of someone and get a machine I will wait a day and call them back, only as my last resort do I leave a message.
    For my next part I’d like to see what you think Ben. Since AT&T Wireless has been bought out by Cingular, will you wait to get the new service or jump right in and get into a worse problem when the services start to change names and procedures? One thing that we all know is that when things upgrade in the technical world or change hands there are bad experiences. Instead of waiting for an hour you wait 3 hours just to be re-routed to the other company who says they can’t do that and re-routes you back to where you started, now that is frustration!! I hope you have good luck with the new edge service. I’m going to be going through the same problems in the near future when I go into the Air Force this summer. Since I am a techy kid and will need constant connections to the net I’d like to buy a Windows Smart Phone. I’ve been turned off this concept by the fact that the person who headed the development and launch of that platform left last November (I think that was the month) and is now in charge of Macromedia’s mobile division. That scares me, I know that you can have people come and go but someone that key in a product that has yet to be truly ‘tested’ is bad for pr and bad for future service. The way that it is going I fear the Windows enabled smartphone will go the way of the Sharp Linux enabled PDA, something only techies use that cannot be truly used to its potential.
    Well that was a bit of a vent, hope you have luck with the Edge service, keep us posted so we know if it turns out ok.

  11. Daniel Greenfeld Avatar
    Daniel Greenfeld

    We’ve been Verizon free since before they became Verizon. Back in the day, we would send them checks, and they would send threatening letters saying we hadn’t paid them, even though our checks would be cashed. At that point we had no alternative for local service, and we would call and spend hours each month trying to straighten it out. Finally we got sick of it and got a cell phone, which was our first. When Starpower came around we switched to them and haven’t had any problems.
    Then there is the DSL service. We signed up for DSL because the cable company was taking its sweet time. Well, it worked great. For three years we used to have super-fast access, which was part of the fun of being next to a substation or something. Our cable broadband friends would laugh at us, so we would have them over and download big files in front of them, and they would be amazed at our T-1 like speed. And we could also upload stuff at a fast pace too. We enjoyed our DSL for 3 pleasant years of incredible service. Even when our account moved from different company to different company, we had no problems.
    Then, at the beginning of 2003, the DSL stopped working. I called tech support and got Earthlink, who was our current DSL account holder. Tech support was wonderfully nice and tried this and that thing to get us working. No dice. Tech support said we were getting signal, and sent out a tech to look at our house and tested all our lines and gear. Still, even he couldn’t figure it out why we weren’t getting signal. They checked the local box or something and that was working fine. Then our tech support guy asked us if our bill was current. We thought so, but just in case, we had her switch us to accounting or something.
    Bang. We hit the hold monster. Think Ben Forta’s story. You know what I mean. Total aggravation. It went on for days, and we couldn’t get any explanation. My wife was working from home then, and it was killing her not having access to the Internet.
    Finally I got a hold of some manager. I explained to him that we really needed service up, or a decent explanation, or my lawyer would be talking to him. He laughed this off in a nasty smarmy way, so I had my lawyer, who is my best friend and a high paid trial attorney, give him a call.
    The manager, in the conversation with my lawyer, had the sense then to login and check my account. Apparently, he wouldn’t do it with just me on the phone. Yep, Earthlink sucks at the management level at around the Russian Admirals taking care of the Kursk incident level.
    So anyway, the manager tells my buddy that Earthlink no longer serves our physical area.
    Yep. No emails, no letters, no phone calls. Just cancellation of our service, and a continuance of charges to Earthlink. I got the refund, thanks to my lawyer (best buddy).
    It gets worse. I found out that the only DSL company serving my area was Verizon! I sighed and called them, preparing for the worst. But since Earthlink had to work through them before to even get us our Internet feed, all the equipment and addresses should be in place.
    No deal. Verizon claimed they didn’t serve our area and never had. Which was freaky because FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS our DSL service went through their systems to get to the local DSL company!
    Sick of dealing with the DSL and telecommunications madness and terrible service, we switched over to comcast internet. I feel bad for the Earthlink tech support because they tried hard, but their management and parallel groups such as sales and accounting must surely drag them into the gutter of angry customers.

  12. Brandon Avatar

    I had the same experience with AT&T wireless. For some reason my phone would only allow outgoing calls if I was on a AT&T Wireless network. If I were on AT&T or Roam it would fail. I had a nationwide no roaming plan so it should have worked. I called in several times only to be transfered multiple times and hung up on several times. How frustrating is it to set on hold for an hour only to be hung up on?

  13. Roman Avatar

    I just have to say that nothing’s worse than Verizon customer service. I got into screaming matches with customer service reps who couldn’t explain why my DSL connection kept dropping out every 10 minutes. Needless to say, I was not a customer for very long.

  14. ezzymy Avatar

    You have only just begun your journey into AT&T hell. There GSM network is half the TDM network and they are advertising it as twice as good. I will be making suit as to FTC violations ie false advertising. They are due to eat the dirt they walk on. Organized oposition to there continued existence as a corporation is about to emerge. You can only lie to the people for so long and then they will vote with there feet. Remember the Edsel.

  15. Marv Miller Avatar
    Marv Miller

    Verizon Wireless Customer Service and CEO response is the worst! See these web pages:

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