AT&T DSL Resolution: They rock! And, they get….

by Marianne Richmond on June 20, 2007


The relationship did not start well. At the end, the AT&T DSL Resolution Team were a case study in customer centricity and positive customer support experiences that drive brand loyalty.

After reaching the end of any possible hopes of salvaging my existing Charter service when their inability to allocate my bill payments correctly for over a year resulted in not the typical monthly shut off of my phone service or premium cable channel access but the termination of Internet access, I knew I had to give up.

Yes, I would miss the monthly phone calls with the latest collection of Charter representatives and supervisors who each promised that this time the problem was fixed but would try to find something to do with all that time. Oh, yes…I will still get the opportunity to travel their outsourced world for a while yet, trying to find resolution; the final bill of course is not correct.

So, in April I picked up one of the "please, come back" AT&T, your phone company formerly despised as SBC, mailers and dialed the 800#. After going through what seemed like a million Q&A, press 1 for yes, 2 for no, and 3 for you understand that we hate our customers, I was told that everyone was busy; even so, I should remember that they really did care about me and someone would be there eventually.

Finally, as I was about ready to hang up thinking that if they took this long and made it this complicated to handle a call from a potential new customer, that service problems would require an even longer obstacle course, and wait, an extremely pleasant, English speaking man answered. He explained everything patiently and set up an installation date for phone, DSL and Dish Network.

There were all kinds of rebates, incentives, and only one thing they wanted to charge for, the modem. I said that I actually had a modem from my last SBC DSL moment and asked if it would work. He asked me some questions and then assured me it would and when the installation day arrived all I would need to do was to have the service person let me know when to plug it in.

On the appointed day (May 5) the AT&T truck pulled up, checked around the house and told me that the phone worked and I was good to go with DSL. Thus the saga began.

As it turned out, although the modem worked while tethered to my laptop via Ethernet, it would not pick up a wireless signal. I spent hours on the phone with DSL tech support….similarly to Charter, I was transferred all over the globe. At each stop, someone told me something different: "It’s NOT a wireless modem, it is a wireless modem but doesn’t work, Oh, you have a MAC, too,well there is this incompatibility issue…"

Finally, as I tried to remain cheerful, I was transferred to another English as a second language tech support person who hit one of my personal hot buttons: The tech support person who gleefully informs you what you are going to have to pay for IF the problem is something that they decide falls outside of some set of parameters that you knew nothing about until you had a problem.

I stopped him. Listen, I said, I haven’t had this service for 24 hours yet. It has never worked. It is not working now. I am not paying to repair anything because it has never worked. He persisted. I asked him politely to stop. When he finally did, I asked to speak to his supervisor. I am never sure if that is the person in the cubicle next to the person you are talking to or not. Good cop/bad cop…I will be the supervisor on this call, you get the next one.

The supervisor came on. I asked him not to tell me about what I was going to have to pay for. I asked him if their priority shouldn’t be solving my problem. He agreed in a condescending manner but assured me that the bad cop had to advise me of "my responsibilities" because they would not be able to repair wiring inside the house and I needed to know that.

I asked if they shouldn’t maybe have looked on their computer screen with my account information that I knew they had since I had been asked to give them my phone number and the last 4 digits of my social every single time I was transferred and been able to see that my plan included the inside wiring service plan before they offered their advice?

Oh, yes he smoothly said, I do see that…so we will be able to get a service tech right out; will you be home Thursday between sunrise and sunset? Well, since that was 4 days from today, that was when I said, please transfer me to retention. I believe I will cancel. He happily moved me on.

Well, as most of you know, retention is where you go when you want to cancel your service. Most of us consumers (the people, formerly known as the audience) call it cancellation; most service providers call it retention. One of life’s and customer services little non sequiturs. You are there because you are dissatisfied and have spoken to what seems like armies of customer service and tech support personnel who have all assured you that your problem cannot be fixed, that it can be fixed at your expense, or that the product or service cannot be returned, replaced or canceled or that it can be returned, replaced or cancelled at your expense. In other words, you are in retention because you have not found satisfaction from anyone else and you want out. Or, if you have been through this drill before you know that retention is not the graveyard…it’s a game show: "Let’s Make a Deal."

 Generally you are very angry upon arrival here and typically you are angrier still by the time you are transferred to retention and have to wait while listening to a recording of how important you really are.When the normally cheerful retention person comes on the line, he or she is usually empowered to right the wrongs of the other departments. Why companies operate this system of customer service terrorism I do not know. Retention should be the ongoing customer experience process…not the life rope thrown out as the customer goes overboard.

So, true to form I explained that I had been a customer for about 6 hours, that my DSL modem was not working, and that rather than be put through any more torture I would like to cancel the whole account. The offers then begin….we can get someone out in two days instead of four; tomorrow I insist. Tomorrow it is. We will charge you half price for a new modem. Cancel it, I say. OK, well we will see if we can have someone out tomorrow with a new modem, no charge. Deal. She quickly connected me to the maintenance department in Texas where this was immediately arranged. The voice at the other end of the phone was empathetic, "No, it should not be doing that, there is a problem somewhere." The conversation ended with, here is our direct phone number.

This was versus the typical attribution error attitude of most of these "needle in a haystack" kind of issues: YOU, the user must be doing something wrong. The corollary is: Well it shouldn’t be doing this, therefore it is not and you are either imagining it or causing it.

The next morning, the new modem and the tech guy arrived. He replaces the modem and gets the system set up. Seems like the problem was the modem. He leaves. And then the real reason for this blog post: how the AT&T DSL Resolution Department, based here in St. Louis, exemplified the traits that inspire not just customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty.

The issue was the fact that the connection was not stable. I couldn’t be online for more than few hours without losing the connection. At first I ignored it, being adverse to even beginning the process at 1-800# we don’t care. When it became impossible to ignore, I sucked it in, and dialed the direct to Maintenance number the Texas guy had given me. And this made all the difference. One number dialed, right department, someone will be out.

Over the next 30 days or so, there were about a dozen service calls. I went from the direct to Maintenance number to the direct to Resolution number. These guys rewired, reconfigured, and re-did everything inside the house and outside the house. I don’t remember all their names but Mike and Tony actually gave me phone numbers to call them back if I had a problem after their fix-it attempts. They kept at it inspite of the fact that it began to seem un-resolvable. They made the problem something that they were going to solve. And they did. Was there customer service part of the customer service guidelines? Might have been; but if so, it is not the way that it is typically practiced. It should be.

Let’s look at Elana Anderson at Forrester’s recent blog post on her run in with the reality of customer experience versus the version that is served up at conferences and in advertising. I attended and blogged the Forrester Marketing Forum that focused on customer centricity and where many corporations spoke of their commitment to providing service the exemplifies their customer centricity.

One of the items noted at this conference was the Bain finding that 80% of companies believe that they are delivering a superior customer experience to their customer but only 8% of consumers agree. I think companies forget that customer service and tech support are even part of the customer experience. In many cases, it is the most critical consumer touchpoint for loyalty. Think about it. Am I really going to recommend or buy another BMW or Sony regardless of the advertising and brand cache if I can’t get my service or performance issues resolved? See Feld Thoughts.

As Elana notes in her recent experience with Bank of America, Capital One and American Express, Being Consumer Centric is Hard. But C’Mon, It’s Not That Hard. She lists some steps that financial service companies should take to improve their customer experience. Included are the concept of ownership, eliminating the automated systems, mapping out the process, think of the customers’ point of view and use empathy.

My friend’s at DSL Resolution walked up all of those steps:

  •  They decided to own the problem. Once they owned it, they became determined to find the problem and fix it.
  •  Once I had their direct number, I didn’t have to go through automated system hell over and over again. If I had, I can almost guarantee, I would have canceled.
  •  I explained early on that my work kept me online probably much more than their average customer. Everyone that was here seemed to be aware of that and viewed the situation in that light.
  • They were empathetic. Some of them told me of problems that they had experienced. They expressed that they wouldn’t want the problem. I felt that they "got it."
  • I have no idea if their process is mapped out….but if it isn’t, they should map their handling of my situation a process.

One final point. Another often missed component of evaluating customer experience is setting the expectations that you expect to evaluate against. If you visit the AT&T website, you see that their tagline is, Your world. Delivered. I have no idea how this is supposed to make me regard them. However, their message is all about price. Bundle and Save.

Maybe their research indicates that this is all that people care about. However, a low price strategy will not make a customer into a fan. As Eric Kintz, whose title at HP is VP of Global Marketing Strategy & Excellence, said at the same Forrester Conference: Get the fundamentals right first. Invest in customer support. Integrate the customer into every aspect of the business. The HP results serve as an example of their success with customer centricity.

The new AT&T should take a look at the resolution team….another thing they did early on. They told me, "we are just up on the road." Well, they aren’t just up the road from everyone, but local is more comforting than Global in customer service.

Thanks Peter, Mike, Tony and everyone else who rocked the resolution!


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