This is not a post to bash AT&T.
I know many folks who have had issues with their network, dropping calls and customer service. I’ve had quite the opposite. Sure I’ve dropped a call occasionally, but I actually switched to AT&T because they were the only service provider that had great coverage when I was traveling to a client in Ann Arbor, MI, years ago. In addition to my Blackberry, I purchased a broadband USB card that has helped me tremendously while I have been on the road. All in all I’ve been a pleased customer for nearly three years.
Where They’re Doing Some Things Well
On the social media side, AT&T has made some compelling strides over the last year plus. For years they have been working with Seth Bloom (who I have met and think very highly of) and they took the leap to put him customer facing representing the company. They have shown a good progression – starting with a Youtube channel and an engaging Facebook page, expanding to listening and customer service directly via Twitter, and making all the help more accessible via a social media landing page. This week AT&T announced a new iPhone app called “Mark That Spot” – it allows customers to indicate when they are in a location with poor 3G coverage – they are listening to customers, and it’s a good start. I’m not sure how many of AT&T’s competitors have made this much effort, frankly. For a recent issue I had, @ATTNatasha reached out to me via Twitter and has been extremely patient, helpful and proactive in working to resolve the issue. Just last week, when Natasha was out of the office, she asked @ATTJason to follow up on another request I had – he was professional, responsive and helpful.
Where The Experience Falls Short
Here’s where my personal experience with AT&T fell down. In September I took a 2-day trip to Toronto, Canada, for a conference. Before I left, I called customer service and asked for recommendations for voice, data and broadband plan changes that would help. I put measures in place for each. When I got back, I had a $6,000 bill. My average monthly bill for all services is $250.
Over the next 6 weeks, I had many calls with Natasha and other customer service reps. AT&T Billing (not Natasha) called me twice to threaten to disconnect my service while the September bill was in dispute. Natasha was able to work out several credits offline through her supervisors, and continued to keep me posted via Twitter. I really enjoyed working with her in this way – I avoided long wait times on the phone. However in the end her supervisors told her that she could credit me only so much, they believe my broadband card was legitimately connected, and still invoiced me for $1300 worth of data and roaming charges in a two day period. I have ample spreadsheets to keep track of the discussions and calculations we went through.
On my last call with Natasha, she delivered the news, and I immediately canceled my broadband service. I already have a Verizon broadband card activated. I am actively shopping for cell phone service. We agreed to disagree on the bill amount but considered the matter closed. Two weeks later AT&T suspended all service to my cell phone and only reactivated after I paid the amount due in full. I felt like I had no other option.
Here’s the point: No amount of interaction through Twitter or other social media outlets could prevent ultimately a bad customer experience and loss of a customer.
In the progression that AT&T has started in social media, a pivotal next step will be to integrate these customer relationships and interactions into their overall business process, with customer feedback being added to the product lifecycle, driving their programs and revamping their overall customer experience. I think I just lived at least a portion of what David Armano and Peter Kim are talking about when they preach “social business design.”
A disclaimer: Was user error involved? Probably – I may have left the broadband card plugged in overnight, which I have since learned is a quick way to rack up usage charges (even if not connected). I definitely did not download however many GB of data they have on record though. Was it worth AT&T to eat more of that cost to keep a long term customer? Apparently not.
Where have you had a bad customer experience? Did the company try to use social media to overcome it? Please no AT&T network bashing comments – there are plenty of other outlets for that.
Photo credit: dwfree1967 via Flickr