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AT&T – The 10 Ways You Failed Me

Tripp Babbitt

Real service situations create opportunities to see organizations in action. Recently, I had an encounter with AT&T Uverse, my service provider for phone, internet and television. Documenting these interactions is a good way to learn and improve, not necessarily because your service organization has the same problems but because it leads to a better perspective when you evaluate your own service.

My encounter with AT&T started when my TV and internet were either constantly freezing or, in the case of the internet, operating very slowly. The poor experience prompted me to contact AT&T technical support, which greeted me via IVR.

IVR systems are typically a barrier to getting good service. That subsequently produces the ironic truth that IVRs, despite being installed to save organizations money, end up becoming more costly.

After the initial greeting, the AT&T IVR asks whether the phone number you are calling from is the one listed on the account. While they IVR looks this up, I get the added message reminding me not to text and drive and to "take the pledge." I am then asked to state the reason for my call; the system gives me some examples like "Uverse technical support" and "I want to pay my bill." The examples don’t align with how I would describe my problem (via language like "my TV freezes" and "my internet is slow") but I have learned from past calls to say, "Uverse technical support."

Failure #1: The IVR examples don’t match my problem the way I see them as a customer.

The IVR then tells me that AT&T is going to run some tests. After several minutes, the IVR comes back and tells me that they have found some problems and that they will need to send a technician.

Failure #2: If you could tell I had a problem by running the tests, why did I have to call? This service organization has the ability to find problems, but opted not to be proactive.

I schedule the appointment, and the next morning the technician calls to say he is on the way. He arrives and, after some diagnostics and checking, tells me that I am getting "one fault every second" and threw in a bunch of technical jargon that was unintelligible. This doesn’t sound good, but I have no idea what this means.

Failure #3: If you are going to talk to customer, don’t use technical terms or words that have no meaning to me as a customer.

After an hour, the technician is done. We check my TVs and devices and things appear to be OK. I then received multiple survey calls from AT&T. I was curious as to why and checked on line and find allegations that when AT&T gets a good service rating they will survey the customer a bunch of times to increase the score. Whether this is urban legend or truth, I don’t know.

Failure #4: Don’t survey me a bunch of times for the same service. More importantly, you shouldn’t have to survey me at all--the technician should know whether the job was done well when he leaves.

Dave (my technician) leaves his number in case of any problems but also told me that AT&T doesn’t like repeat visits. Two days later, the same problems start happening.

Failure #5: I don’t like repeat visits either, but reoccurrences are more often a systemic issue (management owns these) and not a technician issue.

I was going on a business trip/vacation, and with my Uverse down, I had no access to a phone or internet. My cell service is weak where I live so I sent a text to Dave and received no response – I’m not even sure Dave’s phone could receive a text. Upon return from my trip the problems were still present. So, I called AT&T again.

This time when I went through the IVR, I wound up with an agent – I must have gotten a promotion! The agent was really nice, but didn’t provide me with any answers and took a lot of time. The standard AT&T response is that the modem must be bad and they will send you a new one, but I just got a new one 9 months ago and was suspicious of this "solution." Makes me wonder how many modems that AT&T sends out as a solution; the UPS store in my neighborhood tells me they return to AT&T "6 – 10 bad ones" every day.

Failure #6: Don’t send/give me solutions until you understand my problem.

The technician that arrived was Dave again. I knew he wasn’t happy about the return visit from his previous comment about reoccurrences. Dave checked things and told me the lines were good and that the problem must be with one of the boxes. After about 15 minutes, he said I was good and showed me that his device was pulling about 20mps. However, I didn’t care about his device so I went and checked a couple of my devices and they were still slow.

Failure #7: Make sure my problem is solved on my equipment.

This prompted Dave to again show me that his device was pulling 20mbps. I told Dave that I didn’t know what the mbps download speed was before his arrival, just that it was noticeably slower. A check revealed that my devices were running at 8mps.

Failure #8: You must trust the customer’s view. They may not know the technical reasons, but they know if something is wrong or different.

Dave then spent the next 90 minutes replacing the DVR. He called an AT&T support line to set up the new DVR and was on hold for almost 10 minutes. When he finished, all my devices were pulling a download speed of about 20 mbps.

I was happy . . . until he left. The new DVR had sacrificed all of my recordings, plus when he setup my wife’s Apple computer he disconnected the Time Capsule that backs up her computer.

Failure #9: If a customer is going to lose something let them know and allow the customer to make a decision before proceeding.

The last contact was a phone call asking if my problem was fixed and the system was working. However, the survey didn’t cover my experience – just whether it was working/fixed.

Failure #10: The survey asked the wrong question. The problem was fixed, but they missed all the opportunities to improve the service and experience.


I have dealt with AT&T for several years now. They are in a competitive market full of poor service. Comcast, DirectTV, DISH and a host of others (including AT&T) claim to have world-class service. Their TV commercials and marketing will tell you how great their brand is. However, they all deliver poor service and no amount of marketing spin will change this.

These and many other service organizations and industries need systemic change enabled by management. The one provider that does will own their market. However, these organizations benchmark against each other and they are all bad, which creates a cycle of despair for customers pleading for good service.

For me, the first step is understanding the end-to-end service customer-in. With AT&T, I have been told bonuses are at risk for poor service surveys. The motivation here is to hide problems and not face them. Why would someone want negative feedback if they are hit with a stick every time a problem occurs? These should be opportunities, not a dirty secret to hide away.

A technician or agent shouldn’t need a survey or inspection to determine whether the service was good or bad. The customer should be able to tell them at the time they leave. As agents and technicians get knowledge about what is important to customers they can provide better and better service. The "shocker" is that costs fall . . . dramatically.