If a company sells a million widgets and 1 percent of them break, that’s ten thousand unhappy customers. As the man in this story is about to learn, service contracts tend to favor the ones who wrote them and thus, I give you this tale of customer dissatisfaction that I call: “Loaner.”
Welcome to Super-Short Storytime, literature listeners and audio aficionados! I am Eduardo Soliz, the creator and narrator of the wonderfully weird story that you are about to hear.
This story was influenced by my time spent working in customer service. As much as I’d like to ‘get over it’ and move on, the general public have provided me with WAY too much story material in order for me to do so. I call this cursory client conversation: “Future Service”
“Your call is very important to us, sir, and a technical support representative will be on the line with you shortly.” a female voice said over the communicator.
“Yeah, really important, that’s why I’ve been on hold for fifteen minutes…” the caller muttered as he paced back and forth.
“I apologize, sir. Is there anything I can do for you while we wait? Is there anything you would like to talk about?” asked the voice on the phone.
“No, that’s fine.” The caller said. He stopped his pacing as he came to an unpleasant realization. “Wait, have you been on the line all this time?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, it is our policy to never transfer customers to an automated system.” The rep replied with an air of pride. “We have learned that interacting with a live representative prior to speaking with a technical support specialist improves the overall customer experience.”
“So your job is to just sit there and talk to me?” The dumbfounded caller asked.
“Yes sir.” The woman replied.
“And you can’t do anything at all to get my problem fixed?” The caller said, his voice beginning to waver slightly.
The woman took on a condescending tone when she answered: “I’m afraid not, sir. I am here to keep you company and ease your frustrations until a qualified technical support specialist becomes available, in about…” She paused as she checked her screen. “Twenty minutes. This new system has improved our efficiency and greatly improved customer satisfaction. Are you still there, sir?”
“Yes. So whenever I call this number, I will always get a person?”
“That is correct,” the woman cheerfully replied.
The android finally reached his breaking point. He slammed a metal fist onto his dining room table and yelled into the communicator: “SO WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET A MACHINE AROUND HERE?!”
Like the old saying goes, you can’t make everybody happy. Perhaps one day some company somewhere will perfect customer service over the phone. Until then, we’ll have to “hold” on as best we can.
This has been Super-Short Storytime! Visit eduardo soliz dot com for more stories and free e-book downloads, and remember, listeners: Your call may be recorded for quality assurance, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be listened to!
Its not quite a Rule of Tech Support (I’ll have to check the list to make sure) but a good rule to follow whenever you’re fixing something is “don’t make it worse.” If you can’t fix something at least try to get back to where you were when you started, it just makes life easier down the road, even if it is for the next guy that’s going to be looking at whatever it is you’re trying to fix. If its someone else’s thing you’re fixing, be up front and honest about what is happening.
The poor handling of an unfortunate situation is one common thread that I see over and over again whenever someone takes to the Internet to air a legitimate grievance, like the musician who recently had a guitar damaged by incompetent baggage handlers after he was denied the right to carry it onto the plane with him. Something unfortunate happens, the person seeks remedy from the company that wronged them, and the company completely blows the opportunity to prove they’re really all about the customer. Instead they blow them off, or insult them with a feeble attempt at compensation and look like a bunch of non-caring jerks.
I wouldn’t have been so riled up about the recent hot water outage in my apartment but for the way the staff handled the situation. The first time it happened, I was upset, but the email I received after the fact offered an apology and explained the situation. I read it and was satisfied to know that the problem was being taken care of. If they had sent a properly worded email the second time it happened, I probably wouldn’t have gone onto this blog to open up a can of Internet Wrath™.
Stuff happens, and I believe that most people are willing to accept that stuff happens as long as you don’t insult their intelligence by ignoring them, insulting their intellgence or being condescending. Own the problem, let your customers know that things are being attended to, and most folks will accept that. Don’t make it worse.
In any event, the hot water is back, so its time for a bath. I ain’t dipping my big toe in that tub until its good and ready, though!
So after the smoke cleared, I got my DSL turned on and AT&T got another customer…well for now, anyway. It only took a trip to AT&T’s website, 2 customer service reps, one angry tweet, 3 techs, two social media team people, three executive escalation people, about a dozen voice mails, about twice that many phone calls, and seven days.
For my trouble, I’m getting my first month of service free, which I think is fair enough. I’m just happy that the switch got flipped, and hopefully things will be hunky dory from here on out. I also learned a few things:
- Just use the phone already! I should have just called back the next morning, despite the terrible experience I’d had with the first CSR. Its just quicker, especially considering..
- “The Power of Social Media” is worthless if the people answering the tweets don’t have the power to DO anything. Awhile back, a friend of mine had a problem with Netflix that he tweeted about. Someone from the company got in touch with him fairly quickly and got the issue resolved. Thus, when I got a response from AT&T’s social media people, I got excited that someone was going to get something DONE about my problem. Sadly, the only thing the social media mavens that answered my angry AT&T tweets did was tell me to wait for a phone call that would come at some indeterminate time. Of course, once I got past the social media d00dz, I found out:
- Just because they’re “executive escalation” doesn’t mean they want to talk to you. I don’t think I’ve ever played as much phone tag as I did with the executive escalation gal. Part of it was because of my job, which entails answering phones, and part of it was because of the phone system at AT&T, which did not put me through to the person directly. Whenever I had time to speak, I had to leave a message and hope that she called me back before I got busy again. This is hardly efficient, especially considering that…
- Competence is not “expected behavior” This was not the first time I had ordered DSL service from AT&T. I had expected the positive experience I’d had before to be repeated. Sadly, this was not the case; the smart people I’d spoken to years ago have probably either been laid off or hopefully, moved on to bigger or better things. As for me:
- I may just be too patient. I probably should have thrown in the towel after the social media dweebs told me to wait 48 “business hours” for a phone call but I was desperate to get back on the intertubes and I wanted to see this whole thing through.
So I now have sweet, sweet, internet and life is good.
Evening of Monday March 8, 2011.
I left a message with the Executive service person in the morning letting her know that I’d had enough and was going to cancel my order. We still had plenty of folks out sick, so work soon began in earnest. Oddly enough, I got a call from a AT&T tech during my morning break. After asking me if I had my own modem plugged into the phone jack (being repeatedly asked that question was another annoyance) he was going to get everything set up outside. I reluctantly agreed. After all, I had nothing to lose, and I wasn’t exactly clamoring to deal with Time Warner Cable.
I had to make a trip to the bank during lunch, but before I took off, I left another message with the Executive gal letting her know that I was going to give it one last shot before packing it in. The morning had been busy and I was feeling a little frazzled, so I drove the few miles to the bank with the windows open and the radio on. Arriving at the bank, I discovered that Executive gal had called while I was on the road. I didn’t feel like leaving another message so I left the phone in the car while I went to take care of my business and have some lunch. Of course, during that time, she had called again.
We played phone tag for the remainder of the afternoon. I don’t know if it was the long day I was having or the constant stream of apologies that got thrown my way, but I did not want to talk with her. I had planned on leaving early to see if my connection was working, I had just enough time to get home, check the modem and leave a final message with Executive gal. That plan got shot to heck as I ended up getting stuck on two consecutive long calls with two irritating customers. It was past my usual time to go home and I was pretty beat. The trip home was longer than usual, thanks to an accident that had occurred less than a block away from my apartment which totally hosed things up.
Being stuck in traffic is one thing, but being stuck in traffic just a few blocks away from home is maddening.
I was all but ready to collapse into bed for a quick nap. Before doing so, I half-heartedly checked the modem again. This time, I was greeted with four solid green lights and a fifth one that was blinking green. They finally freaking did it.
I hastily plugged in my laptop, opened up Firefox and saw an AT&T error page. Aww.
The error page provided me with a number to call. I hesitated for a pretty good while before picking up my cell phone, steeling myself for another craptacular experience like the one I’d had just a week earlier. The prize was finally within reach, I hoped that I didn’t get the same idiots that I had spoken with the week prior. I didn’t. Instead, I got a gentleman from India, who called himself “Ed.” Go figure that one out.
As an aside, I’ve always wondered: do those folks pick names out of a hat before signing in to their phones? I just picture a bunch of people in India sitting at their desks practicing their new names before work begins. “Ed” got lucky, I remember speaking with a less-than-convincing “Gladys” some time ago.
Moving on, I let “other Ed” walk me through the process, and except for one hiccup that was my fault he got me on the tubes and I was now a happy geek:
I plan on calling Executive Girl in the morning to let her know that everything got done and that I would be hanging around with AT&T for awhile. For all the aggrivation, I will be getting a free month out of the deal and look forward to being “always on” again. I’ll probably do one last wrap-up post after this, but for now I will bask in the glow of the sweet sweet internets. Thanks for pulling it off in the end, AT&T!!
Evening of Sunday, March 7, 2011
…and all the King’s men couldn’t get one effing DSL line installed! Thanks for nothing, AT&T!
Afternoon of Friday, March 4, 2011
The last thing on my mind today was AT&T. The “other important call” I had scheduled to take during lunch was a phone interview. My current job is a temporary one; so technically, I could get the old heave-ho at any time. I’d been burned in the past by being overly optimistic, so I decided to be overly pessimistic and assume that each day at work might be the one where I turn in my badge.
The day started out well enough: I got up, got ready for work, checked out the nice new H-E-B near my apartment, and stopped for a bite of breakfast and a blog update before the workday started. I was feeling pretty good: this was going to be the first payday I’d had in awhile, and I was looking forward to seeing that direct deposit drop into my virtual wallet.
I logged onto my work computer and decided to take a quick peek at my bank balance before getting started. I was disappointed to see it was about the same as it had been a few days before. That meant I was going to have to wait for the check to arrive in the mail. I shrugged it off, but at the same time I hoped that it wouldn’t take too long.
As I started work, I noticed the guy next to me was sounding pretty rough. I could hear him constantly coughing, and he soon went home sick. I also noticed that we were quite busy and sure enough, I soon learned that there had been a few people that had called in sick. This did not bode well for my lunchtime plans. Sure enough, about twenty-five minutes before lunchtime, I got a call from some idiot who kept me on the phone for an hour. My heart sank as I felt the cell phone on my hip ring once, and then twice. Needless to say, I was in a bit of a mood when I finally left for lunch.
I ordered and then sat down to check my voicemails and return calls. Sure enough, the interviewer had called at 12 on the dot. I left a message on her voicemail then listened to the AT&T gal’s message. She wanted to try to reschedule a time for a tech to come out. I was confused and asked her why the tech had to be there. As it turns out, because my phone line was currently unused they could not automatically assume that it worked. The last time I had ordered DSL, I actually had a landline so they knew that it worked to a certain degree.
It would have been nice if someone had TOLD me this sometime over the past three days: the tech didn’t write it on the note on the door, the idiot CSR didn’t say it even though I kept bringing up the self-install thing, the 2 social media reps were as useless as a knife in a soup-eating contest and the first executive whatchamacallit only served to bounce me to the second executive whatchamacallit.
I had to go to Mount Doom and back and talk to all those people just to find out something that should have been posted on the order webpage or put in some phone guy’s script or computer screen. That is just plain nuts.
The Executive phone person asked when she could schedule someone to come out. I told her about the whole ‘can’t miss work’ thing and she told me that their installers don’t work on weekends. Glorious. She said she was going to try to get someone out on Saturday. Feeling cooperative, I told her that I would call the apartment to see if they could let their tech in while I was out of work. She asked me to leave a message when I got a decision. The apartment people said yes, but I was really unsure about doing that so I left a message with her saying that I needed a weekend appointment.
I went back to work after that. Things were still busy, and with about an hour and a half to go in the day I took a break to check my voicemail. I got two messages, the first was from the Executive girl asking me to call a “DSL Specialist” to verify the appointment and answer some questions he would have for me. The second message was from that guy. He had already attempted to call me but I had been too busy at work to pick up. I called the guy’s number and got a message saying he had already left for the day a half-hour ago. Seriously??
I left a message anyway and also left a message with Executive girl letting her know I had just missed the boat because DSL guy had decided to pack it in early for the weekend. Yeah, that’s the kind of day I was having.
Game Over. Bueno, bye. Sayonara. Thanks for playing.
I had all I could stand and I could stand no more. I figured the next time I got called back I would be telling Executive girl I give up. Un-frakking believable. Executive girl called back and she was very apologetic, even more so than before. That’s saying something, because every time I spoke with her she started by apologizing for the delay and their lousy phone system. It says something about the phone company when they have to apologize for their own phone system.
After kissing my feet for way longer than necessary, she told me to call DSL guy back. She assured me that yes, this time he would be answering. I called him, and to my surprise, he answered, asked me if I had a modem plugged into the phone (I did) and told me a guy would be coming on Saturday morning to get everything fixed up. Yeah-yeah, sure-sure.
Well, here we go again!
Evening of Thursday, March 3, 2011
I think I’m over being “mad as hell” with AT&T. Instead, I’ve decided to ride the crazy train and see where it takes me. Besides, I’m no worse off now I was before. Should all else fail, I can always go to the competition. On a certain level, it’s even fun watching AT&T stumble around like a drunken brontosaurus.
At this point, I’m supposed to be waiting for Telephone Superman to get in touch with me so that he can get my apartment hooked up to the tubes. Realistically, though, I think what’s going to happen is that he’s going to ask me a few questions and then either schedule someone to go out to my place (which brings us back to square one) or apologize profusely and THEN schedule someone to go out to my place. Either way, I’m boned.
I have an hourly job right now. I don’t have any vacation days at that job right now, so taking days off means not getting paid for that day. I literally cannot afford to take time off during the week, and on Saturdays, I am busy attending or helping out with various nerd gatherings and events, and on Sundays I have band practice. My busy schedule is why I wanted to do the self-install. Besides, the installer has no reason to enter my apartment unless things are really borked up.
Now if the tech came by, flipped the switch, saw that something was borked up and had to do something inside, somebody should have TOLD me that by now: the installer could have written something on the note he left, the nimrod CSR I spoke to should have seen it on his screen, and I’ll even go as far as to say that the guys responding on Twitter should have seen that SOMETHING was screwy after seeing me unleash some “nerd rage” on the tubes. That’s water under the bridge, though. I figured I’d give them a few days to call and once my patience runs out, I’ll just nuke it all and give Time Warner a ring. Luckily (or unluckily, perhaps) I am a very patient person.
Now if Phone Dude didn’t flip the switch at all because I wasn’t at home, he screwed up.
At about 930 in the morning yesterday, I got a phone call. It was a person from AT&T’s Executive Service something-or-other. She apologized for the inconvenience and told me that someone would be calling me back to get things taken care of…within 48 hours. Grr.
Luckily it didn’t take that long, I got a call in the afternoon (that I missed) from another person somewhere within AT&T’s secret underground lair. It was another gal who should be THE person to get things squared away, but I couldn’t just call her, I had to leave a message and once I did so she would call me back within a hour. Yeah, that’s convenient! The problem here is that my job is answering a tech support line: if my cell rings while I’m helping a customer I can’t pick up. I left a message at five hoping that she would ring me before a customer did.
“Eduardo’s Dumb Luck” kicked in, so of course, my cell rang when I was on the line with a customer. Luckily, the customer was on hold, so I quickly answered. The Executive Customer person asked me if I had some time to discuss the problem (gee, its a shame it isn’t written down somewhere, like say, a blog!) which I obviously didn’t, so I asked her to call me back during my lunch break today.
Of course it wasn’t until after I ended the call that I realized I was expecting another important call at that same time.
Morning of Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I was genuinely optimistic when I got ATTNickT’s tweet. I thought that having a “man on the inside” would speed things along and I would be happily surfing the ‘Net in a few days. I sent my information to AT&T’s Customer Care Social Media team in the morning before work and waited to see what would happen. At about 2PM I got this:
“Power of social media” my butt.
If you are wondering why I am complaining about “2 days” I invite you to notice the two words after the number 48: “Business hours.” In nearly all the professional positions I’ve had, a “business day” is the eight to ten hours during the weekdays when people are working.
So, if a “business day” is 8 hours, it might be six days before I hear from somebody who might be able to fix my problem. Heck, let’s be really generous and assume a “business day” is 12 hours: that knocks two days off the wait down to only four days. Hold on, though! The weekend is coming, so let’s add two days to both those guesstimates.
So I had to wait six hours to be told I’m going to have to wait 6-10 days MORE? Those hold times spent listening to elevator music suddenly don’t seem so bad. Admittedly, I could be completely wrong and “48 business hours” is really two days, which does makes a weird kind of sense: AT&T is a phone company, so they’ve got to be watching their various grids 24/7. I asked for clarification on what “business hours” are, but I have an feeling that I’m not going to like the answer.
All I have learned from my experience thus far is that AT&T’s Customer Care Social Media department is only good for ‘transferring’ me to someone else who might be able to help me out. I could have more quickly done that over the phone even with the simpleton I spoke with yesterday.
Maybe I’m just too patient, but I’m going to maintain my optimism, stick with it and see what happens. I’m getting REALLY close to pulling the plug and calling Time Warner Cable, though.
Evening of March 1, 2011
I’m a computer nerd, and as such, I need an always-on internet connection so I can play my Xbox 360 with my friends, update this blog, and maybe even socialize with other carbon-based lifeforms on Facebook and Twitter. Being in a bit of a cash crunch these past few months had forced me to give up the sweet sweet nectar of broadband, and now that my cashflow is positive again, I decided to get back “on the grid.”
Sadly, I, and most other folks in San Antonio are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to high-speed internet service. On one side is Time Warner Cable. Their RoadRunner service is awesomesauce, but they have a bad habit of sucking folks in with a low promotional rate and then frakking them over once the promo is up. On the other side is AT&T. Maw Bell has lower overall prices with a little bit less of the promo baloney, but the technological limitations of DSL make it slower than cable.
If you’re lucky you might be able to get Uverse from AT&T, or high speed from Grande Communications. If you’re really lucky Verizon is in your neighborhood with some freaky-fast FIOS.
Since cutting the cord, I’d been making do with my Sprint Overdrive. It works fine, but it just wasn’t meant to be always-on. Also, having to MacGuyver my Xbox 360 to go online using my Overdrive, my laptop and a crossover cable was a pain in the neck whenever I needed to review Xbox Live games or just wanted to check out game demos. A recent 4G outage made this panda less than happy with Sprint, so I figured it was time to once again taste the ambrosia that is wired broadband.
I decided to go with AT&T because they were less expensive, and cutting costs is a priority right now. They were offering what appeared to be a pretty good deal on their website, and so I decided to sign up for their best plan which was $25 a month. Groovy pants. I still had my old DSL modem, so I opted for the self-install.
Now, the way it worked last time (a few years ago) was that The Telephone Man did his thing outside on some unknown day and all I had to do was plug in my modem, adjust some settings, and BAM, internets! Thus, already knowing what was supposed to happen, I eagerly dug out my modem and eagerly waited for March 1st to come. I went to work that morning and looked forward to being ‘on the grid’ once again.
My job is answering phones so I can’t really answer my cell. I checked my voicemail during lunch and two conflicting messages there: one proclaiming my DSL installed and providing me with instructions on how to set up my modem, and a second from what appeared to be an AT&T tech that was coming to my house. I was confused, because I didn’t think anyone was coming. More importantly, I was not TOLD anyone was coming. I figured the tech guy would do whatever it was he needed to do outside and all would be well.
I arrived home after work foaming at the mouth to set up my new connection. I read the instructions that the earlier phone message directed me to and got stuck at a certain point. The “DSL” light on my phone never turned green; instead it flashed red as I wondered what was going on.
After about a half hour of puttering around with wires and turning the modem on and off multiple times, I decided to bite the bullet and call the AT&T support line. This had happened the last time I did a self-install, and I had been very impressed with the guys on the other side of the line before.
AT&T’s automated system is apparently based on the phone number being associated with the account, so my first call went around in circle or two before I hung up and tried again. Note to whoever developed these stupid “talk to me” IVRs: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH PUSHING BUTTONS. BUTTONS WORK JUST FINE. Having to wait for the stupid computer to figure out what I had just said only served to aggrivate me more, so I hung up, called back and just said “Operator.”
I was not inspired by what I got when the phone jockey on the other end picked up. I could easily hear the phone reps talking very loudly to each other, and the person that picked up didn’t seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer either. I had a futile conversation with him as I tried to explain that this was supposed to be a self install and I didn’t know someone was supposed to be coming to my apartment. He chose to ignore that important piece of info and told me that “if the light doesn’t turn green by tomorrow morning, call us back so we can reschedule.” Yeah, and you’ll be off your shift by then, jerkass.
Despite being pretty bent out of shape, I didn’t feel like arguing with the guy, so I hung up. It says something about the level of service I received that I wished I had gotten someone in India. Sure, those folks can be hard to understand at times, but at least they’re usually polite. The call wouldn’t bother me so much but I’ve done phone work myself (hell, I’m doing it now) so I know how not to treat customers.
I shot off a pretty angry tweet, and then had dinner and did some other things. I figured I’d call back in the morning in the hope of getting someone that had two brain cells in their head to rub together. Much to my surprise, I discovered later in the evening that an AT&T rep had seen my tweet and was asking if he could help:
I was genuinely shocked, because that was the last thing I was honestly expecting. Would the power of social media succeed where traditional customer service had failed? We shall see!