How to Lose a Customer in 10 Days

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Customer Loyalty
Customer Service
Not too long ago, in an AT&T store pretty close by, a young woman (me) and her mother (mine) watched their loyalty die. Though rarely a problem in the decade that'd passed, one awful experience led us to leave them at last. Our story begins on one chance Saturday night, the innocent moment that triggered our eventual flight...

Not too long ago, in an AT&T store pretty close by, a young woman (me) and her mother (mine) watched their loyalty die. Though rarely a problem in the decade that'd passed, one awful experience led us to leave them at last. Our story begins on one chance Saturday night, the innocent moment that triggered our eventual flight...Our story begins on one Saturday night when my father returned home from work with his dead cell phone. Though the 3-year-old Samsung device was in desperate need of an upgrade, there was no clear reason for its unexpected demise, as it suspiciously reset itself and would only allow emergency calls. The following day, my parents visited an AT&T retail location to explore the issue, but the only resolution the associate could surmise was to replace my father's SIM card to hold him over until he could finally decide upon an upgrade device.

After nearly a week of research and contemplation, my father finally chose his preferred new device, at which point my mother and I attempted to complete the purchase. Staples offered the new smartphone at the most sensible price, but once we began the upgrade process, the associate told us the phone line was not up for renewal until 2016. We immediately thought the discrepancy was the result of the newly activated SIM card, so we traveled to the nearby AT&T location to rectify the issue.

However, once we spoke to an associate, we realized the situation was far worse than predicted. According to their records, someone had upgraded to an iPhone 5S the weekend prior--hence why my father's phone had been rendered useless. Someone somehow used my mother's account at an Apple store to obtain the upgrade. The in-store associate thought this raised numerous red flags, as the upgrade did not mention the addition of a data plan, which is required for all smartphone activations. (Not to mention we didn't have an iPhone! If we had honestly upgraded to this brand new device, why would my parents have returned to the store the following day to have AT&T reactivate the SIM in an "ancient" phone?) But, because her limited access wouldn't allow her to look into the problem any further, the in-store associate called customer service to tap into their knowledge base.

Once she finally got an associate on the phone, she explained the fraudulent situation, then handed the phone off to my mother, who was then forced to repeat the story all over again. She was passed off to three people in the process, repeating the story over and over even after the call center representative informed each new associate prior to them hopping on the phone. At last, one agreed that the situation demonstrated fraud, and he forwarded the call to the fraud department, claiming that the company would "do anything" to keep our business.

But, once the fraud department came on the line, the representative told my mother that this was not a case of fraud and that there was nothing they could do. They refused to reset the account and allow her to have the upgrade back. They refused to remove the $36 upgrade fee. They refused to look into the fact that someone had blatantly tricked the system despite the hoops one must go through to authenticate such an upgrade. Essentially, AT&T called my mother a liar. Mind you, we've been mobile customers for over 10 years. (Remember when they were Cingular?) Clearly, our long-term loyalty was not worthy of their trust. So, after nearly three hours jumping from one representative to the next, my mother hung up the phone and stormed out of the store.

Toward the end of the call, she chastised them for calling her a liar, and threatened to switch service if they did not apologize and make good on this horrendous error. But, when they refused, we rushed off to explore T-Mobile's retail store, as we were aware that they now offer to reimburse new customers' early termination fees just for switching. Ben, the Trumbull, CT employee who greeted us and listened to our AT&T adventure, empathized and explained the benefits of switching in great detail. And, with that, we began the process. Mere hours later, and we were on our way to becoming T-Mobile customers. Within just a few days, everyone in our family transitioned, waving goodbye to AT&T's awful customer relations forever.

Never have we ever experienced such awful service and such an unwillingness to assist the customer and protect their sensitive account information. Apparently, in AT&T's eyes, the customer isn't always right. Except we were in one respect--we knew we'd be happier once we escaped the confines of their binding contract and demeaning service, and we are. T-Mobile has claimed our loyalty now, and we won't be looking back anytime soon.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION