AT&T : Still Having Issues With This Whole “Customer Service” Thing.

ATT-Gateway-on-Fire-ROH Roughly three months ago, we began to get pixelation on our television, slow transfer rates on the internet and some scratchy noise on the telephone. These three things had one thing in common: they are all AT&T U-Verse services.

We started to document the issues for a few days so if we had to call AT&T, we could be precise with them as to when the problems were the worst. We also knew that no matter what, AT&T would ask us to reset and reboot the various devices here at home.

The situation got worse, so checked the connections, we warm booted the television box, we cold booted the television box, we cold booted the UVerse gateway box, and we cold booted the gateway and the television box together. Nothing changed.

On a Saturday night, we called AT&T.

AT&T’s system is “funny” in a not so good way. You first get to “talk” to a automated voice who doesn’t seem to remember anything that you say. For example, the voice asks for your phone number but yet if you make it to an actual person, that person asks you again for your phone number. AT&T reps say this is because they cannot “bring up the account” without the phone number, but that is a lie as we shall see. Also, the recorded voice will ask you to reboot your system equipment if you have not done so. That information is not transferred to a live person either. Excuses can be made as to why this happens in other companies, but this is AT&T – a communication company. The irony of a communication company that cannot communicate within itself is not lost on us.

When we finally got a representative, we lucked out. We may have gotten the only technician who listened and could think rather than following a script. We told him the problem, told him what we had done with the connections and the equipment.

He laughed.

“Well, I guess we don’t have to go through those steps, do we? Most people call in and haven’t done those things, so it is good talking to someone once in awhile that does it. Let’s see what I can find out for you.”

What he said was important, but what he didn’t say was important as well. He didn’t say “I am sorry you’re having a problem.” The “I’m sorry” line is overworked and overused and at this point in our lives, it irritates us because there is no sincerity behind it. Far too often it is said by rote, not because the person is actually sorry or even cares.

We hear some typing and the guy says “Wow. I did a line check on your system and you are getting thousands of errors a minute. There is a problem with the line. We need to send someone out there.”

The first available appointment is on Monday in the afternoon. We ask if someone had to be home and he said “no,” because the problem was on the line, not in the house. He said we would be getting a call confirming the appointment.

He then said something that caught our attention. “I know that a lot of people watch more tv on the weekends with sports and everything, so I am sorry that you are going to miss a day of that, but we will have it cleared up by Monday for you.”

His “apology” was actually thought out. He knew the inconvenience was addressing that, rather than just some fake attempt at false empathy.

“Okay,” he said, “you’re good to go on this problem I think. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

We had two comments. First we asked him if he could train the other technicians because he understood that he is talking with people and not “accounts.” Secondly, we told him of a very odd problem we have been having.

When we search for a program, the information returns with a time for that program that is actually one hour earlier than the actual broadcast time. For example, a search for a show will display the show starting at 1 PM, but the actual start time is 2 PM. That correct start time is in the program guide. In other words, the “search” feature and the program guide have different times. It is across all channels and at all times. We noticed it about 6 months prior to this call, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.

We talked about the problem and he said “I’ve never heard of that. Let me go ask someone and I’ll be back.”

A few minutes later he came back and said “that is a new one on us. The only thing we can think of to do is to reflash the BIOS but if you have anything recorded, you’ll lose all that.”

We weren’t thrilled with that, so we said that the one thing we had not done was switch out another box which we don’t use and we’ll see if it happens there. (As it turns out, it does, but that doesn’t matter at this time.)

He thought that was a good idea and said he would mark the account with a note so when if we called back in, the technician could see it.

We thanked him and thanked him for being good at his job – certainly better than anyone we could remember talking to at AT&T.

We hung up.

A few minutes later, we got an automated call from AT&T saying there was a service call scheduled for Monday at some time between 8 AM and 4 PM – a much wider range of time than we were told by the tech. “You will need to have someone over the age of 18 at the residence during this time,” the call said. That too was a contradiction of what we were told because there was no reason for the tech to come into the house. Oh well. We agreed and hung up the phone.

The next morning, SUNDAY, there is a knock at the door and an AT&T tech is standing at the door saying he is there to fix the service.

Somehow an appointment scheduled for Monday from 1 to 4 PM went to Monday all day and is now Sunday morning.

We tell the tech that and he smiles and says “don’t trust what the automated calls or scheduling tell you. We run into this all the time.”

He explains that moisture, squirrels, etc are a problem in the area and he already checked the lines and they are bad. “Your service is going to be down for a little bit.”

No problem.

He fixes the lines, things work, we thank him, he thanks us and we all go on our merry way.

Two weeks later, the system starts to fail again. First the television drops out followed by the internet. The phone dies a few minutes later. As the night goes on, the services will come back up only to fail again. We boot, reboot over and over to no avail. We finally get internet back, so we log on and chat with a technician.

We explain the problem to her and say “at this time we have internet, but no phone service and no television.”

Her first question is “if we get disconnected, can I have someone call you at the phone number on the account?”

“That would be the phone that isn’t working,” we type back.

“So we can call you back there?”

Oy vey.

We tell her that we did all the booting and procedures and she says we have to do it again. As we are pondering that statement, the phone comes back up, followed a few minutes later by the television.

We say “everything is back so we aren’t sure what you can fix anymore. But a few weeks ago we had an issue with the lines being corroded. A tech came out and switched them. Can you check and see whether the outage is due to the line or maybe an area wide outage?”

After a few minutes, she writes back and says “the loss of service was a problem in the area that affected many customers. We dispatched a repairman and it is fixed now.”

“Shouldn’t you have said that when I first started talking to you?” we asked. “After all, why would you have us go through rebooting stuff with no chance of it correcting the problem? Shouldn’t you know that there is an area wide outage?”

She then said the most amazing thing.

“We are notified of area outages within 24 hours so we will know about this one within the next day.”

“You’ll know about an outage after it has been fixed and too late to advise customers? Too late to even stop them from wasting their time on things that you would have them do that are of no benefit?”

“Yes sir,” she replied.

“Does that make sense to you?” we asked.

“Yes, because the customer then knows we are aware of the problem and have fixed it.”

She wasn’t making the connection. “Why would a customer call in for technical support on an issue that had been fixed and no longer relevant? Shouldn’t a company that specializes in communication tell you when there is a problem? Wouldn’t it be good to get a little notice on the screen that when you look at the account, it says “OUTAGE IN THIS AREA?”

“But they do tell us within 24 hours, sir. We fix most issues before then.”

You can’t argue with that. There is no point to it.

She asks if there is something else she can help us with and we tell her the issue with the time discrepancy between the search feature and the program guide. She has no idea, but gives us a number for “level 2 technical support” that we can call when they are open.

What happens with “level 2 support” is a post for tomorrow.

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