Despite what the title of this blog post implies, AT&T service representatives all did a good to excellent job helping me solve (maybe) problems with a balky DSL connection.
So this post is not meant to slam AT&T, but rather serve as a teachable moment. Because sometimes good intentions and even good actions don’t add up to genuine customer loyalty.
Loyal to AT&T? Not so much
Speaking of loyalty, I suspect AT&T thinks I’m a loyal customer. I’ve been a DSL and business phone line customer for 10+ years, since switching from another DSL provider that let me down. When I’ve interacted with AT&T staff, I’ve generally been pleased.
But cracks are appearing in my presumed loyalty. When my wife and I moved into our new condo, we decided to split our business between AT&T and Comcast. Both have bundled services for TV, phone and Internet, but we didn’t feel comfortable putting all our digital eggs in one basket because:
- Comcast’s cable service went down occasionally, which is no big deal for watching TV but a big problem if it means (in my mind at least) an Internet outage.
- AT&T’s U-Verse was (in my mind at least) unproven for TV/cable replacement. Our friends liked the service but we couldn’t figure out if/how the cabling would work in our condo.
So when we moved in, the edge went to AT&T. But we decided to try Comcast’s VoIP for our home phone. And keep our options open for the future in looking for an integrated service.
We moved less than a mile, and the new DSL line was hooked up using the same modem and wireless router we had used for years in our house. AT&T did a great job on the order process and installation of the line. So far so good.
(Oh, and the Comcast installation went equally well.)
Unfortunately, we experienced an unreliable DSL connection over the next few months. Sometimes the speed would slow way down. Other times the connection would drop for a few seconds to a few minutes, then come back on its own.
Not a big problem unless you depend on the Internet for a live webinar with hundreds of people online.
But it gets worse. Sporadically the connection would drop and the only way to get it back was to reset the modem (power down and back up.) Still not a huge deal, but annoying because it happened several times a month.
However, occasionally even that didn’t work. I called AT&T DSL once and it took an hour to complete a complex process to test everything and reset the network password. No problem was found, but it conditioned me to fear making that call again.
I just didn’t want to spend an hour on the phone, so we continued to reset the modem and not call.
Until last weekend when the line failed for a solid day. Had no choice but to call AT&T support.
Or did I?
I thought it would be worth a try to see if AT&T used Twitter for customer service. Maybe that would be easier than navigating a complex web site that kept pushing me to try self-service. And just where was that DSL support number?
Well, the AT&T reps were very responsive, but in the end they just give me the phone number and then were cheerleaders. I can’t fault them for any of that, but one lesson might be that if people are contacting ATTCustomerCare, AT&T should try to figure out why their core service process isn’t working.
Well, I settled in for another hour-long process. And sure enough, no trouble found. Eventually after lots of tests and resetting passwords, the line came back.
The AT&T service rep was good, but clearly was following a script. When I tried to discuss what might be the source of the intermittent problem, she wasn’t technical enough to add much value, aside from pointing me to a “supported” DSL modem that got terrible reviews online.
The line was back, but I posted a tweet back to AT&T that I was very FRUSTRATED.
That Tweet may explain why I got unsolicited calls from DSL techies. In one case the caller transferred me to a line technician and refused to get off the line because it was a “social media” issue. (Hmmm, maybe Twitter is useful, after all, to get prioritized service.)
The line was tested and again there no problem found. A dispatched technician then came to the condo with an impressive array of equipment, spent 2 hours testing everything and found no definitive problem.
I learned a lot about DSL technology that day from a very smart and capable technician. For example, did you know that …
- The limit for DSL 6 Mbps is about 6,000 feet, but it depends on the path the wire travels. Our new condo is right at that limit, which might explain the reliability problems. Funny, this never came up when I ordered the service.
- Internal wiring can act like a radio antenna and disrupt the DSL connection. The DSL tech put a filter on the line to mitigate that possibility.
- Modems don’t last forever. I’ve been using an old non-programmable DSL modem that one AT&T tech described as a “tank” (in a good way), but nevertheless it’s several years old. I replaced the modem with something newer just in case (a Best Buy rep was much more helpful than AT&T on this), even though the technician could find no problems.
So at the end of several hours invested by me and AT&T, all I’m left with is doubt.
Doubt that the line will be reliable at 6 Mbps. (The DSL tech said we could downgrade if we continued to have problems.)
Doubt that the other changes really fixed the problem. (Line filter and modem/router replacement.)
Doubt that I want to continue with AT&T, despite everyone doing exactly the job they were supposed to do.
All of the AT&T people were trained, polite and really tried to help. Except one who brusquely informed me that the modem was not their responsibility. Even though I had bought it with my first AT&T DSL installation, all they could do was test the line. If the modem was going bad, that was my problem.
Really? Combo DSL modem/wireless routers cost less $100 at retail. (I bought an Actiontec, in case you’re wondering.)
If old modems are the source of lots of service calls like mine, why not give loyal customers a free upgrade? That’s perhaps a $50 expense instead of hours of tech time, plus the risk of losing a customer to Comcast. And it would have meant something if AT&T had done this voluntarily to help a “loyal” customer.
The AT&T web site is a mess. That’s another missed opportunity to help customers help themselves. My guess is more and more people will be using Twitter much like zeroing out on an IVR — because we want a real person to help us make the right next step. What a lot of unnecessary cost for AT&T.
But perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was at the very beginning. If the line was near the maximum distance, why did AT&T take my order? Why didn’t someone mention that the connection might be unstable but I could try it and downgrade if necessary? Expectations were not set correctly by the sales person — who no doubt was motivated for me to buy the more expensive plan.
The good news is that it’s been a few days and the line has not gone down. Maybe the changes worked. Maybe we just got lucky.
But if the DSL line goes down again, we’re trying Comcast next for high-speed Internet. So maybe we’re not so loyal to AT&T after all. AT&T, are you listening?