Resist: Don’t Sign That AT&T Contract

This is a call for resistance that has nothing to do with politics. It’s coming from someone who unwittingly walked into a virtual jail cell that was disguised as a DirecTV contract. I’ll be behind bars for another 23 months, and I’m counting the days.

Please don’t take this as a rant or as an attempt to pressure AT&T, DirecTV’s parent company, into appeasing me. AT&T had plenty of chances to get back into my good graces, and that ship has sailed.

However, I do think AT&T’s policies and institutionalized bad behavior deserve to be called out. I also believe that nothing will change until a great many potential customers wake up (like I didn’t) to the evil of the service contract.

Thus my call for resistance: Do not sign on the dotted line! Get your entertainment/Internet/wireless service from a no-contract-required provider. If you sign, your status instantly changes from sought-after to scorned. The company no longer needs to sell you anything.

If you make noise, AT&T’s reps will say anything to shut you up. However, the company will not follow through on whatever promises they make, because it doesn’t have to.

The Lure

My story is about a reward card offer for AT&T’s DirecTV service. Dissatisfied with Spectrum’s high monthly fees, I decided to switch to DirecTV. I initiated the new service, and I was pleased to be offered a $100 reward card as part of the deal.

Within a couple of days — before my new service was established — I received a mailer from AT&T advertising the same service I’d just signed up for, but dangling a $200 reward card as bait.

Based on that offer, I called DirecTV sales department and asked for an upgrade. I had a nice conversation with an AT&T sales rep who agreed to make the change. I jotted down his name, “Ali,” and the time our conversation ended, 10:20 a.m., in my notes.

Weeks later, I received a mailer from AT&T that at first glance looked like junk — I almost recycled it without reading. Oops — it contained the code I needed to go online and claim my reward. (The convoluted system for actually getting a promised reward is designed to save AT&T money through customer attrition, but that’s another story.)

I was annoyed to find that the claim number was for a $100 card rather than the $200 upgrade I had been promised.

When I attempted to use the reward center chat feature, nothing happened. I got no response of any kind when I clicked on the link.

The reward center phone number connected me to an automated system. I was left on hold waiting for a live agent, listening to obnoxiously repetitive marketing messages interspersed with loud music. After 32 minutes, I hung up.

A few days later, I called the sales department again. A very nice agent went through the motions of gathering information, sympathizing with my plight, and assuring me that she would connect me with exactly the right customer service person to fix the problem.

I say she went through the motions, because after a long time on hold I was connected with a CSR who had zero insights about my call. The sales rep hadn’t conveyed my name, account number or problem to anyone — all she’d done was transfer me to the inbound queue.

It quickly became apparent that the CSR who took my call would not be padding my reward card with another $100. There was no record of my conversation with Ali in my customer history, and she seemed powerless to take any action.

I should call the reward center, she said. Done that, I replied — no answer. She gave me a new number to call. I said I had serious doubts that approach would succeed and asked what I should do next if it didn’t. “Take the $100 card,” she said.

Supervisor, Please

That’s when I got annoyed. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and after duly waiting for another long spell, tortured by more horrible music and robotic marketing interruptions, I got to tell my story to Shara.

Turned out Shara didn’t have any better view of my customer history than the previous rep had — she didn’t see any notes about my call with Ali either. “You think I’m just making all this up?” I asked.

Shara eventually told me that the problem would have to be sorted out through a three-way conference call between herself, me and the reward center. I almost laughed out loud, but by then I was in too foul a mood for any sort of laughing. Nonetheless, I agreed to that preposterous plan and gave Shara my office phone number.

In the interest of full disclosure, I told her that I was employed as an editor for an online publication that covered customer service issues, and that I might be penning an editorial about my lousy AT&T experience as a warning to readers. At that point, I was already drafting it in my head.

Needless to say, the promised conference call did not take place. It’s been a week now, and Shara has left me stone cold.

AT&T’s Big Lie

AT&T’s big lie is that it cares whether customers under contract are satisfied or not. Because AT&T doesn’t have to keep selling to you, it doesn’t even pretend to give one tiny bit of excrement whether you’re happy or irate.

That big lie makes all sorts of other lies possible. In my case:

  • Ali’s agreement to change the reward amount was a lie;
  • The reward center’s phony contact tools were a lie; and
  • Shara’s promise to set up a conference call was a baldfaced lie.

All of this could have been avoided if my interaction of Dec. 19 had been visible in my customer record. Why wasn’t it? Did Ali fail to record it, or does AT&T lack a customer-centric system? I knew the CSR’s name and the exact time and date of the conversation in question. Am I supposed to believe that AT&T doesn’t keep call logs?

My time is valuable to me, and I know that AT&T incurs significant costs for every phone conversation a rep has with a customer. Incidents such as this one are a waste of resources. If the system can’t be trusted to capture every customer engagement, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to give the customer the benefit of the doubt than to carry on a prolonged debate that is certain to degrade the customer experience and squander loyalty?

I’ve had my new DirecTV service for just a month, but I’m already planning to switch providers again as soon as I’ve served my sentence with AT&T. I’m even considering cutting my losses and getting out early.

Save yourself some frustration. Understand that if you enter a service contract with a company like AT&T, you’ll be signing away your status as a valued customer. AT&T doesn’t love the one it’s with — it’s constantly on the prowl for more victims.

Mick Brady is managing editor of ECT News Network.

1 Comment

  • I’ve been a DirecTV customer for many years and can attest to the fact that their customer service has become increasingly abominable since AT&T took over the company. Additionally, if you are a month-to-month customer who is not under a 1-2 year contract, they continually raise their rates and no longer offer loyalty discounts. They will offer discounts if you commit to a contract, but those discounts still yield a monthly payment that is substantially more expensive than the rates I was paying for the same service last year. Shame on you AT&T/DirecTV.

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