Hell is AT&T

19 September 2008
3:42 PM

With apologies to Jean-Paul Sartre, hell is AT&T. If you like, you can substitute whichever giant unresponsive corporation you like for AT&T. I spent 580 minutes on the phone with that company during three weeks trying to assess their installation of DSL service. What follows is the text of a letter I sent to AT&T this afternoon. If you deal with AT&T you probably won’t have problems, but I hope you don’t fall into a crack like I did.

Dear AT&T:

Order Confirmation from AT&T
At AT&T’s store I contracted service for $30 a month. Later operators told me to go back to the store to figure out why they gave me the wrong price.

On August 20 I walked to the AT&T store near my house (located at 2180 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, Calif. 94704) to get pricing information for standalone DSL service. After talking with James (not his real name*), the sales representative who helped me, I signed up for AT&T DSL Direct Pro service at $30 per month. I received a printed confirmation and then email confirmation of this order (see enclosure). My activation date for my order (redacted number) was set for Aug. 27, one week later.

On Aug. 27 my DSL modem could not detect a DSL signal by the end of the day. The next morning I made the first of many phone calls to AT&T support. The first person I spoke with told me that my service had been activated. I checked the phone line in my house, searching for obvious problems. When I turned up nothing, I called AT&T again, at which point I was told my service had not been activated. Getting these two short but conflicting messages consumed near an hour on the phone, so I decided to take the problem to the source and return to the AT&T store.

At the store on Aug. 28 I waited to speak with a representative, who told me he could not help me, and put me on the phone in the store with AT&T customer service. I was connected with Robert who told me that we needed to talk with provisioning. We waited on hold together for 55 minutes before he advised me that we would probably not get through. Robert suggested that I call 800-288-2020 again the next day outside the busy hours.

Over the next several days I called several times. During one call I spoke with Grace (14 minutes), John (16 minutes), Mike (36 minutes), and Danny (42 minutes) in an unsuccessful attempt to talk with someone in provisioning. At some point after Danny transferred me to another department my call was dropped.

Friday evening, Aug. 29, I spoke with Ann (14 minutes) who informed me that, “Your order is supposed to complete by 9:55 pm Pacific time tonight.” There was no change by that time, so I called AT&T where I spoke with Nicholas (12 minutes), who told me to call the “due date no-sync” department in provisioning. He gave me the number 888-722-3755, saying that it would connect me with provisioning. Since it was the beginning of Labor Day weekend, I waited until Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Sept. 2, I called the number and was informed that it was not the number for provisioning. I spoke with Angie, who waited for 57 minutes on hold with me to speak with provisioning, at which point she suggested that they were not going to be available to take my call. She transferred me to technical support where I spoke with Gonzalo. He told me that the problem was that I was not registered. He had me set up an account and password over the phone and enter the information in my 2Wire router. When this did not work, he assured me that, “this is a typical problem with dry-loop lines. We’ll have to wait for a few minutes. If it doesn’t work, we’ll open a ticket with maintenance.” After doing that, Gonzalo told me that my service would be working by 10:00 am the following morning. If it was not, maintenance would give me a call. My total time talking with Gonzalo was 25 minutes.

The next day my DSL was not connected and maintenance did not call. I called maintenance at 888-322-5274 and waited on hold only to be told that I needed to talk to provisioning, “because the order is still open in provisioning.” I was again told to call 877-722-3755 to speak with provisioning. I stated that I had used that number before and it was not the provisioning number, he simply reaffirmed that it was.

On Sept. 3 I tried calling the number and after waiting on hold, I spoke with a representative who told me I could not receive DSL service unless I also contracted AT&T phone service. When I explained that was why I selected “Direct” DSL service, which does not require additional AT&T services, she told me that meant that I didn’t need phone service from AT&T, but that I needed to get a phone line from someone else. When I expressed complete incredulity that I could progress so far in this process without having been informed of this significant caveat, she put me on hold to check with technical support, and subsequently my call was disconnected.

I called again and the next representative told me that I did not need phone service in addition. My case was transferred to Minnie in second tier support. She confirmed that I had “absolutely no signal” and assigned me the case number redacted number which she said I could reference when talking to maintenance if necessary.

The next day I woke up at 5:15 am PST to make it more likely that I could speak with someone in provisioning shortly after the office opened at 7:00 am CST. After a short time I spoke with Lucy who explained that there was a glitch in the system that accounted for the problem. It was a common issue with some new equipment, “the circuits are not picking them up.” She said that they had about 10,000 orders with this problem and that she could cancel my order and reissue it, which seemed to be solving the problem. She told me that she “put the order back through to them,” and it should be up in 3 to 4 days. I was told to call back on Monday to check the status.

When I had no signal by Monday, I called back Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 888-443-2430. I spoke with George (52 minutes) who told me that my original order had been cancelled, but that there was no new order. “There’s no pending orders under your address—the only one is your cancelled order.” When I explained what Lucy had told me, he said that no one in his department, provisioning, had the ability to put orders into the system. I needed to call the business office to put this order in.

I called the business office at 800-288-2020 and was told that I could sign up for AT&T Direct DSL Pro for $40 a month, $10 more than I was told at the AT&T store. I said that I was offered Direct DSL Pro for $30 a month. The woman I spoke with told me that wasn’t the right price, despite my official order sheet from AT&T and my email confirmation which stated the terms clearly. She told me that the people in the AT&T store should not have offered me this particular AT&T service because they work on mobile service. I explained that it was irrelevant to me how AT&T set up its stores. A service was offered to me at a given price, I signed up based on that knowledge, and this was nothing more than a classic bait-and-switch. She said that I could pay less by contracting phone service as well, but I was not inclined to sign up for additional services. I finished obtaining a new order from her, order number redacted number, associated with redacted number. My new activation date would be Sept. 16, another week later.

When I spoke with George in provisioning he suggested that I might be able to expedite the process by calling provisioning once I had my new order number. I tried to do so without success. After waiting on hold for 58 minutes, I had other matters to attend to and I ended my call.

Friday morning, Sept. 12, at 10:00 am I heard someone knocking on my door. An AT&T technician, Larry, arrived unannounced to work on my DSL installation. He told me that they had been unable to contact me regarding the visit despite me having provided several support representatives with my phone number to store with my record. After 30 minutes made some adjustments and my 2Wire modem indicated that I had a DSL signal for the first time since the beginning of the process. Before he left Arthur gave me an account number, redacted number, a third and distinct number to the two I had received previously. I assumed that was sufficient to finish my installation and I could talk to technical support to finish the process.

When I called technical support I provided the new account number (redacted number). The tech sounded confused and transferred me to DSL status where Becky told me that order had been cancelled as well. My call was dropped and I called back to speak with Michael who transferred me to Jose. Jose said that the order had not been cancelled. His system showed that it was scheduled to be activated Sept. 13. He called tech support to confirm this and returned to report that the order had been cancelled. The third order was still pending and would be activated on Sept. 16.

On Sept. 16 I could not connect, and the DSL signal that had been established when the technician visited my home was gone. I called AT&T where I spoke with Daniel, James in the dry-loop department, and another representative in technical support. After some perfunctory testing—unplug the modem, check the phone line, log into the router—I was given a trouble ticket (redacted number) and I was told that maintenance would definitely call me tomorrow to resolve the problem. Fortunately, they won’t have to.

Twenty-seven days after I ordered my service and 20 days after I was told my service would be activated, I still have no Internet access. During this time I spent over 580 minutes—nearly 10 hours—on the phone with AT&T and I spoke with 26 people at AT&T, most of whom asked me for the same information repeatedly before determining they could not help me and sending me to hold for another department. During this time I collected several AT&T phone numbers including 877-722-3755, 800-288-2020, 888-722-9337, 888-443-2430, 888-322-5274, 866-593-0724, 866-274-4357. Many times the phone numbers I was given were useless. Each time I called the primary DSL number, 800-722-3235, I traversed the phone tree, and spoke with a representative who informed me that he or she was an Illinois representative and that I would need to speak with a California representative.

When my original order was cancelled and replaced with two others I was told that my service would cost $40/month, $10 more than I was told at the AT&T store, $10 more than appears on my store receipt, and $10 more than appears on the email confirmation sent to me. When I told a phone representative that I was offered service at $30 a month, she told me that I had my facts wrong and that I misunderstood.

I called the customer retention department and an empathetic representative offered me a free month of service when it was finally activated.

During this trying support saga I never raised my voice, yelled at a representative, or treated a representative with disrespect. Do not construe this to mean that I am not furious about the way I have been treated as an AT&T customer. The AT&T store sales staff pleasantly signed me up for service and charged me for a DSL modem, but after that point not a single person took responsibility for resolving my problems without wasting my time. Some service representatives were pleasant and tried to be helpful, some waiting patiently on hold with me for an hour or more while we called the provisioning department. But no one from AT&T actively communicated with me during the entire process. Were it not for my persistence, I would still be waiting for some sign of service four weeks after I contracted AT&T to provide it for me without so much as an email or phone call from AT&T. For a company dedicated to communication, AT&T is downright awful at practicing it.

I called on Sept. 16 to inquire about my still inactive connection and I was told to wait until 8:00 pm when it would be activated. I had heard this routine now several times. I waited until 8:10, confirmed that service was still not working, and I made my last call to AT&T. I cancelled my DSL service. The call only took three minutes and ten seconds. It was the best service you provided me in weeks.

* I obfuscated the names of representatives to respect their privacy.