Saturday, July 11, 2009

When Reality Does Not Meet Hype: AT&T + iPhone Probably the Worst Customer Experience I've Ever Had

I know we are all supposed to love these little slippery shiny plastic boxes specifically engineered to drop out of you hand, with batteries and memory that can't be upgraded giving you yet another reason to pay Apple more money.

I've resisted for some time. I was actually given one that I gave away without using it as it didn't have the features I use most often, notably MMS and Bluetooth Stereo. When the newest one launched, I did a bit of research online and decided I'd take the plunge despite my issues with its purposely designed obsolescence.

Unfortunately the experience of trying to get one ordered and working has probably been the worst consumer experience I have ever suffered through. The commercials make it look so easy, and I was actually looking forward to the experience. I had no idea how far from reality the actual consumer experience is.

When the 3Gs came out, I didn't try to rush out and get one. I waited a couple of weeks for the early hiccups to work themselves out and inventory to be replenished. I guess I didn't wait long enough.

About a week ago, I went to an AT&T store in the heart of the financial district of San Francisco. They didn't have any and directed me to the Apple store, but said that only a couple of people they sent there had been successful in getting one.

I decided to order one online through my company. The first order failed for some strange reason after I submitted it through the AT&T Premier site. After calling my bank to make sure I wasn't charged, I processed the order again. It launched a workflow inside my company that showed that service for the year would be almost $1,000. That really is a lot of money, but I use a cell phone a lot for work and also need to demo some of the applications the development group I work with has built for the iPhone.

The phone arrived on Friday. I've been an AT&T customer for many years so this was an upgrade. I was supposed to call a number to process the order. The recording told me that the automatic processing system was down. I waited on hold 30 minutes, and hour, and 30 minutes again and never got through. The last time, AT&T simply hung up. The next time I called they said the "Premier" support would not be open until Monday. One more call dumped me into a voicemail system. I gave up and decided to go to the Apple store.

A portly guy in a giant orange T-shirt with those oversized earings that permanently distort your ear lobes insists that to activate the phone, I just needed to plug it into iTunes. I knew this was rubbish so I pressed some more. "Oh activation, for that you need to go to the AT&T store. I don't know what their hours are though."

I trundle down to the AT&T Store and of course it is closed. I give up and decide I will return the next morning to see what they can do.

At the AT&T store, another forcefully insistent but clearly ignorant employee tells me I need to take the sim card out of my existing phone and put it in the new iPhone. He is adamant that there is no sim card in the new phone. I tell him that certainly AT&T ships a sim card in a phone they are upgrading. He pops it open and out drops a sim card. Having now splayed my phone open, he reassembles it and attempts to activate on his system. He then tells me this is a "Premier" account and thus he can't do anything. I ask him if he can return the phone. Yes, as it turns out, that is the one thing he can do and in this matter he actually seemed eager to help.

I left with my now 24 hour old brick resolving to give up until Monday for another hour or more on the phone.

It is very clear that this undynamic duo needs a little remedial marketing.....

EXPECTATION - Don't set the bar ridiculously high in your ads and commercials if your process is shit. Under promise and try to over deliver.

ALERT SALES - It's in excusable after 3 releases of the product that probably one of the most heavily trafficked Apple stores in the heart of San Francisco doesn't know the process for activating a phone or the hours of the AT&T Store.

SEGMENTATION - "Premier" should not mean an invitation to traipse around San Francisco or climb through the phone tree to get crapped on. I work at one of the largest companies in the world. We spend a lot on voice and data communications because these services are vital to our business. We do have choices though at the employee level and guess what we talk...and blog. We want our company to get good value and we want good service ourselves. It's not a surprise that Apple is blowing it in the corporate market, but AT&T? You should really be ashamed of yourselves. I suggest you work on making Premier actually Premier. And Apple, come on. Even if you think it is cool to ignore the corporate market, at least you could recognize that if the iPhone is the supposed gateway drug to your other products, and someone buys the most expensive version of that product, they probably expect a decent introduction to your world.

EAT HUMBLE PIE - At both stores I sensed a great degree of smugness. Employees who insisted they knew what they were doing when they didn't have a clue. It's very clear this partnership on its third try still has many issues. When I tell you I've been on hold for more than two hours don't brashly insist that you know how to fix my problem only to send me away with nothing. Perhaps this goes back to expectation, but you can't just hire a guy with a bone through his earlobe to show the world you are different you actually have to be different.

It's takes a lot for me to sprint home two miles from the center of San Francisco to crank out such a blog entry. I am way beyond irritated with the myriad of incompetent processes and people I have encountered at this point.

I can assure you, that the only thing that will keep me from talking about this pathetic display forever will be an act of service recovery befitting the crime of the time I've been forced to waste. Apple & AT&T, if someone in your headquarters is listening, unlike your employees in your stores, I plan to waste just one more hour on Monday trying to get this phone to work. After which I will take advantage of evidently the only thing you have collectively (and oddly) mastered - the process of giving my money back.


Hale' Koa Enterprises said...


Paul said...

Resistance is futile!

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