Customer Servitude NOT Service

Customer Servitude NOT Service
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This is a saga about BOTH how to do customer service and how NOT to.

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It is the story of my attempts to return 2 Samsung Galaxy Note 7's in light of the recall campaign. My carrier is AT&T -- and both the good and the bad are AT&T's story.

What follows is recommended reading for anyone who feels a need to know "yes it could have been worse." Have no fear -- mine was worse.

Three weeks ago (please remember the number three it proves to be important) I excitedly took advantage of the Samsung/AT&T offer for the Galaxy Note 7. BOGO plus all sorts of great stuff (two free tablets, two free memory cards, money etc.). I loved my Note 7 and so did my employee (to whom I had given the FREE Note 7).

Then came the stories of exploding batteries, and the recall notices, and finally yesterday the US government said "stop using your Note 7's at once."

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It was time to honor the recall notice and return the phones. There had been more than 1 million sold. AT&T is a major carrier. This should have been easy. IF only.

Step one: call the store nearest me (an AT&T authorized retailer). Can I return and exchange the phone with you? Yes is the reply. And on the AT&T website it said " Samsung and the Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly recommend you power down your device, take to your local AT&T retail location, and participate in the exchange program as soon as possible."

So in I pop. The helpful clerk (Savannah) types in a few things and then frowns. "You got this phone three weeks ago. I only can do this easily if you are within your two weeks I changed my mind period." But no fear she says, 20 minutes of phone calls later she announces: "You MUST go to a company store... They will not let me finish this trade." Sure enough in the fine print of the website its says: "Business customers should visit an AT&T store."

First lesson: apparently an AT&T store is different from an AT&T authorized retailer. Only a COMPANY store is an "AT&T store." First 45 minutes wasted.

Ok. I drive 20 minutes to the closest COMPANY store. I arrive at 8 pm. The store is in a mall (the Simon Northshore Mall in Peabody, MA) and closes at 9. At 8:15 a helpful clerk (Louis) starts to help me and assures me we will be done in less than a half hour. The Apple Gods must have overheard him and set out a curse.

By 9:15 (15 minutes AFTER the store and the mall both closed) we were nowhere. The not-helpful AT&T computers were happy to take my Note 7 back but they refused to let me have another phone. "TUXEDO ERROR invalid provisioning" screamed the machine ... repeatedly. It seems that because I was outside of that magic 2 week "I changed my mind" period the computer wanted me to forfeit my right to upgrade my prior device (which had been a Galaxy 6 Edge Plus). I was to be denied a phone line and denied a device attached to my phone number.

Note that while I was waiting, 3 people who had Note 7's which were less than 2 weeks old were able to do an exchange. AT&T's programmers got that customer segment right. If only ....

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Now the first GOOD customer service story: Louis and a colleague Frank stayed with me until 10:15 -- continually typing overrides into the computer. Finally (after more than 90 minutes and perhaps 30 combinations of override codes) the computer relented -- I could have a new phone. We were more than 75 minutes AFTER closing time and more than 2 hours into the transaction. Kudos to Louis for patience and perseverance and thanks to Frank for stepping in to help out.

The next BAD customer service story: AT&T COMPANY stores have their own 800 number to help out their sales people. They also have an internal knowledge base with articles on what to do. The information in the article was simply wrong. Whenever Louis or Frank tried to follow those instructions up came the "TUXEDO ERROR." The 800# was worse. They announced the article was "wrong" but had no alternate instructions. Instead they wanted me to leave the store without a phone and please wait til Monday when someone at "small business customer service" might be able to help.

Last I checked AT&T is a PHONE company. BUT they wanted me to leave with NO phone service for 3 days -- because they were unable to give their computer and their staff appropriate instructions. I never thought of AT&T as the "a short period of silence and no technology will do you good" company.

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Luddites.

I go home with a phone which then needs an hour or so to get back up to snuff (normally they would take care of that in the store but it was 10:15 pm when I got a working phone). Okay now this great feature (in fact the reason I use AT&T and Samsung Galaxy products) called number sync (which allows my cell phone, house, car and watch all to share the same number) refused to register. (Of course this was because the computer was still upset with me for getting a new phone despite its many efforts to block me.) So I need to call for support.

Next BAD story. It seems that if AT&T considers you to be a "small business customer" you are NOT ALLOWED access to customer support during nights and weekends. No matter what number you call the computer will recognize your phone and route you to "Our office is now closed please call back during normal business hours." As if support problems only happen during normal business hours.... It seems that being a "normal" customer is an advantage here (yes that seems backwards, small business customers generate higher revenues, but logic and common sense are NOT programmed into the AT&T computer).

Since I cannot reach anyone by phone I try on-line chatting. First I get a clerk named Lauren who tries to be helpful but can only send me canned messages about how much AT&T regrets any inconvenience. No access to a live person. I ask to escalate the case. My mistake. Now I get truly HORRIBLE customer service from Lauren's supervisor Sebastian. (AT&T management if you are reading this Sebastian should be fired.)

HORRIBLE Sebastian spends a good half hour telling me over and over again -- just use the phone to reach customer service (he ignores my telling him the numbers revert to "office is closed please call back"), be grateful for AT&T's superior service and for his superior patience (they are much like Donald Trump's humility), and since I was able to get a phone despite the computer telling even Sebastian that I should not have -- well that was all I needed. Not that I needed a working phone.

It took Sebastian more than 30 minutes to tell me he had no way to get a call placed to me or another number for me to call. Instead he wanted me to indicate I was pleased with his services and to give him high grades on the feedback survey. (it is a shame they do not allow negative numbers nor red ink on that survey -- Sebastian got all zero's)

Still without a working properly phone I go my mother's. (No she is not some sort of tech genius -- she has a Verizon phone and now I have a way to reach a live person)

I will not bore you with next hour of AT&T errors and numbingly stupid excuses. BUT I will tell you the next BAD customer service story. Remember I gave Note 7 number two to my employee. He is in North Carolina. I am in Massachusetts. The AT&T computer (boy this device is a true genius at alienating customers) announces that phone #2 MUST be returned to the same Massachusetts store it came from. BUT HOW? We are not suppose to mail or ship the phone and it is not allowed on airplanes. Again the "we think you might benefit from silence" company suggests that my employee shut off the phone and make do without until "the next time he is driving up here."

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Yeh. Right.

It is amazing the amount of patience I seem to have acquired in middle-age.

After being hung up on three times I finally am able to escalate the case to Moises. Moises is a g-dsend. This man needs a promotion and a raise. Moises, unlike the computer, has common sense. He gets my phone in proper working order AND ships a new phone to North Carolina. On his own initiative. L-rd, may I be blessed with many employees like Moises.

FIVE HOURS of effort later I think all is well. (Along the way one unhelpful AT&T clerk offered me an extra $25 credit "for my trouble and to drop the matter" -- I explained that in all 50 states minimum wage was above that.)

The true test will come Wednesday when the North Carolina phone should arrive and .... be ... working.

Lessons and observations for AT&T:

  1. Create a proper procedure for the recall and label it as such. Then attempt to get word out to the retail folks who actually have to implement the exchange. TUXEDO errors are unacceptable.
  2. Find a way for small business customers to reach customer service on nights and weekends from their own phones. The need to use Verizon to reach you is insane.
  3. Recognize that in our mobile society some phones cannot be returned to their place of origin. Jesus was borne in a manger because the Romans could only conduct their census if everyone was "back in their place." It was a pain for Joseph and Mary 2000 years ago -- why are you repeating the same mistake.
  4. Hire more Louis's, Moises's and get rid of the Sebastians.
  5. This was Samsung's problem. You had every opportunity to demonstrate superior customer service and generate loyalty. YOU ARE BLOWING IT BIG TIME.
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