For those that know(eth) me, I am an avid iPhone user. I wasn’t always a fan, and in fact publicly wrote a post on why I wasn’t going to get an iPhone. It lured me in though, and I’ve even moved from an unlocked, contract-free T-Mobile plan to the horrid service AT&T provides in order to get full 3G speeds. I even renewed that plan just last week as I got a new iPhone 3G S. However, today, as they were charging Adam Savage (of Mythbusters fame) $11,000 for his cell phone bill (I had no idea about that whole “movement” until later after I got home), they crossed the line for me as well. Here’s the story:
3 days ago, after successfully selling my phone on Ebay and purchasing a new one under the standard upgrade plan for the same price, we decided to do the same for my wife’s iPhone 3G. The idea was supposed to be we sell it on Ebay, get the money, and use the money from the sale to purchase a new one at the same price as we sold the old one for – that’s just how much they’re selling for (I didn’t make the rules)! We purchased the phone in September of 2008, still in the limits AT&T set to qualify for iPhone standard upgrade pricing (the lower pricing option). At the same time, I’m paying over $200 to AT&T each month with a family plan between myself and her, and an additional USB data plan on top of it all. It would seem plenty of my money is going towards AT&T, and I thought we would qualify – after all my own phone qualified just fine.
So I went to the http://apple.com/iphone/buy site to authorize my wife’s phone and verify it did qualify for the standard upgrade pricing, and to my surprise, it said she didn’t, and she wouldn’t until May 6, 2010! I was blown away, considering AT&T might want to keep her around and right around the time she can finally leave is the time she has to wait to get her new iPhone. This is especially considering the amount of money I am paying AT&T each month to get her plan.
So I called AT&T to find out what was going on. The lady on the phone was really nice (I even sent out a Tweet about how great AT&T service actually was), and while she tried to explain why my wife wouldn’t qualify, she quickly realized my wife actually did qualify. She put me on hold several times, I’m assuming asking others what was going on, and finally she got permission to call the store and let them know I qualified for the new phone. I had her call the Gateway Apple Store in Salt Lake City, Utah (my state of residence), and she put me on hold to call them. When she came back, she said they had let her know all would be fine if I came in, and to just leave detailed notes on my behalf to explain the situation. She left very detailed notes, and said I would be just fine getting my wife’s new phone under the new plan. I took this as AT&T’s approval to get the phone under the lower, standard upgrade price plan.
So excited, we put my wife’s 3G phone up for bid on Ebay on a 3-day auction. The phone easily sold in 3 days for $300 (which is low compared to other phones selling right now), and we were finally ready to get her new phone. I quickly transferred money around and headed off to the Apple store, excited to get my wife what I’ve been experiencing over the past week.
After a 30 minute drive to the Apple Store, and even feeling a little sick, I was ready and excited to get my phone. I get into the store, it is packed as usual, and I look around, and not surprisingly I noticed there was a line for the iPhone. I stood in line for about 20 minutes (a breeze compared to the opening day when I got mine), and finally get to talk to an Apple rep to get my new phone. I tell him my story, and to my surprise, he responds with “We can’t do anything – we’re stuck with what AT&T tells us on the apple.com/iphone/buy site.” I explained what the AT&T rep had told me and he said his hands were tied. He suggested I go to the AT&T store, just about a block away in the same Mall.
So, still feeling sick, and rather disappointed, I headed over to the AT&T store. I got there, and waited for about another 30 minutes while AT&T reps helped other customers, some that came in after me. Finally one of them noticed me waiting, and asked if he could help. I told him my story and he looked up my account. I still have no clue if he even cared to look at the notes for my account, but he was definitely persistent that there was nothing he could do for me. He even went to the extent of stating that the AT&T customer service reps on the phone are “often wrong” and they “get that all the time”. I neglected to mention to him that this particular rep even contacted the Apple Store about it, and seemed to infer that she “does that all the time” as well – I should have. This guy in the AT&T store even said he had complained to his boss about the same issues with some friends of his and couldn’t do anything about it.
Needless to say I went home very disappointed, wasting a few hours of my day for something I was told over the phone was completely possible. Not to mention the fact that I had now sold my wife’s old iPhone, contract still in hand, and nothing to replace it with. I’m furious!
So what’s going on? Who do I believe? It would seem that some at AT&T feel they have the authority to say what is and isn’t authorized. However, when you get to the people that can actually sell the phones, that flexibility is all of the sudden gone, and the customer service has disappeared. Often I would think it should be the other way around but this is AT&T after all – just search for their issues on Twitter. (not to mention I just noticed they charged me a Poison Control surcharge – FOR MY USB DATA PLAN) It would appear that AT&T has become so big that the customer has been caught in a tug-o-war with their own employees, a very sad situation.
As for what to do? Well, I’m going to have to risk my years-long reputation on Ebay and take back the auction someone was anxiously hoping they had won, not because I changed my mind, but because AT&T won’t let me. I will forever blame AT&T if my reputation is adversely affected from this. At the same time when my wife can finally upgrade her phone, you better believe we’re switching to a new service – AT&T has shut the door on themselves on this one.
AT&T has the opportunity to make this right, and they should for not just those with a voice – they need to fix their customer service process. Get people on Twitter and Facebook and FriendFeed and start learning the issues people are having. Search the blogosphere. Then, fix those problems internally. Give everyone the customer interfaces flexibility to bend the rules occasionally. Make the customer right again – the customer should be AT&T’s most valuable asset. I don’t feel like that right now. Heck, I feel like a piece of dirty laundry they just hung out to dry.