far short of the call of duty

Unlike Amazon, AT&T seems intent on treating their customers as poorly as possible. Their cell phone service was mediocre ever since we signed up, but it began to progressively worsen and eventually became so bad that people couldn’t hear anything we said. Our conversations were spent yelling into the phone (which was pressed tightly to the side of our face), “Can you hear me?”

The manager of the AT&T Wireless store where they were purchased was unwilling (he claimed he was unable) to do anything to help us. Then, to add to our dismay we discovered that they’re phasing out the TDMA network (which is what our phones use), in favor of the GSM network.

We pleaded with several AT&T service representatives both on the phone and in person to simply let us cancel our contract (they wanted something like $200 to cancel). That’s all we asked. We had already paid them for the phones and for our monthly service, we just wanted to stop having to pay them for such poor coverage. They refused to do anything. In fact I was told by one kind gentleman that they had no guarantee about the quality of their service, and even if they had but a single tower in the whole United States, they were fulfilling their service agreement. We sent a letter of complaint to their national office, but that had no effect. In the end, we remain stuck until the contracts run out.

After doing some research, I learned that AT&T is pretty much the worst company you could hope to deal with. They participated in price gouging after the hurricanes in Florida and on PlanetFeedback they’re tied for the lowest rating (a D on a scale of A through D). It’s no surprise that their customers are hanging up.

Update: Contacting the folks at Get Gephardt was the best thing I could have done to resolve this situation. A day after I sent an e-mail to explain my predicament I got a response from a producer at KUTV. They said I had a valid complaint and contacted AT&T Wireless. Two days after that, we got a call from a very pleasant and helpful person at AT&T Wireless who let us cancel our service without any early-termination fees. She also resolved another issue in minutes, an issue which I had called about two times previously without getting any helpful response.

The lesson I learned from this is that they are capable of providing quality customer service, they just needed a kick in the pants from a TV show that would give them bad publicity.

One final thanks to the team at Get Gephardt. Your help was invaluable and empowering. Thank you.


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  1. I’m no lawyer, but I think the ‘kind gentleman’ you mentioned is out to lunch. They may _technically_ be fulfulling their contract, but when you signed it you were under the impression that your phone would be useful in the area that you bought it in and that’s the contract you believed you were signing. If you signed a one year contract and then 4 months later they stop supporting your phone, well…I’m pretty sure that they’re at fault.

    At the very least they should give you a GSM phone. Of course, if there are that many unhappy customers maybe you can get a class-action lawsuit going. :)

    Comment by mckay on January 25, 2005 @ 9:29 am
  2. McKay: I agree entirely. That’s what I kept telling them, but they refused to even concede my point.

    I have since given up trying to convince them of my plight and have switched to GSM, but that renewed my year contract and I had to pay for the new phone. Once my year contract is up, I will never do business with them again.

    Comment by dan on January 25, 2005 @ 9:35 am
  3. I’ve been with AT&T for about 3(+) years now and to be honest, I’ve been pretty happy with my coverage. Just about five months ago, my old cell phone (on the old network) was dying and so I signed up with a 1-year contract and receive a free cell phone as a part of the package. My monthly minutes and area coverage are exactly what I need and have never had any real issues with lost calls or poor reception quality. However, I realize that if my timing had been just a bit off, I would probably have purchased one of those phones designed for the older network, like you did. I’m surprised that the sales person didn’t inform you that they were switching over to GSM.

    As for the customer service, after reading that article about AT&T’s demise, it’s as if the executives knew they were going under and didn’t give a sh*t about their customers. In the long run, the executives received nice golden parachutes and the customers and employees received pink slips and useless cell phones.

    Now that Cingular has taken over, is there any chance of your situation improving?

    Comment by jason on January 25, 2005 @ 10:10 am
  4. Jason: It was bad timing on our part, but we were told nothing about the impending obsolescence of the TDMA network. In fact, when we returned to talk to the manager, sales guys were busy selling more TDMA phones to unsuspecting customers. I wanted to warn them, but at the same time I didn’t want to upset the manager and jeopardize my situation.

    I don’t have a problem with their coverage in general, but where I live there is a real problem. My main complain was that coverage went from acceptable to totally unacceptable and they refused to do anything about it.

    I’m glad to hear you haven’t had problems, but you’re the exception. Here’s a quote from the article.

    “The line from the company was that we lost those people out of bad luck,” said a regional sales manager. “But they walked away flipping us the bird. They aggressively walked away from us. They couldn’t wait to get away from us.”

    They earned that response from their customers and I too look forward to walking away from them and never looking back when my contract is up.

    The switch to Cingular may be an improvement but they’ve already burned the bridge in my mind. I want to get as far as possible from anything associated with AT&T.

    Comment by dan on January 25, 2005 @ 12:59 pm
  5. That is really strong language, and personally, I’m surprised you didn’t “walk away flipping them the bird”. I’m still curious though if Cingular will wind up fixing things for pissed-off customers like yourself.

    Comment by jason on January 25, 2005 @ 4:02 pm
  6. I just had a wild thought…maybe you should email Bill Gephardt…this is exactly the sort of thing that he feeds on. Even if he can’t get your contract cancelled, the store that screwed you over will get a ton of bad publicity (assuming he takes your issue).

    Just a suggestion.

    Comment by mckay on January 25, 2005 @ 5:18 pm
  7. mckay: That’s not a bad idea but I think it’s too late. If I was still in the thick of the issue I would do it in a heartbeat, but it’s been a while (this entry was in draft mode for a month or two) since it all happened.

    Comment by dan on January 25, 2005 @ 5:34 pm
  8. Hey, you could always e-mail Gephardt — nothing lost but the time to write a brief e-mail.

    Jason — it was in quotes, so I don’t know how seriously you meant it, but as Dan’s brother, I doubt that he’s ever “flipped someone the bird” (Dan?) so as frustrating as anything might get, I wouldn’t see that as something he’d choose to do. This stinging blog entry was a pretty strong reaction itself from him, I think.

    Comment by DavidH on January 25, 2005 @ 9:41 pm
  9. Dan, I agree with Mckay and David. The fact that you’ve been dealing with it for such a long time might draw more attention to the problem. I’ve seen his segment on T.V. a couple of times, and he gets results. And on things I think were much more trivial than this. It’s worth a shot.

    Comment by jason on January 26, 2005 @ 1:30 pm
  10. Okay, you guys convinced me. I sent him an e-mail with a link to this site and attached a PDF of the complaint letter we sent. I’ll let you know if he takes on the case.

    Comment by dan on January 26, 2005 @ 3:38 pm
  11. I just got a response from a producer at KUTV. They agreed with my assertion that I should have been allowed to cancel and are going to pass my letter along to someone in AT & T’s public relations dept. to see if anything can be done.

    Comment by dan on January 27, 2005 @ 3:46 pm
  12. Today we got a call from AT&T informing us that they will let us cancel our contracts, or give us a $30 credit on our bill. I’m shocked at how fast they got back to us, but I’m not complaining; better late than never. My only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.

    Thanks for the suggestion McKay, we owe you one.

    Comment by dan on January 29, 2005 @ 1:07 am

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