Persistence Pays at the New AT&T

The New AT&T logoI was going to blog a rant about AT&T Wireless (formally Cingular) last night but ran out of time. It’s a good thing because I just had an experience today with their customer service that changes my opinion entirely.

First, the backstory. I switched from T-Mobile to Cingular about a year and a half ago basically due to the deal I got on a RAZR at Amazon. After rebate, they paid me $50 to take the phone and commit to 2 years of service. I was perfectly happy at T-Mobile but their deal was not as compelling for me to stay (note to the marketing folks in the wireless business: treat your current customers at least as good as new customers to reduce your churn).

I have been pretty happy with the Cingular service until I started to get overage billings a couple months back. It was for their data service which I was watching online and on my phone and upgraded to their “unlimited” service when it appeared I would go over. The problem is your new service doesn’t actually go into effect until the next billing cycle and their tracking system doesn’t show your data usage in realtime when you roam (as I was in CA) until you get the bill. I called and complained which ended with us splitting my $100 data overage. Although still not pleased, at least I got some satisfaction along with my education into the intricacies of wireless billing.

So I was pissed when I checked my account yesterday to find out that I was over my plan by about 200 minutes last month for voice calls. I’d been conditioned not to worry about these as I had several thousand “rollover” minutes from past months. Well, those ran out fairly early in the month and I didn’t check; my bad.

But I wanted to see what The New AT&T would do in this situation, so I called to upgrade my plan two levels up. Yesterday it was only possible to buy the new plan from then on but I was still responsible for over $100 in overage charges (45 cents a minute adds up pretty quickly). Ouch! Well, at least I could use the phone and not pay the toll for another week when my new billing cycle began.

Today I checked my minutes and found my total continuing to add up so I called to find out why. The new CSR looked at my account and said she could retroactively put me on the new plan from the beginning of my billing cycle with me just paying the $20 difference. Nice customer service guys; thanks.

This tale only highlights how ridiculous wireless billing is here in the U.S. Why someone doesn’t come up with a truly unlimited voice and data plan is beyond me as my current bill is not inexpensive. Maybe it’s corporate expense reports that are to blame but the CIO’s I know drive a hard bargain for their wireless service so I think it’s just the providers taking advantage of consumers who don’t complain.

In a previous marketing life I had a similar pricing model for internet access and customers got one high bill, complained and then cancelled service. It’s not a sustainable model. Stop the madness, please.

Perhaps I will not switch back to T-Mobile when my AT&T contract ends in January after-all. Of course if Steve Jobs introduces a more reasonably priced iPhone at MacWorld, all bets are off 😉

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