AT&T Wireless Acknowledges Their Crappy iPhone Service, Shrugs

In 2009, loyal Sprint customer Matt jumped ship to AT&T, enticed by the glorious glossy screen of the then-exclusive Jesus Phone. I mean, iPhone. He sends $300 per month to AT&T for the four iPhones on his account. One would think that this would entitle him to an actual working mobile phone. Don’t be silly. Matt’s tale of woe includes months of frustration, including huge business deals lost due to crappy phone service.

The backstory:

My first cell phone was with Sprint in 1997. I remained a loyal customer until 2009, when I made the leap to AT&T for the sole purpose of getting my hands on shiny little iPhone. Since 2009, I have added 3 additional iPhones to my account (3 iPhone 4, 1 3GS) and consistently pay just shy of $300 clams every month.

The issue:

Ever since moving to AT&T I have experience spotting coverage, but it took a nose dive around the first of August, 2010. After several weeks of dropped calls and inconsistent service, I made my first call to complain about coverage. I was on the line with various AT&T reps for a approx. 90 minutes, with the call resulting in a small credit (around $50) and be advised by the technician that engineering would look into the issue and that I would receive a text notification within 36 hours.

Just as the technician said – I received a text message in the nick of time, just prior to the 36-hour mark, almost as if it had been auto-scheduled to send. The message stated that my issue had been reviewed and the “issue” had been resolved. At the time I thought to myself that AT&T have a pretty slick trouble-shooting/engineering process to deliver such quick resolution.

After a few weeks I realized their process was anything but slick. The dropped calls continued. I called back in October with the same complaint, was issued a more substantial credit, and given the same line about an engineering review and text message in 36 hours. The text message lit my phone up almost exactly 36 hours later with the same message as before. However, the lack-luster service continued.

I called back sometime in December (or maybe January), with the same complaint, except this time even more agitated. It was like deja vu….credit issued, told engineering would review, a text message would be received within 36 hours. Sure enough, the same text message was received almost 36 hours later. I went through same insanity, yet again in April, with the very same result.

Now, when I say I have dropped calls and inconsistent service, I feel I should give some more details. I live and work in downtown Cincinnati, OH, a major metropolitan area with an urban population over 1.5M. So, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for one to expect solid coverage in the downtown area, and according to AT&T’s coverage map – there should be stellar service. Well, outlined below are just a few of my favorite service experiences:

• While sitting in a restaurant just last week – I had an urgent issue regarding HVAC at my business and desperately needed to discuss with my contractor. The call dropped 7 times (yes s e v e n) until I gave up, drove back to my office and called him from a landline. His service was fine. I wasn’t surprised when he said he had Verizon.

• A 10K business opportunity hinged on quick communication and coordination. I texted details to close the deal and walked into the weekly meeting with my staff. After the meeting I checked my phone and saw the red exclamation mark (something I am all too familiar with) next to the text message, after 5 attempts and walking the block the message sent, albeit too late, as the 10K sale was lost (perhaps I should submit an Invoice to AT&T for the lost opportunity)

• Working on another sale opportunity of 25K, I had given instructions for my contact to use my office line, since my iPhone is anything but reliable. The contact lost my landline number and reverted to my cell number. The cell never rang and hours later a notification that I had a new voicemail appeared on my phone (this happens regularly – as in daily).

• Sitting in my office recently I experience 3 dropped calls during one phone call, 9 on a second, and 7 on a third – all in one day. Needless to say I have stopped relying on my iPhone as a reliable means of communication (did I mention I pay nearly $300/month for this level of service?)

During all of the above examples my signal indicator showed a medium to high signal. While in my office the phone will move between 3G and 3, but signal bars are almost always 2 and usually 3+.

One could perhaps assume that I’m running old software on the phone, or that my phone was defective – both perfectly reasonable assumptions. However, I synch mine religiously, applying the latest updates. Also, my phone was recently replaced after taking it to the Genius bar after it stopped charging. The service issues have continued. I’m also not the only person experiencing the problem – every other person on my plan has the same service experience. A new employee I recently hired came with her own iPhone and has the same complaints about AT&T’s service coverage.

Last Wed (6/13) I had had it – there were yet another string of time sensitive business opportunities that had been dependent on my cell phone (like millions of other mobile people in the world – it’s not like I’m expecting something that’s not already being delivered – in mass) and it failed miserably.

I made yet another call to AT&T and asked to be escalated immediately. I stated my issue bluntly – I did not want to talk to tech support, as I had already lost hours of my life over the past 10 months and that I wanted a permanent reduction in my monthly bill by at least 50% until the issue is resolved. The retention rep suggested I augment my wireless plan in order to lower my monthly bill. Once I explained that I had no interest in funding a reduction to my bill thru a reduced plan and that I expected AT&T to experience some “pain” he quickly ran out of options. He said he would escalate my issue to an advanced technical team so they could “get to the bottom of the problem” and “fix it for good”. I said that would be great, and he assured me that he would personally handle the issue. It’s a week later and I have heard nothing from the guy.

I guess there was something in that rep’s voice that made suspicious that he would follow through on his promises. Or, perhaps it was the long history of unresolved issues with AT&T I have experienced. Or, maybe I had truly just had enough. Whatever the case may be – I started searching the Internet for additional options and stumbled up the AT&T Wireless, Office of the President, from Consumerist.com. I immediately thought my prayers had been answered!

I couldn’t dial the digits fast enough. After a short period of rings the phone was answered, a few questions where asked and I was routed to [redacted[]. She’s apparently the person that covers my part of the country for calls coming to the Office of the President. I explained my situation, my absolute frustration, my disbelief that it was ok for a company to receive payment for a service they are not actually able to deliver, etc, etc. … I must say I have had few run ins with such a flippant attitude. [redacted]’s tone could not have been more patronizing and disconnected.

Rather than acknowledging the frustration she just repeated the same script over-and-over, ad nauseam…. “I will contact technical support, which will take up to 36 hours (sound familiar?) and we will go from there [period]”. I got her direct number and we ended the call. I received a call, surprising 36 hours later, on Friday, but I was in downtown Cincinnati, so the phone did not ring – my phone just alerted me that I had new voicemail. [redacted] had a left message asking me to call her back to discuss the coverage issues we had discussed.

Once we connected [redacted] explained that she had contacted technical support and that the issues I am experience are due to “congestion” and that they are “working” on the problem – that’s it. That’s all she had. I was astonished. Here’s a customer with a long documented issue with coverage, you’re with “the Office of the President” and all you’ve got is “there is congestion and we are working on the problem”!? When I asked what would be done for compensation she said she could issue credit for one month’s bill, but to reduce my bill by 50% (my stated requirement in our initial conversation) simply was not possible.

When I pushed the issue and pointed out how ridiculous the response was, particularly from “the Office of the President” she said “I don’t know what you want, I have done everything I can – there is congestion and we are working to address the issue”. When asked when the issue would be resolved she had no answer. When asked if it seemed reasonable to pay almost $300/month for a service that is so unreliable she had no answer.

When I said that I would be considering my options with other carriers, that I must be able to rely on my wireless service – she quickly pointed that any early termination fees would be billed and must be paid. It was at this point that I asked for my call to be escalated. She said I could speak with her manager – [redacted], but that he was in a meeting and that she would have him call me back. It is now a day and a half later and there’s been no call from [the manager].

So, I have no idea where to turn, other than online consumer boards. I left a message for Sherry expressing my surprise and disappoint that my long documented issue did not merit a timely call back by [the manager] – we’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Do any of your friends or colleagues who also use AT&T but have different phones have similar problems with the network? If not, maybe it’s time to ditch the JesusPhone. (I’m the only person I know who likes AT&T’s service. I have a Blackberry.)

Or maybe it’s time to relieve some of that “congestion” by ditching AT&T as a carrier for at least one of those lines. If crappy phone service is hurting your business that badly, it’s time to either change carriers or carry a reliable prepaid dumbphone for critical deals. Should you have to do this? No. Should you fight like an angry bird to get those early termination fees waived? Yes.