Former Cingular CSR Speaks: “Having worked there I would never do business with them.”

Steve W. is a reformed call center representative for Cingular who wrote in just to share his experiences during the storied Cingular/AT&T merger. If you ever had any reason to wonder why your account might have been screwed up during the transfer, his account sheds quite a bit of light.

I just wanted to drop you guys a line about Cingular. I was until recently an employee, I was a Call Center Rep. for the Northeast Region, thats pretty much everything north of Virginia not including NYC and New Jersey. Also I’m not particularly disgruntled, I left of my own accord for a better position but I thought I would shed some light on the practices that lead to the problems that some of your readers experience.

The whole ATT merger was to say the least a fiasco, Cingular simply did not think ahead on this. The same happened with their buyout of Triton in VA & WV. Basically they just dumped all the ATT customers on their Cingular call centers without training their Cingular reps on any of the ATT plans or features, or for that matter, on what would be needed to transfer from one service to the other. This left the majority of reps with no idea what to do with ATT customers, most of the time the only thing any of us could figure to do for their problems was to transfer them to an ATT call center.

Steve’s whole story after the jump.

We’d try to help a customer but honestly most of the time we were simply impotent in the matter. We were told that, yes at some point in the future all ATT customers must convert to Cingular plans, but weren’t really told what to do in the mean time so it ended up with a lot of rumors pumping through the call centers and then misinformation getting passed to the customers. You have to understand this didn’t just end at the Reps, our managers were just as out of the loop as the rest of us so we really just had to wing it and hope for the best.

One of the commentors talked about getting a refund that was never placed on the account, well more than likely the agent submitted what was called a High Level Adjustment, the idea is that it goes to the level of manager that has the ability to refund the amount of money in question; it is very likely that it was placed on a desk somewhere and never went any further than the trash can, yes it was done with paper! Paper was rampant, form after form, and a series of disconnected software applications. They were still working on consolidating all their apps when I left, and from what I hear it still is nowhere near done.

Also the company had 2 separate programs to handle just Cingular customer accounts and their corresponding data files were not compatible, so if you got someone from a region that used the other software you had no recourse but to transfer them out to someone who had it. This doesn’t include the software that ATT call centers used, which we never had open access to.

Basically there was a total breakdown in the information supply chain. No one really knew what was going on and could only hope they were doing the right thing and that they wouldn’t get in trouble for it later. It was even worse for the Triton merger, though. We honestly had no idea what was going on at ALL with any of their plans. We didn’t get coverage maps (they had very sensitive coverage plans) until months after the fact and the technology was completely screwed up since the company decided to unrestrict the roaming on the customers plans without warning them.

I’ll be honest, having worked there I would never do business with them. I simply can’t trust them with my service knowing the way they handle their employees and customers. While I worked there it was all I could do to try and help customers and not get myself into to much trouble!

We’ve sent Steve a comments login so he can respond to your questions should he choose to.


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  1. SteveW says:

    Thanks guys! I’m more than happy to answer any questions anyone might have.

  2. Joel Johnson says:

    I’ve got one for you. Besides the frustration that came from not having the tools you needed, did you find it an otherwise enjoyable working environment?

  3. SteveW says:

    Yes, for the most part. They are a union call center so they have great benefits and decent pay. I found their corporate culture to be a bit wonky though, there is a tangible disconnect between levels and departments that is a bit disconcerting.
    Also they are a very stats oriented call center. I suppose if you’ve never worked in the environment you may not fully understand this, but many call centers rely heavily on trackable stats for all their employee interactions such as their average call times, transfer amounts et. al.
    What is interesting in this type of approach; as opposed to a more holisitic approach that includes a greater deal of Quality Assurance, Management interaction and Customer feedback; is that it leads many times to poor customer service since many reps have a tendancy to cut calls short, or refuse a transfer etc. so that they do not push themselves over their allotments, and when the chance of getting a raise is dependent on this there is considerable temptation to do so.

  4. Roxstar says:

    I hate Cingular as much as the next guy but who else is there? CDMA/TDMA has serious issues with dropped calls. Not to mention, Verizon’s phones are horrible and their plans are overpriced. Cingular has the coolest phones and the best GSM network.

    Of course, Cingular reps are so clueless you must look at it as a self-serve plan. God help you if you ever have a problem with your phone. And the merger was a little sleezy. The ad campaign touts the combination of the ATT network with the Cingular network. This happened only briefly. In the end, Cingular kept the ATT network and sold their old network to Tmobile. So, for a while, everybody got great coverage. After the dust settled, Cingular customers only get the same coverage ATT customers were already getting. It’s a lot like the BoA/Nations Bank merger. “Look at all our ATMs, now!” but a few months later, they went all over the country closing down the ATMs that were too close to each other.

  5. SteveW says:

    There is no doubt that they have probably the best GSM network in the US. You are right about them selling off some of the ATT network, though the main reason behind that was Federally mandated spectrum sells when the merger went through. They didn’t sell off their whole network, only bits and pieces that they were forced to. Also they kept the majority of their TDMA towers since these did not factor into the merger. At the time they bought them out in VA/WV Triton used majority TDMA and they sold/shutdown a good deal of those towers, these coverage changes were part of the big problems people had when they were converted.
    It should be noted that Tmobile has a roam agreement with Cingular, when I’m in my house I use a Cingular tower exclusively on my Tmobile service since its closer.

  6. Jay says:

    You know, this sort of confirms my original impression of the Cingular CSRs. Unlike those at other companies, Cingular’s reps never seemed especially uninterested in my problem, or hostile to my sitution, or unwilling to help. They just had no clue whatsoever about what to do with AT&T customers, any more than they would know what to do with Nextel or T-Mobile customers. A lot of basic, but company-specific, questions would go either unanswered or answered incorrectly, and it struck me as bizarre that Cingular wouldn’t take the time to train their reps for the thousands and thousands of AT&T customers they would be dealing with.

    But, as has been mentioned, they do have great coverage in New York, and I’d much prefer to stay on a GSM network.

  7. SteveW says:

    Very true, for the most part the people I worked with were good, honest people who really did want to help the customers. It is just that we simply did not have the information to do so, and when on average you are to handle around 80 or more interactions a day and a lot of those customers are asking questions you just don’t have any way to answer it gets very, very frustrating. Especially when its day in day out, it just turns good people inside out.. and breeds a certain apathy. It also makes the rumor mills run even faster, because for a lot of people if you get an answer to a customers question… even if it is wrong it feels better than saying “I don’t know”

  8. Amy Alkon000 says:

    Is using a cell phone as a modem any easier now? I bought a Sony Ericsson T68-i to use with my Mac laptop (iBook) and we never could get it to work that way. Nobody at Cingular knew shit about it either. I still have that same ugly, shitty phone because phones in the US are so behind in design compared to what they are in Europe, and I just can’t see buying a new phone, only to end up with some junky looking, over-featured piece of crap.