In a letter to the Dallas Morning News’ Watchdog column, an anonymous 17-year vet of an AT&T call center says that in her nearly two decades with the company she never “imagined it would become the catastrophe it is now.”
The staffer works in customer retention — the folks responsible for holding on to customers who want to flee to the competition — and says the pressure from AT&T HQ to retain subscribers doesn’t jive with employees’ authority to do what’s needed.
One popular retention tool at most telecom and cable companies is to offer the customer a temporary rate cut. According to the AT&T employee, the reps are only given a limited number of these to allot. But they get so many calls every day that reps will run through their weekly allotment in a day.
“This has created a culture of reps promising promos, but not adding them,” she explains in the letter to Watchdog. “Or telling the customer they are disconnecting the service, but just not doing it. Reps do not want to disconnect a customer, as this counts against the rep.”
Okay, so you’ve been promised a discount or some other benefit from the rep, but it doesn’t show up on your bill because it was a false promise. Maybe you were smart and got the rep’s ID so you can hold them accountable for this failure, but the insider says it isn’t so.
Having the ID number, says the rep, “does not help, as every account is noted with the ID of the rep, and management does nothing to discourage the reps’ behavior (as the manager’s pay also is negatively affected by each disconnect their rep does).”
According to her, this is not just at the frontline customer service level, but “goes all the way up to sales center manager, general manager and VP. None of the higher-ups care or do anything to stop it.”
On the issue of bill-cramming — the illegal practice of placing unauthorized subscription charges on a customer’s account — the rep says that the company turns a “blind eye” to it, even though AT&T recently agreed to pay $105 million to settle federal cramming allegations.
The insider claims that the general managers in charge of regional call centers “don’t train you, don’t care about you, don’t care about the customer as long as they are getting commission off your work,” and that they neither understand nor care about the regulations that guide their industry.
“It’s very frustrating to be an ethical rep there anymore, as you are constantly under their scrutiny for not meeting numbers,” she confesses. “The only way to meet these numbers is to be a liar and a sleaze. Three-quarters of my call center is on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine just to deal with the company. It shouldn’t be like that.”
In response, AT&T paints a very different picture of its customer service practices.
“We have some of the best call center employees in the industry,” the company tells Watchdog. “We set expectations and limit the offers they can use. But we also provide new agents with 12 weeks of intensive training — with a focus on keeping customers with integrity and with offers based on needs determined during the conversation.
“Once out of training, our agents get regular and organized coaching and updates to their initial training with the option of additional coaching always available.”
If any current or recent AT&T reps — or reps from AT&T’s competition — want to chime in on this topic anonymously, feel free to write us at email@example.com.