For the past six months I’ve been writing a book about marketing  and the role of the CMO as a steward of customer experience. As such, I’ve been on the lookout for stories about customer experience gone right and wrong. Yesterday AT&T nominated themselves in the latter category.

What made the experience unique was AT&T’s delivery of a series of interconnected failures. It started on the AT&T website where I selected my desired handset in the wrong color (my fault). When the phone was delivered a few days later I immediatly realized my mistake. I could have shipped the phone back in the box but I was excited to set the phone up over the long weekend. So, I called the AT&T store that was a few miles from my home and asked if they would make an exchange in the store. They said yes. I asked if they had the phone I wanted in stock. They said yes. I asked how long it would take. They said 15 minutes. Perfect, I grabbed the phone and headed out. All was right in the world.


Fail #1: Offer me an appointment

Upon arriving at the store, I was told that I’d be facing an hour long wait. I was surprised by this considering that I’d called 30 minutes earlier. Granted they could have just experienced a rush, but why didn’t they offer me an appointment -or at least to put me on the list- when I called? Since you’re selling Apple hardware you might want to follow their lead when it comes to in-store appointment too. But there I was, so I accepted my fate and prepared to wait.


Fail #2: Text me when it’s my turn

To add me to the waitlist the attendant asked for my phone number. I gave her my number and asked if they’d text me when I was close to the top of the list. Nope, they don’t do that. I had to wait in the store until my name was called off the list. But wait, I just gave you my number, you’ve got a digitally managed waitlist, and your a telephony company! Perhaps the in-store displays about AT&T mobile home automation gave me the impression that AT&T was a forward thinking and innovative company. My bad.


Fail #3: Advise your customer

Almost an hour later (at least they didn’t underestimate the wait), it’s my turn and they guy asks me for my phone number. Um, you mean the number I gave you already. Hmmmm. He asked what he can do for me and I tell him I just want to exchange the phone I received for an identical model in a different color. That’s when he informs me that there is a “restocking fee” for all exchanges done in store. Deep breath. “So what you’re telling me is that when I called to ask if I could exchange this phone the attendant neglected to mention that it’s free to do it by mail but that there’s a fee to do it in the store?” Wow. I recount failures #1 and #2 as for some consideration after waiting an hour, how about waiving the fee? I then wait 10 minutes for a manager to deny that request. If, however, I wanted to buy more stuff from the store I can have a 10% discount. Hmmm. You know, I think I’ll pass on that generous offer.


Fail #4: Use your f’ing data

I’d invested over an hour and a half in this charade thus far, so I figured that I might as well just get it done (the restocking fee is less than my hourly rate). The guy now goes to the stock room and spends 10 minutes finding a phone? When he returns he asks me for my phone number for a third time. Impressive. I  tell him and then he starts doing some stuff on an iPad. He then stops and shows me a message on the screen on the iPad that says “exchanges from corporate accounts cannot be done in-store”. Holy f’ing hell. You mean you used the phone number that I gave you over an hour-and-a-half ago to figure that out!

At this point I cursed. But, I also smiled at the customer experience story I’d just had first hand. AT&T failed in multiple ways here and missed so many opportunities to deliver a great customer experience. They missed with their systems, their frontline employees and even with their store manager. The good new for AT7T is that these things should not be that hard to fix with proper process and systems I sincerely hope that someone at AT&T is listening.

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