For 10 years, The Watchdog has received a steady flow of complaints about AT&T. Hundreds upon hundreds. More than any other company by far.
Each complaint I forward gets fixed. But in a greater sense, it seems nothing gets fixed. Is the culture of Dallas-based AT&T to accept the trove of complaints but never drill down to the root cause?
I don't know why this continues to happen, but a recent letter I received may help us understand.
An AT&T call center employee has written The Watchdog. The employee gives me permission to share the letter, but I am not naming her because of her job. After the letter, you'll read what AT&T has to say about it.
"Dear Watchdog, I've worked 17 years for AT&T. I have never, in all my years, imagined it would become the catastrophe it is now.
"As retention reps, we are told to not only retain existing customers after their promotions expire, but to also sell more to these people.
"In most cases, a customer's bill will jump up $83 a month after the 'intro' pricing ends. We as reps are allotted at the beginning of week 5 'limited use' promotions, giving folks the maximum of $40 off.
"By Monday afternoon, these are generally depleted as we take about 40 calls a day.
"This has created a culture of reps promising promos, but not adding them. 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.
"You are right to request a user ID [of the rep]. However, it 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).
"This 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.
"They also turn a blind eye to 'cramming' by reps (mostly nonunion employees overseas) and erroneous misquotes.
"It's very frustrating to be an ethical rep there anymore, as you are constantly under their scrutiny for not meeting numbers. 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.
"The part in your article [a previous Watchdog report] about us not giving our User ID is really a directive that we had from upper management. A customer's account was compromised by a fraudster with a real ID. The fraudster called in, changed the address on the account, then called in again and ordered iPhones to be shipped to the address he changed it to.
"The problem with this is none of these general managers communicate. Each state is covered by different laws and regulations. You in Texas may call and get a rep in California. In California, I do not have to let you record the call. You also have the option not to be recorded.
"Now that we are national, you have GMs in charge of call centers in California, Missouri, Texas and Georgia. They 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.
"They know nothing of government regulations, and frankly, do not care.
"I've been through so many GMs and vice presidents. However, this is by far the most inept. We should be helping our customers, not forcing products on them they do not want. … I really don't think anyone in the government cares."
What AT&T says
I showed the letter to AT&T - and asked the company for its reaction.
"Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if this is an employee of our company," AT&T's response begins. "But the picture painted is not the experience we create, promote or endorse.
"We have some of the best call center employees in the industry. 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."
The statement ends there.
The Watchdog deems it strange because the answer ignores the basic flaws of AT&T's culture as described by the call center employee.
At my request, Daniel Lyons, a Boston College Law School professor with experience in telecommunications, studied the letter.
Lyons said if a company promises a customer incentives to either sign up for service or renew an existing contract and those incentives are not delivered, in many cases, that's fraud.
Don't expect help from government regulators, he says. "The more competitive the marketplace has gotten, the less regulators feel like they need to get involved. If customers don't like the service they get, they can switch elsewhere."
What's happening behind the scenes at AT&T is not unlike what occurs at other companies. But AT&T touches the lives of more Americans than most.
At least we have an idea why the company can't get it right.
The Dallas Morning News