I recently posted on my excitement about becoming a beneficiary of higher Internet speeds and media convergence at home.  At the time I was a brand new customer of AT&T’s U-verse service.  One month later, I’m still delighted – I would not go back to DSL (fine as that was) or to DirecTV satellite service (OK as that was).

However, I have experienced a couple of glitches – one of which turned out to be an excellent customer experience, and a classic example of a vendor responding so well to a problem that you come out of it feeling better about the vendor than you did when you went into it!  The other, unfortunately, was a pretty unfortunate experience that should never have happened, and should have been handled quite differently when it did – providing some useful lessons learned about IT platforms and customer experience.

First, the positive experience.  About 2 weeks after I’d installed the U-verse service, I suddenly began seeing intermittent drops on my Internet connection (as a Microsoft Outlook user with a home office, these blips become quite noticeable and inconvenient).  I put up with it for a while, and then discovered that my office phone line was down – no dial tone!  Horror!  I called AT&T – the call was answered immediately, 2 technicians were at the house within 1 hour, the phone line was back in action 30 minutes before they arrived, and the Internet problem fixed within minutes of their arrival.  Great service, cheerful, polite technicians, exceeded my expectations at every turn.

Now the bad news.  I’d been told up front I’d get 2 separate bills – one for the TV and Internet service, and another for the phone service.  The bills arrived and I noticed a charge for $55 for the new Internet service on the TV bill (as expected) and a charge of $49.95 for the old DSL service (that was replaced by the high speed service) on the phone bill.  i.e., they’d added the new fees, but had not cancelled the old fees.

My call to customer service went fine – the voice response system worked well allowing me to provide the basic details of the account, and get to the appropriate operator.  Things now began to go astray.  First the minor annoyance – why did I have to start over and tell the operator all the details I’d just entered into the voice response system?  Second, after describing the problem from the beginning, the operator told me he’d transfer me to someone else who would issue the credit, and I’d be on hold for a minute or two.  I was on hold for 10 minutes, heard a click, then a ringing tone, then found myself right back where I’d started!  I went through the routine again, and when I got to an operator explained in no uncertain terms what had happened, with a plea to not do that to me again.  She quickly acknowledge the problem, but politely implied that I should have cancelled the DSL service when I upgraded to the higher speed U-verse service.  (Just to be clear, these are both AT&T products, and it was AT&T who had persuaded me to upgrade!) 

When I asked why this was a customer responsibility, and why AT&T did not automatically cancel my DSL when I upgraded to U-verse, I was told, “The DSL billing and U-verse billing run on separate platforms!”

I’ve posted before about the power of “platform thinking” and “platforms versus infrastructure.”  Powerful platforms create value – weak platforms destroy it.  AT&T should have realized the inevitable flaw in having 2 separate billing platforms, and provided a workaround by whatever means to shield its customers from a technical glitch.  The lesson – run through your use cases – look for the holes – fill the holes.  As for the IVR glitch – fix it.  Interactive voice response should benefit me the customer as well as the vendor – don’t make me have to repeat stuff you’ve already had me say or key!