Don’t Punish the Customer: Why AT&T’s Service Game is a Loser

This week, the American Customer Service Index released its yearly report of customer satisfaction summaries for all wireless communications companies. Telecommunication’s satisfaction is down overall in 2011, but it’s AT&T, the largest of them all, ranking last … a low unseen since the release of the iPhone. With bottlenecks at nearly every point of their service contact, it’s easy to see why customers, though loving the iPhone, are unhappy with AT&T.  AT&T creates barriers, violates a crucial rule in throughput management: don’t promise agility and punish the customer with unmet expectations.

AT&T’s problems with throughput begin at the core of its service: not enough resources either to handle the network or provide adequate customer response. As millions of people use smartphones every day, the 3G wireless towers are inundated and bogged down. Because AT&T cannot properly cope with the massive usage, users experience a bottleneck when trying to use their own phones. Increased dropped calls, stagnant web browsing, and deadzones annoy everyone, and small annoyances are magnified over time. The result is dissatisfaction for everyone. In an industry that relies on throughput to provide the product immediately, slow service is punishment to the customer.

In addition, AT&T is seemingly incapable of responding to complaints and placing a block between need and speed. With such slow response time, consumers feel like a number amongst a sea of problems, and long waits keep resolutions moving slowly. It’s botttlenecking at the immediate customer/provider interaction that creates dissatisfaction of customers, and it’s only a matter of time before complaints grow.

With the inevitable AT&T/T-Mobile merger on the horizon, it’s hard to see where the bottlenecks will end. Does customer service matter when you’re the only game in town? Maybe not immediately, but holding the customer captive may prove disastrous in the long-term.