AT&T Drops the Ball on Customer Communication

AT&T had a rough time last week when it comes to communicating with customers about service issues or changes. In one controversial move, the company continued to charge DirecTV customers for Altitude Sports, a channel that had now been blacked out for about two months due to contract disputes, until it was finally restored last week. Though the company has issued refunds to some customers, only the ones that have spent time complaining have received any money back, ArsTechnica reports.

"We issued credits to thousands of our customers who asked about Altitude Sports while we worked toward getting it back on air," the company said in a statement, highlighting that only customers that specifically reached out about the issue received refunds, rather than proactively offering refunds to all those affected.

And, earlier in the week, AT&T made another customer service snafu when the company automatically switched some of its customers over to a pricier plan without informing them first. The company added $10 to the monthly bills of customers with certain grandfathered mobile-data plans without a way for them to switch back to their older packages. Though AT&T is positioning the change as an added "bonus" to their existing plans by adding 15GB to the customers' monthly data packages, the change came with no warning or opt-out option.

"We are communicating with some customers regarding changes to their mobile plans. Customers have the choice to change their plan at any time and can always contact us with questions or to understand their options," AT&T told the Verge. But notably, none of the alternative plans cost less.

From a customer support standpoint, both situations are an example of lacking communication, which is a key tenet of good service. In fact, not only should companies be communicating about problems when they occur, they should make an effort to resolve them proactively, according to customer service expert Shep Hyken. 

“My simple definition of predictive customer support is that the customer gets the support not only before they know they need it, but before the problem ever occurs—because it's predicted that it will occur,” Hyken wrote in a post for Hospitality Net. In these situations, that would mean providing refunds for the channel blackout without customers having to ask for it and, separately, informing them of the upcoming increase to their data plans.

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