Tuesday, February 19, 2008

U-Verse = U-Werse

When Something So Right Goes So Wrong

In sharing this story around the water cooler, I realized a lot of you aren't aware of what "U-Verse" is (or "U-Werse", as I've dubbed it). In other words, you still have time to prevent a lot of suffering if you heed my consumer victim experience proudly brought to you by AT&T.

So before I go any further, let me define U-Verse for you.

AT&T categorizes U-Verse as part of its "Advanced TV" solutions. Where "digitally delivered television" collides with high-speed Internet collides with some phone calling features, provided you also subscribe to AT&T's voice package(s).

I would define U-Verse as an experience so maddening it sent me running for the hills, arms in air. I was about to literally set my own house on fire just to see the damn thing burn in front of me.

Get Your S'mores, Everyone!

The marketing assault on us went on for weeks and still continues to this day (more on that later). The marketing campaign made U-Verse sound like the greatest thing since sex. Top that, sliced bread.

The U-Verse programming was a no-brainer. The technology was so far advanced, Martians feared Earth. And it was so affordable; it was even FREE for the first month AND included "professional installation."

We thought long and hard about this. We were DirecTV subscribers and leery of no-brainer deals out in the market. We visited the AT&T Experience Store at NorthPark Center to do just that. While the demo didn't perform as the sales rep expected, Joe and I made the decision to jump head-first into the lifestyle upgrade.

We were riding one big-ass wave of innovation!

Big Kahuna Turns Big Flop

So here's where it all went wrong. Shortly after the install, we learned U-Verse didn't work. Literally. In the course of about six weeks, we stumbled upon every defect we would have never wished for. Including:

1) Not one - but both - receivers didn't work and had to be replaced. Since this was a new service, I was dumbfounded how new hardware could already be defective. Clearly these receivers couldn't catch the ball... much less a signal.

2) Shows we set to record didn't record at all.

3) Some one-hour shows were recorded. When we went to view them, they were literally one second long. That's what I call editing! After missing more season finales than I care to stomach, I realized this technology wasn't reliable and certainly not worth paying for.

4) We were told that the service was "cutting edge*" and more reliable than satellite TV that is often going out in a rain shower. So, surprisingly, in less than two weeks after install, we had technicians in our house for an entire day and later learned (along with the technicians) there was a network-wide service blackout in Dallas that we found out about at 4pm. Guess AT&T didn't send an FYI to their staff about the outage. Or issue a much needed phone call from the mother ship of telecom.

In retrospect, I later learned that AT&T threw this "U-Werse" product out into the market before it was really tested. We wound-up being the human guinea pigs fumbling into each and every deficiency a product had to offer. Even the phone rep told me "you aren't the only one."

From a marketing background, I later went back and dissected the marketing claims and felt there was so much lipstick on this pig, it couldn't get much "werse." Consequently, we took so much time off work to arrange the numerous service calls, we should be able to file a loss on our taxes.

AT&T + U-Verse = One Wretched Customer Experience

After coming to the conclusion that we had to have this disservice ripped out of our house, we called AT&T and learned that we would have to disconnect the service ourselves and reconnect our DirecTV service (for a charge). In fact, AT&T would not come out to retrieve the hardware they installed; we'd have to mail it back to them after waiting several days for boxes to be sent to us.

To make matters Werse, I was being hard-sold by AT&T on keeping my U-Werse DSL Gateway. All I needed to do was pay $5.00 more a month vs. the AT&T DSL Pro I already had and accept a separate bill from my other AT&T services. Um, no way, Jose!

Really. This new AT&T was quite a different from the former AT&T that couldn't wait to install this crap to begin with! The former actually worked around our work schedules and came out on a weekend for the install. The de-install was quite the opposite.

This legitimizes my belief that companies would rather lose a customer to gain a new customer than to do what's right to keep a customer happy.

Smelly Tellie

This relationship was wreaking a stench so foul and so far it smelled like month-old sardines.

For once, we outsmarted the fox. Well, sort of. We were lucky enough to never uninstall DirecTV so after we aborted the flawed service, we managed to reconnect DirecTV back ourselves and begin living our lives through programming like the rest of America.

Please Release Me...

So there we were. Unconnected. And Unsatisfied. But we were free from the ball and chain.

So we thought.

Statements started showing up for months reflecting a credit balance. We had received a credit during the hoo-hah when AT&T tried to save the deal with a "one month free" credit but as I told one poor rep "when I can't watch the shows I've set to record, no, you cannot pay me to live with this service."

Three months after receiving invoices reminding me of the credit, I finally took the time to call-in and ask for the balance to be refunded to me. The AT&T rep told me that I was not entitled to the money "because no monies had been paid." How brilliant!

Screw the fact my left hand was writing checks for years to who (oh yeah - AT&T) for my local, LD and cell bills. The new AT&T wasn't answering that customer's needs anymore. Ironically, five months after disconnecting, I am still receiving invoices reflecting the credit despite three attempts now to "make it all go away."

The velocity by which my mailbox started being stuffed weekly with reinstated U-Verse trash-mail despite my multiple attempts to be removed from the U-Verse mailing list is greater than before. It's like Godzilla's middle finger protruding from my mailbox each time I open it.

So long, U-Werse. You're like reoccuring reflux and I'll always hate you. Try you once, shame on you.

Try you twice? Not gonna happen!

* You're reading the legal per my earlier plea, which is a good thing.

By "cutting edge" I suppose AT&T means the ability to pause only ONE DVR ever per household. This was a major set-back for us as we pause live TV in the living room at night on DVR #1 and pause live TV in the morning in the bedroom on DVR #2 while getting ready for work with DirecTV's better than cutting edge solution. So recording four TV shows at once doesn't do so well when you can only do that on ONE DVR per household. You can add as many "viewers" as your wallet can shove in your house yet ONLY ONE will be able to record and/or pause live shows. A small detail AT&T has left out of their advertising.

Read the fine print regarding how many hours you can record with the "cutting edge" hi-def. It's exponentially much less than you might expect!

Read the details, folks!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rebate Hate

a.k.a. Bait Hate

As an individual with fifteen years experience in the advertising industry, it's both professionally and personally depressing to realize the degree by which customer service has deteriorated. It's spreading this country like a plague.

Gone are the days of Mr. Oleson's Mercantile where people skipped happily out the door with an apple, some flour and a good story to share when they got home. Hello to the days of law suits and outsourcing customer service while ensuring strict adherence to the "bottom line" regardless of quality.

Today's consumer experiences can best be likened to a salmon feverishly trying to swim upstream.

Why, then, are many consumer experiences so unfulfilling? So frustrating? One reason is found in the nucleus of that ball of frustration. The clever marketing bait: THE REBATE.

"So, What's In It For Me?"

I recently had the pleasure of renewing my service contract with AT&T for a new PDA. You see, my last PDA and I agreed to terminate our hate/hate relationship after two years of mutually tormenting each other. No more dropped calls. No more buttons that didn't work. No more cursing.

A Victim No More?

On January 6th, I set my renewed hope on a Blackberry Curve, which I have since been thrilled with. I skipped into the office the day after my online purchase boasting about how I scored it for 100 clams. My office mates didn't understand how I did it. "It was easy," I said.

All I had to do was: 1) Renew my commitment with my service provider for another two years. Who cares about the fact that I've paid thousands of dollars over the past five years alone to my AT&T for the privilege of being their customer; 2) Pay an $18 upgrade fee. Again, for the privilege of upgrading my sub-optimal experience; 3) Pay $200 for the PDA and; 4) Ah, yes, get my $100 rebate, which means I'm really paying $100.

Apparently, getting this rebate wasn't going to be easy.

I later learned AT&T went out of their way to make getting the advertised rebate extremely difficult. The new PDA was shipped without a rebate form. The order confirmation emails I received mentioned nothing of the rebate. Best of all, the online rebate form was taken OFFLINE from ATT.com on January 20th when it was promptly replaced with "fresher bait."

So while the rebate promotion period is valid until March 4th, the ability to find the rebate form was removed six weeks before it expires? That's hateful!

After 45 minutes on the phone with an AT&T representative, I was finally emailed the rebate form. After completing the form which asked for me to regurgitate in writing all the information AT&T already had on file AND deface the product packaging in order to rip-off the "IMEI Proof of Purchase" label required for the rebate process, I now await my rebate in about 8 weeks. Two months.


Rebates Decoded

There's a term in the industry called "breakage."

  • From the marketer's perspective, breakage is what happens when someone doesn't redeem an offer you extend as bait. For example, not capitalizing on a rebate you were entitled to but forgot to send back in. For marketers, breakage is like beefing up the bottom line (profit). Like realized savings. Or a rebate, right? WRONG!
  • From a consumer's perspective, breakage occurs when they get screwed.

Rebates are nothing more than a maddening exercise. Rebates require flawless attention to detail, a timely response and lots of patience as you wait for whatever it is (a check or rebate card) to show up weeks after you purchase something. Personally, I think I could perform the perfect balance beam back-flip with better odds than navigating this life without any rebates gone unfulfilled.

In the case of my Blackberry purchase, the "Promotion Card," should I be lucky enough to ever see it, will only be valid for 120 days - just 60 days longer than the time it took to wait for the card in the first place. So there's more opportunity for breakage if I don't use the funds on the card before they expire.

If you try and use the cards for amounts greater than what's on the card, brace yourself. You have to use the precise amount on the card or a lesser amount. I spent many a maddening
moment at the POS (that's Point Of Sale for you people not in the business) wondering why my card was constantly being denied before I figured out this little nugget. Thus, promotion cards don't "work" like gift cards. So much for convenience.

Tricks Of The Bait Trade

There are six tricks I've learned that are simple for sharing:

1) First off, always get your rebate form in your hands wherever you were enticed with it. In my case, I should have known to print the rebate form from the website the day I bought the phone vs. expecting my provider to take care of me by enclosing it with the product;

2) After making copies of everything you return by snail mail, make yourself a reminder to ensure you get your promotion card as you will most likely forget about it after a two-month fulfillment cycle;

3) When your incentive card finally arrives, RUN - don't walk - to the nearest retailer and redeem that sucker for all it's worth. Putting it in your wallet or purse will likely result in what?
That's right, breakage!;

4) Strive to redeem the card one time for the full amount originally loaded on the card;

5) If you don't adhere to #4 above, make sure you know the remaining amount on the card by putting a sticky with the leftover dollars and cents on the card and tell the salesperson the exact amount to process; the balance you'll have to make good with another form of payment. Let's hope it's not another "promotion card" and;

6) Light candles and pray hard to whatever Greater Form you believe in during this process.

Red. With Envy.

I look back now and wish this consumer experience could require a little less involvement by me in order to get what's due. Until then, the hate for the rebate rages within.

Ultimately, your ability to successfully navigate the choppy waters of rebates depends on how well you fish, or (quite literally) cut bait.

More On Rebates Link #1

More On Rebates Link #2

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Destination Frustration

Viva Italia!

If you've never had the opportunity to visit Italy, you need to shut this window down and book a trip there immediately. You will be changed for the better for ever.

I first experienced Italy in the Summer of 2006 when I "avoided" turning 40 by going on my first out of the country vacation. And oh, what a vacation it was! Naples, Capri, Pompeii, Rome and Florence. In just eight whirlwind days.

The love I have for Italy produced a second return trip there in 2007. I visited Genoa, Cinque Terre, Portofino and performed a perfect 10.0 dismount from Nice, France back to the States. This second trip was even better than the first and deepened my love for the country and it's people.

Love + My Credit Union = Hate

That love was augmented with full-on hate as I realized I was abandoned by my credit union just shortly after leaving American soil.

For some mystery of the unexplained, my credit card was promptly "deactivated for my protection" when I tried withdrawing Euro-cash at the Italian "Bancomat" on Day 1 of my trip. Little did I know at the time the card was deactivated because the error message at the terminal was not very specific.

I presumed it was because the ATM's network was unique and may not process foreign cards so I tried again at another location. And another. And another. On day FOUR of my trip all hope was lost as I realized nobody was accepting me - or my funds.

Frustration turned panic as I realized that I was in a fantastically foreign country with limited Italian-speaking skills, little remaining cash and NO CASH PRIVILEGES, compliments of Texans Credit Union.

Texans Discredit Union

How would I eat? How would I buy any souvenirs for friends? Would I have to sleep in a borrowed box?

The $400 US Dollars I brought with me were wearing extremely thin, as was my patience. I had already borrowed cash from my partner and was embarrassed to say the least. I felt like a circus freak thrown out of his own circus.

So, Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Prior to the first year's trip, I was cautioned by an internationally savvy friend that domestic credit cards may not be automatically "turned on" for international purchases. So I called the credit union in advance of my trip to ensure they had my travel dates. No problems, Year 1.

I replicated the same approach for Year 2, yielding much different results.

Since the small-sized credit union was only open limited hours and timing was hard because of the seven hour difference I opted to call my CHASE credit card, who smartly offered 24-hour customer service. Go figure.

A half-day later and she-bang! I used my CHASE card with success.

Brace Yourself, Italy!

I bought. I spent. I purchased. I spanked that CHASE card for the remainder of the trip and couldn't wait until I returned to the USA so I could return the favor, by spanking Texans Credit Union.

I called them and released the larger than Vesuvius-sized rage from within. The poor lady I spoke with had nothing to say. No explanation. No canned excuses. Nothing.

After three more talks with representatives from Texans, I was finally presented with the answer "We have no idea why your card was deactivated." They could see in my account that I had called ahead and yes, that my card was deactivated.

Thanks, Texans for confirming your organization is about as lame as a cold, wet blanket.

From what I could gather after the debacle, Texans outsourced their credit card operations and the credit card provider didn't get the 4-1-1 from Texans that I was traveling. And yes, it was left to me to determine that the two companies didn't talk when things went wrong. Sounds like a fantastic operating procedure, huh?!?

So when the card was deactivated, there were no escalation procedures to notify me.

1) I was never notified of the issue via phone or in writing. Ever.
2) I never received a reason for the malfunction.
3) I never received anything for the mishap or the shite it caused.

WTF? This is protection? Where was access to my funds?

What I felt I deserved was some serious credit to my account. How about $500 for the pain and f'd up suffering on what was to have been my second trip of a lifetime? Not even 1/2% off on my next loan? A toaster?


I have to believe I'm not the only traveler this has happened to. Or, is their a bigger force out there working solely against me?

This month, my last account with the dirty-handed Texans Credit Union will be closed bringing to end an eight year, unfortunate relationship.

In retrospect, "The ruins of Italy met the ruins of customer service, compliments of Texans Credit Union." And I was punished in the process.

As for you, Italy, I shall return!
(sans the Texans credit card)

Psssst! Italy Lover? Read more about my Italy experiences here and here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dirty Cleaners

It was love at first site.

He was handsome. Just my type. He felt good in my arms - soft and warm. Smelled good, too. We were a little out of each other's "preferred" age bracket. But it's OK. He loved me, too! (Sorry, Joe).

$54.00 later (made possible via a birthday gift card from my fabulous cousin Julie), I bolted out of Nordstrom with my new love: a previously unwanted "hoodie."

Who am I to blame? This hoodie was left for dead on the sale rack. But now, he's mine. All mine! Sure, I am 41. Not 100% a skateboarder boy (more like "less than 2%" only because I briefly rode a skateboard in 1976), but I can pull-off the skull-and-cross-bone hoodie with a cap, a day's stubble and frowned-lip, right?


"Skully" and I made our first reveal at a party for Thanksgiving, 2007. We were the perfect match. Boy meets joy. The couple everyone was talking about.

The more I ate, the more Skully forgave. My Thanksgiving pot-belly was cleverly disguised behind two pockets and one bad-ass design! (check it out above, if you don't believe me). Stacy and Clinton would be proud.

We made two public appearances thereafter... one of which happened when we went to the cleaners to drop-off the "undesirables." (a.k.a. the dirties). You're probably asking "Do you usually remember what you're wearing when you go to the cleaners?" Well, um, "Nope." But this day was special because I was wearing my Hoodie.

The Un-Freakin'-Believable Hoodie!

Two weeks later and after many unfulfilled searches-turned panic, I discovered the tragic: "Skully" was officially missing!

I checked and re-checked the clothes-bin. The closets. The trunk of my car. The roof. My Hoodie Love was nowhere to be found.

I stood motionless in front of the closet admiring all the freshly-pressed clothes. I rechecked them again. And again. No Skullie. No way! It was obvious to me the place where we were last separated. The Cleaners. U.S. Cleaners on Greenville Avenue, to be precise.

I did the absolute: I called the cleaners to inquire into the whereabouts of The Hoodie. The dealio went down something like this (please note the customer service guy's real name has been replaced with "Bocefus" to protect the guilty - or at least the one who works for a crooked organization and defends it).

Bocefus re-educated me on their flawless QA Process. You see, there was absolutely no way that The Hoodie could have been lost while in their care because: 1) when clothes were dropped off, they were counted in front of me before I left; 2) recounted again internally at various check-points as the workers personally checked, verified and initialed the quantity so the order was certified complete; and 3) the hi-tech computer system authenticated the quantity of articles.

Sounds flawlessly great, right?


Here's where Bocefus went wrong - I was a customer of U.S. Cleaners for about a year so I'm 100% aware of the process. The real process. Not the one to "speak to" when things go wrong. Clothes were NOT counted in front of me before I left. I'd hand them to Bocefus and he'd print a receipt with NO QUANTITY on it. After I left the store, Bocefus would "do his magic."

Well, this disappearing act had me steamed like a lobster! The kicker was when Bocefus told me that he was sure The Hoodie was at my house or "I left it at a friend's house."

Gee, Bocefus, you must really think you know me well but you really don't know me at 'tall.
  1. I hate people. And therefore I can count my friends on one human hand. None of these fine folks have my Hoodie;

  2. I would NEVER leave The Hoodie "at a friend's house" because: a) um, re-read #1 and b) oh yeah, I don't take my clothes off at people's houses!
I know this for fact because I wore Skully proudly as a shirt - not a jacket. And I don't take my shirts off at people's houses.

I was oh so careful with the thing and had it dry cleaned because it's hems were deconstructed and I wanted only the best for the little guy. This love was going to last the long-haul.

Bocefus, I understand if things get lost, but fess-up to it. It is clear to me that if the thing wasn't lost, it was stolen.

Perhaps Bocefus admired my Hoodie that day when I walked my Rock Star Ass proudly into the store.

As a result, U.S. Cleaners has lost this customer for the rest of his lovelost life! What may seem like a trivial loss was much more than that. My Skully love and I were torn apart.

U.S. Cleaners? You really take the cake. AND the Hoody!

Because of this, you've lost my love and won my hate and my vote and for being "the dirty cleaners!"

This experience is another impeccable example of living my large life stumbling upon consumer victim tragedies almost faster than I can write 'em up!

Ironically, while researching the hoodie details for this post, I was surprised of a few things: 1) The hoodie is still being sold by Fender; 2) Fender's tagline is "Fender Clothing - the ultimate Rock Star Status"... and this was exactly how I felt while wearing The Hoodie; and 3) Per Fender, The Hoodie was cleverly named "SKULLY Argyle Hoodie." It is fate or happenstance that I also coined the name Skully for the little guy?

Inquiring minds may never know!