Customer Service

The Upgrade Factor

imageI have been an AT&T cellphone customer since the Cingular days. More than ten years of cell use, and a full time data user since the day iPhone 1.0 dropped at the local AT&T store. I was third in line to get my handset. Over the last few years I have gone from upgrading to each new phone, to every other phone. The feature upgrades simply don’t justify the cost of buying a new phone every 12 months. So, I am finally upgrading from an iPhone 4S to an iPhone 5S, which should arrive in the next week. (I would have had it sooner, but I got a gold handset)

Two days ago I received my monthly bill from AT&T and noticed there was an extra $36.00 charge on the bill. A “One time upgrade fee”. So being the diligent customer I called them to talk about what it was, why I was charged it, and what they could do about it. You see I don’t want to drop AT&T, since I am grandfathered in with unlimited data as an original iPhone 1 buyer. The conversation below is a synopsis of what happened with AT&T customer service, and some info I got from a former AT&T rep that I have known for years. I am not going to use anyones names, and I want to point out the AT&T customer service reps were polite, went by the book, and did what they have been told to do. None the less, if AT&T continues to charge upgrade fees, I’ll be switching in 18 to 24 months.

The Conversation.

Hi, this is AT&T rep one, how can I help you?

Hi Rep one, I got my phone bill today and I noticed a new charge for $36.00. It says it’s upgrade fee, what is it and what can we do about it? I’ve a customer for more than ten years and you all have never charged me for upgrading handsets before.

Rep One: AT&T now has a policy where we charge a handset upgrade fee. In addition on next months bill you’ll probably see a $6.00 activation fee for your new phone as well.

Me: Hmmmm, is there anything we can do about this? I hate to say it, but if you are going to charge me to upgrade my phone, I’m probably going to dump you.

Rep One: Well there is nothing I can do. I don’t have authorization to waive any fees.

Me: Is there someone I can talk to that can?

Rep One: Let me put you on hold and talk to my manager. He might be able to do something.

I said OK and was on hold for about 5 minutes.

Rep One: My manager said there is nothing we can do. We can’t waive any fees.

Me: Can I talk to your manager?

Rep One: Why? He is going to tell you what I just told you he said.

Me: Rep One I know your hands are tied and you are just doing your job, but I really want to speak to someone a level above you that might be able to help me out here. So I’d like to speak with your boss, and see if he can help me or point me to someone who can.

Rep One: I’m going to put you on hold and transfer you to him.

Another five minutes of holding listening to bad music and ads. Actually I’m not sure about the ads, I kind of tuned it all out after a while.

Rep Two: Hi this is ______ How can I help you?

Me: Hi Rep Two, I’m sure rep one explained the situation to you. I have been a long time customer, and I don’t want to pay $36.00 to upgrade my phone. Especially when no one can tell me why I am being charged and what the money is for. I also don’t want to pay $6.00 just for turning the new phone on when I get it. So What can AT&T do to waive these fees since they seem to be financial padding rather than actual fees for something like line maintenance or a tax.

Rep Two: There is nothing I can do in this office. My hands are tied. AT&T has been charging this for over a year now. If you didn’t pay it in the past, it is possible that the rep at the store where you bought your last phone waived the fees. By the way all carriers are charging these fees now, so you should probably get used to it. (Yes he actually said that)

Me: Are you telling me an Apple store employee, where I bought my last phone has the authority to waive AT&T fees?

Rep Two: Um, maybe.

Me: Rep Two I know you are doing your job and following AT&T policy, but you are going to lose me over $42.00. You are going to let a customer slip away. A customer that will be locked into a 24 month contract at about $100.00 a month. If you do the math AT&T is going to make a hell of a lot of mooney off of me in the next 24 months. Is it worth letting me go for 42 bucks? Are you sure there is no one I can talk to that can help me out? There is no one that will waive these fees for me?

Rep Two: Let me put you on hold. I am going to transfer you to a different office that might be able to waive some of the fees for upgrading, but I can’t promise anything.

Me: That’s OK. Transfer me and I’ll give it a shot.

Five more minutes on hold and I am transferred to an office in Austin Texas.

Rep Three: Hi my name is ________ How can I help you?

Me: (I explain the situation to Rep Three)

Rep Three: No Problem Wade, I understand completely, and I can take care of that. Please bear with me while I pull up your account and make the adjustments. Hold for just a second.

Two minutes later.

Rep Three: Mr. Johnston, I have credited your account $42.00 and waived all of the upgrade fees for your new phone. Just to let you know, it is now AT&T policy to charge for upgrading certain handsets. The iPhone is on that list so if you upgrade next year you’ll probably see this again.

Me: Why just certain handsets?

Rep Three: I’m sorry Sir, I really don’t have an answer for that I just know what the current AT&T policy is.

Me: That’s OK Rep Three I know you are just doing your job. Thanks for your help, and thanks for getting this sorted out.

The conversation ends in typical fashion and I’m satisfied.

Now here’s the rub. Later in the week I am talking to friend of mine that was with AT&T for more than twenty years. The guy started out as a call center rep back in the day and managed to rise to a mid-senior level department manager. This is what he told me. He said that the upgrade fee is bogus. Thats right its a bullshit charge that AT&T has tacked on to your bill when you get a new phone, because according to him, “80 percent of the people just pay it and never question it. No one ever asks AT&T to waive the fees.” The upgrade really doesn’t cover much of anything. He said if I had pressed it and taken it to a level higher, I probably would have got someone on the phone that would have told me what the fee covered, but the reality is it’s probably a bogus policy AT&T has in place to make up for other fees they have been forced to drop over the last few years. It’s financial padding to cover loss to competition, emerging carriers, state and federal taxes, and other items AT&T has no control over. They are passing their loss on to the customer hoping no one will call them on it.

So here it is folks. Check your bill. If there is an item you don’t get, or you don’t like, it’s worth 30 minutes of your time on the phone to get the issue resolved.

A Double Review. Zappos & PUMA’s Furio V Ferrari Driving Shoe.

This is a double product/store review. First it is about Zappos, where I bought a new pair of driving shoes. No not the slip on driving moccasins that you wear when you need to go business casual. Driving shoes like the kind that supports the back of your foot and increases roll between the pedals when you are really driving your car.  So first lets talk about

zappos_logoI spend a lot of time researching products online before I buy them, and in many cases that research turns into an online sale. 90 percent of the time it’s free shipping and no tax that sells me on an online store purchase. I am satisfied with waiting a few days if it saves me some cash in the long run.  I have been using Zappos since the first month that they went live on the internet. I had read a couple of online articles about the company and how they were poised to become the Amazon of shoes and apparel.

JUst incase you didn’t know it by now Zappos sells shoes, but their website proclaims that they’re a “service company that just happens to sell shoes”. That term by its very nature, can be a bit hard to believe. Many websites claim  to have spectacular service and few actually live up to the claim. Zappos follows through on it.

The ten-year old company, founded in 1999, sells an immensely wide variety of shoes and now apparel. Their website is easy to navigate, and when searching for shoes you can see customer reviews of each shoe, along with the percentage of customers who felt that the shoe was true to their size, true to their width and that the shoe had good arch support.

The reality is that most people are uncomfortable buying shoes online. This happens for a number of reasons. Because of things like the fit of a shoe is a very personal thing. Because styling doesn’t always hold true to the online image, or because there is a perception that returns, or customer service is going to be a hassle.

I often range from a size 12 to 13 when buying shoes, it depends on the brand.So I almost never know if the shoe I’m going to get from an online store will fit perfectly or not. That’s where the Zappos return and shipping policy comes in. It is flawless. Each shoe ships with a pre-printed return label. If the shoe isn’t what you expected or it doesn’t fit put it back in the box, slap the label on it and call the UPS 800 number for a pick up. If for some reason you have lost the label, call the Zappos 800 number, or go online to print a new one. I have purchased allot of shoes from Zappos, and I have returned at least 5 pairs. I have never had any trouble. The customer service is simply amazing.

In terms of the site, navigation, and shopping cart process, Zappos is comparable to other ecommerce websites . One stand out feature though is their “Larger Image and Alternate views” which are fantastic.  You get a real sense for what you are purchasing.  However, what truly sets them apart is their massive selection and service.

As for the selection – it’s so extensive it can almost be overwhelming.  You can find everything from high-end brands to everyday options.   Also try their search functionality – you can find specific items very easily (try automotive racing shoe,  with heel support, etc). And on top of this is an excellent filtering engine that lets you refine your search by size, width, color, materials etc.

Where the genius of Zappos really begins is when you place an order.  First of all, it arrives within 2 days (though lately it has been arriving the next day at no extra charge).   So if you need something for the weekend and it’s Wednesday – you are going to have your product in hand by Friday.   Second, you don’t get charged some crazy fee for the rush delivery.  In fact, you don’t get charged at all.  Free shipping, and free returns always.

One of the challenges of buying shoes online is of course, fit.  So once again that’s why Zappo’s super easy return policy is so helpful.  I bought two pairs of dress loafers winter which often are hard to get the right fit. One worked, but the other didn’t.  The return was not a problem. I had accidentally tossed the return label, so there were literally 3 steps I had to follow

1. Go to and print out a return slip and put it in the box.
2. Print out the pre-paid return label and place it on the exterior of the return box.
3. Take the box and drop it off at UPS/USPS, or call UPS for a pick up.

No charge, no hassle.  It really couldn’t be easier.

Lastly, there is their telephone customer service.  It really has to be mentioned it because  it is so extraordinary.  As easy as their online service is, sometimes you just need to talk to a live person.  At Zappos, there is no aggravating automated system, or long annoying wait time.  You can talk to a live person within one menu selection and about 5 seconds. Seriously! More over they are courteous and knowledgeable.  I love it. One of my most hated things is automated phone services that eventually end up having you talk to someone in a call center on the other side of the world.

As a business, Zappos places a lot of emphasis on their customer service and it really shows.  There tag line says it all. “Powered by Service.Be Passionate and Determined.”

Now for the new driving shoes I got.

PUMAOriginally I was going to get another pair of Piloti Avus, but when I hit the Zappos site they didn’t have them, so I did a quick search on automotive racing shoes, then narrowed the results by size and started sorting through the selections. After digging around, I settled in on a couple of different brands but ultimately settled on the new PUMA Furio V Ferrari for a couple of reasons. Fist off while it is a true performance driving shoe, it can be worn every day without any discomfort. Second, it looks cool. I know not the smartest factor when looking for a shoe with a specific need. None the less, as a designer the way something looks is going to effect my purchase.

M StrapThe shoe itself features the  Furio M Strap, and a co-molded rubber heel that allows for perfect roll and range of motion required while driving. The molded rubber heal wraps around the back of your foot creating a stable brace that allows you to move quickly between the accelerator and the brake with limited impedance. The exterior is full leather, and the interior is flame resistant, photo(17)(although I seriously doubt I’ll be driving in any conditions where this might be needed). The asymmetrical forefoot pad follows the natural outline of the foot ensuring maximum contact and pedal feel. Something that I find very important, since the pedals in the MINI are a bit on the small size and I have some big old feet.

The shoe does not lace but instead uses PUMA’s alternative strap closure for full  customization, comfort and fit all with a contemporary  look that is stylish yet not overpowering. The strap itself is finished with a TPU pull which is mixed with rich textures and functional form.

photo(12)The shoe features a low-profile outer sole which is a re-invented interpretation of PUMA UNI construction that is used in a number of their driving shoes This construction type  offers performance benefits while driving, and it helps to lower the weight of the shoe. This model weighs in at 10.9 ounces.

The shoe does run a bit narrow, and the fit is quite snug. The shoe was designed this way on purpose. It helps you to feel the pedal against your foot while driving. And I have to say that the heel brace might put some people off, since it really grips the back of your foot. My suggestion is this, if you want them buy them. If they don’t fit or they feel funny to you, send them back using Zappos super simple return policy.