10/31/2011 02:21 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2011

AT&T's Customer Service Problem

Since I made the switch from BlackBerry in 2007, any attempt by other smartphone makers to lure me to another device have fallen short, in my biased opinion. I've been anticipating the iPhone 4S like any self respecting Apple evangelist. With the new iPhone, Sprint joins Verizon and AT&T as the latest service provider to offer the gadget. According to reports, the iPhone 4S sold 4 million units this past weekend. It's worth noting that Research In Motion's extended outage could have led to increased interest in Apple's device.

As it's happened in the past, service providers like AT&T, are overwhelmed by the number of new activations, and customers are not shying away from tweeting their frustrations. Others, like myself, are "frustrated" because pre-orders have been unfulfilled through delays and cancellations, and we can also be found on social media trying to get issues resolved.

Of the companies that use social media to address customer service issues, some are more successful than others. For example, a recent report from Eezeer showed that 83.9% of customers tweeted at airlines in September 2011 for customer service related issues. Southwest Airlines received the largest number of mentions but when looking at the trending topics, it was noted that most of the mentions were due to an unfortunate incident where a passenger was asked to deplane and tweeps took to twitter to let their discontent be known. According to the Better Business Bureau, AT&T has "a team of more than 20 of its top performing customer service managers exclusively" responding via social media and an "AT&T survey indicated their customer service was actually exceeding people's expectations."

If the issue that some customers are having isn't the quality of customer service responses online, then perhaps it's necessary to take a look at AT&T's traditional points of contact with consumers. For example, in my experience on the phone and in-stores with AT&T representatives, I'm less than impressed by their ability to resolve issues. I've been with AT&T throughout my time with an iPhone and qualified for an upgrade for the new model. Following directions from all advertising and marketing from both Apple and AT&T on October 7, 2011, I went online to pre-order a phone that was supposed to be delivered on October 14, 2011.

Apple's site alerted me to the fact that I couldn't ship my phone to an address that was not my billing address, which I thought to be odd. I then phoned an Apple customer service representative who told me that AT&T had placed that restriction on all pre-orders. Now, I don't know about you but I don't have a doorman at my building and ordering a package to arrive without my being home to receive it doesn't feel like the brightest move in NYC.

At that point I decided to phone several AT&T stores to see what could be done. Store one told me that unfortunately I could not ship to an address that was not my billing address, but that wasn't new-news. Store two told me that they could take my name down and reserve a phone for me when they became available in-store. However, the representative didn't ask me the model, color or any other desired feature, and only took my name. I was not too confident that this would lead me to a new phone. Then, store three advised me that if I went down there I could pre-order the phone and have it shipped to their location for arrival on October 14: Jackpot [Insert sarcasm here]!

Fast forward to today where various unanswered posts to AT&T via Facebook, and both of their Twitter accounts, in addition to fruitless visits to store number three, have left me with the desire to switch service providers. While at the store this week, I commiserated with other customers over why our pre-ordered phones hadn't been delivered to the store for pick-up as promised, but shipments of phones for in-store sale had managed to make it on time. I couldn't even cancel my order because it was "in transit." Well, AT&T, technically your site says my order hasn't shipped. So not only is it not in transit, my order hasn't even been processed. Somewhere along the chain of communication at AT&T, misinformation is spreading like a bad game of telephone in a public school yard.

Apparently there are plenty of other customers who are content with the service they have received from AT&T. Based on AT&T's own survey, more that 100k of their Twitter followers and roughly 1.7 million Facebook users would agree. If AT&T could offer the same level of service on- and off-line, customers might be more understanding.

Hey, AT&T, can you hear me now?