How to lose a broadband customer on moving day

Customers moving is a chronic source of customer churn for telecom service providers, which is why some telcos have banded together to trade moving customers among one another and prevent them from switching to cable providers in the process.

Why, then, would AT&T make it so easy for customers to switch broadband providers when they merely transfer service from one location to another in the same town?

A friend who subscribes to AT&T landline voice and DSL service is moving across town and having his number transferred. Because he’s taking his number with him to the new address, AT&T told him, his DSL service can’t be dispatched at the new location until after it’s disconnected at the old location. (Though the details weren’t clear, the implication seemed to be that the ordering system would mistake the new location for the old one, since they have the same phone number.) As a result, AT&T warned of a three- to four-day gap between phone service at the new location and DSL service there. A gap during which the customer may well check out what the cable company has to offer. Why would AT&T take that chance? (As a matter of fact, I am told, that 3- to 4-day delay was originally described by AT&T as 3 to 4 weeks. That was before the subscriber asked to speak to a manager.)

After an AT&T technician turned up voice service on the new address, he called my friend to let him know it was up and running. “What about the DSL service?” my friend asked. “Can you turn that up, too, while you’re there?”

“There’s actually a disconnect order on that service,” the technician said, suggesting the aforementioned confusion. (There’s an order to disconnect DSL at the old address and install it at the new one, but they both have the same phone number.) When my friend explained the situation, the tech said the DSL order would probably come through soon.

“Could you call your employers now and verify the DSL order, so that you can provision it now, while you’re still at the address, and save yourself from having to come back later?”

The tech called his bosses and called my friend back, reporting, “They won’t let me.”

Granted, mammoth companies like AT&T don’t have the luxury of improvisation or flexibility in such processes; they need to be uniform and consistent, even at the price of efficiency sometimes. But where the standard processes conflict with the core mission of the company, which is to keep its own customers, they should be changed systemically.

I haven’t had much luck getting a better understanding from AT&T corporate as to why the above is allowed to take place. For those of you with firsthand knowledge of these processes, I’d love to hear (in the comments section below) why it works this way and why AT&T wouldn’t find a solution. Anyone?

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