In an unfortunate turn of events, particularly considering the recent FTC suit against AT&T in response to allegations of false advertising concerning their Unlimited Data throttling practices, it seems we’ve uncovered yet another issue of false advertising on AT&T’s part — this time concerning their advertised Double Data promotion.

…customer support management verified false advertisement and then told in-store management, on speakerphone, in front of their customer and the entire store, that they were unwilling to do anything to correct the customer’s negative experience and that the customer could take their business elsewhere if they were unsatisfied…

According to AT&T’s website, their widely talked about Double Data promotion (recently extended through November 15th) applies to all “Mobile Share” plans (15GB and up) for new and existing customers alike. This is great news for AT&T data users, as they can simply upgrade their existing plan to a promotional plan to permanently double their existing data allotment at no additional charge.

However, unlike their phone-based Mobile Share counterparts, device-based, data-only Mobile Share plans — such as those for tablets, laptops, and MiFi hotspots — require a visit to one of AT&T’s retail locations or a call to customer support to get started. This is where things get complicated and AT&T customer support starts passing the buck.

We visited AT&T’s retail location in downtown Albuquerque, NM to inquire about getting a 30GB Mobile Share Data plan on an Apple iPad Air 2. The plan was (and still is) advertised on AT&T’s website at $100/month ($90 + a $10 per-device access fee).

AT&T 30GB MobileShare Data Plan
AT&T Website (att.com) | Shop > Wireless > Help Me Choose a Data Plan > Tablet | Click for full image  

Our sales associate was very helpful and professional, but after 10 minutes of trying to locate the plan in their system was unable to do so. After verifying the plan on AT&T’s website, our associate used the in-store chat to get a hold of a support representative to see if they had the plan code in their system. After a 25 minutes conversation (and sharing a screen shot), support confirmed the plan’s existence, but reported that it was only available as an upgrade for existing customers.

We were assured that we could upgrade our plan at any time after a 24-hour account hold for the system to update, as well as reassured that the Double Data promotion applied to all existing AT&T customers who requested to take advantage of it, so we went ahead and registered for the 10GB plan ($70/month) and said we would return the following day to perform the upgrade to the $100/month 15GB plan (30GB w/ Double Data).

The next day was Friday and traffic was was a mess so we didn’t make it back until Saturday, but when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised. Not only were we able to catch up with the same sales associate, but we also retained the assistance of the assistant manager, both of whom were amazingly helpful. Through no fault of their own (I can’t stress that enough), what followed was a grueling 3 hours of conversation with AT&T support staff, both over the phone and via in-store online text chat, as well as conversations with phone and chat support’s management and a relayed call placed to phone support’s upper management, none of whom could find a Double Data, Mobile Share, Data-only plan in their system, but all parties did confirm that the website does indeed list the plan as a customer option.

More to the point, no one in corporate was willing to directly try to make the situation right with the customer, or even provide an adequate explanation.

Phone support told our sales associate they couldn’t verify the plan so I got on the phone and walked them through finding it on their website, at which point they said they needed to confer with their manager and put us on hold for 20 minutes. After the wait, I asked to switch things over to speakerphone and the assistant manager jumped in to hash things out with phone support’s management. Their only provided “solution” was that we could instead pay $185 (+$10 access fee) for the standard 30GB Mobile Share Data plan. When he told them he didn’t think we would find that acceptable they said they would call us back. 10 minutes later we received a call from a phone support manager who reported she’d spoken with her manager who in turn said it was an issue to be taken up with the in-store online chat support team (in other words, “it’s not our problem”).

At this point the assistant manager took a different tack. He mentioned that she was on speakerphone with the customer, in case she had any questions for us, and asked if there was anything they or he could do “in the name of customer experience” to make things right for us. He asked if a recurring credit could be applied to the account. They said no. He asked if a one-time credit could be applied to the account to cover the difference for the first few months. They said no. He asked if the $10 device access fee could be waived. They said no. He asked if there was anything that could be done to make the customer experience more palatable given that the advertised service could not be provided. They said no, not on their end, but he could put us on the non-promo $185 plan or try online chat support. They also told us we were welcome to cancel our service with AT&T free of charge if we did so within 14 days.

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Let me reiterate — AT&T’s customer support management verified false advertisement and then told in-store management, on speakerphone, in front of their customer and the entire store, that they were unwilling to do anything to correct the customer’s negative experience and that the customer could take their business elsewhere if they were unsatisfied.

As an addendum, they filed a ticket to have the website changed to no longer offer the Double Data promotion for Mobile Share data-only plans, but it still does at this time of this writing.

First off, not the intended result. While I don’t appreciate intentional false advertising, I understand that accidents happen, and we as the consumer have the option of taking our business elsewhere. However, when things escalate to corporate management, it’s their job to take care of the situation (and their frontline sales team) and attempt to make things right as soon as possible — not to pass the buck to the next line of support staff, and certainly not to tell the customer to shove off. There’s little point in a hierarchical management structure in which no level of management has the ability to make any concessions to alleviate public-facing corporate mistakes… but I digress.

So we, our sales associate, and the manager-on-duty waited another 15 minutes for an available in-store online chat support representative. Not to give you any spoilers, but they couldn’t help us or the sales team either.

The process began again — we explained the issue and chat support said they couldn’t find the plan in their system. We told them it’s on the website and they said they couldn’t find it on the website. We walked them through it and they verified that it was, indeed, on the website, but said they couldn’t do anything unless it was in their system. So they went to get a manager.

Short Version: Chat support management suggested that it’s really the store manager’s job to correct the situation (of course they did). Just pass that buck back to the retail location to locally authorize a recompense for a mistake completely beyond their control.

Well, the store manager has no ability to alter billing plans or provide account credits, but even if he could, he’s out of town on vacation until mid next week. We got our sales associate’s business card. We got the assistant manager’s business card. We got the store manager’s business card. And most importantly we got a promise that we would receive a phone call from one of them when the manager was back in store and had figured out the situation.

In the mean time, we went ahead and upgraded our plan — but not to the ridiculous suggestion of the $185(+$10) 30GB data plan. We upgraded to the $130(+$10) 30GB (Double Data) “Mobile Share Value Unlimited Talk & Text” plan, obviously. So now we have the data we want, at $40 more than we intended to spend, with unlimited talk and text on a device that does neither of those things, for $50 less than what customer support management suggested was the best they could do, short of us canceling our service.

Way to go guys. Epic Fail. I think I owe your sales staff lunch for keeping a smile and doing their best to handle corporate’s mess.


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2 Comments on "AT&T False Advertising: Double Data Disaster"

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Bret Knight
You guys may wish to consider switching carriers. I was a loyal PacBell, then Cingular and finally AT&T mobile customer from around 1997 through 2011 -14 years- Bought our first gen iPhones (full price, no subsidy) from them. When we decided to upgrade to iPhone 4S’s several years later AT&T refused to subsidize them and they were determined to change our data plan. After months of calls I decided to jump ship. When we were considering another carrier, due to other (non-mobile) customer service issues with Verizon, that wasn’t going to happen, so we went with Sprint. Sprint has been… Read more »