Dr. Randall Hansen's Review of Review of AT&T vs. Verizon

This article is the second in a series in which I review the marketing and customer service of brands that I have interacted with at a deeper level than simply a purchase. This article focuses on the long and winding journey of buying/managing cell service with AT&T... and then Verizon.

I don't know many consumers who jump for joy over their cell service/plan/price, but when I first started out with cell service, I chose Verizon. When I got married about 5+ years ago, I switched to AT&T, which was my wife's provider. We had decent service and coverage while we were on our 2.5-year road trip, but once we started building our new home in Eastern Washington, we had some issues that led to a switch back to Verizon.

For something like cell service, performance and coverage are probably the most important -- followed by price and features/phones and... finally -- customer service.

The big question here is why is customer service such a lost art? Lack of training? Lack of support? Lack of having any power to make changes? I will not deal with companies that treat me like I am an idiot -- or make me talk to tens of different customer service people before finally getting bumped up to a supervisor who claimed she had no power and had no way to escalate the situation.

Our Experience with AT&T

We started our cell service relationship with AT&T in Southern California... and not sure if the AT&T Stores are better managed there versus in Eastern Washington, but we had good service in SoCal at the several AT&T Stores we visited. We were able to negotiate a new phone for me (even with a "free" tablet) and a good multi-person plan for both of us.

The problems with AT&T started when we moved to our property in Eastern Washington and needed a cell-based WiFi hotspot added to our plan so that we could do our work and stream shows on our network. In order to get the best deal on the hotspot, we needed to bundle it with AT&T TV... but the problem is that the AT&T Store in North Spokane not only did not bundle the services, but also blatantly lied about the pricing in order to get us out the door.

We called AT&T customer service about the pricing issue and were told that AT&T could do nothing about the pricing and that we had to "negotiate" with the store. No matter that we had the figures in writing from the AT&T Store salesman. But we contacted the store and the store manager simply refused to return our calls... so back to AT&T customer service, which again made it seem like we were dealing with two -- or three -- other companies. In fact, at one point, we were told AT&T TV was a completely separate entity (yet somehow bundled together with our cell service).

The old saying, beggars can't be choosers worked for us; we needed the hotspot and had decided we wanted to keep AT&T, even with the lies, lack of help, and sense of anger and frustration.

It wasn't until a local cell tower started malfunctioning that the problems with AT&T became too much.

First, when we called AT&T, they told us (multiple times) that either the tower was completely fine OR that it was undergoing maintenance, but only late in the day (for weeks). After weeks of weak and intermittent WiFi from late afternoon into the evening, we decided we had to make a break from AT&T and look into other options.

Toward the end of our desperation, I did post on LinkedIn about our issues and finally some AT&T folks offered to help -- but it was FAR too late. We had already visited a Verizon store and made the switch.

I can flatly say there is NO WAY ever that I would use AT&T again or ever walk into another AT&T Store. The lack of respect for customers is one bordering on negligence.

Our Experience with Verizon

Verizon is the top cell provider in our area -- the one company that has invested the most in new towers and better coverage, so it was a logical choice to switch to the Verizon network.

We actually went to an independent Verizon-authorized store in the next town over rather than going to an official Verizon Store in Spokane... and we had the absolute best experience.

We were able to upgrade our iPhones and obtain a Jetpack for our home WiFi needs. Between the phones and the Jetpack, we have almost 100 GB of hotspot data monthly -- ALL for a better price than we were paying for AT&T.

The store personnel were all professional. Our salesperson is a straight-shooter who clearly was very good at selling, but also upfront about fees and other issues... but when we told him our AT&T story, he took it to heart and really worked with us to get a great deal -- as well as easily handle the transfer of all our photos and other data from our old phones (and the cloud) to our new phones.

We did experience Verizon customer service because we were eligible for "switcher" rebates for making the switch from AT&T to Verizon -- but never received them. While there was some debate whether the store was more responsible than corporate, unlike AT&T, Verizon corporate came through with the rebates -- all the while treating us with respect.

Final Thoughts on AT&T vs Verizon

With the U.S. market (and many parts of the world) saturated with people who have cellphones and smartphones, cell companies need to be much more customer-focused and customer-friendly.

Looking at independent reviews, such as via Consumer Reports, one can see that switching can benefit many consumers: "According to Consumer Reports' most recent member survey, 55 percent of the people who had recently switched cell phone carriers said they saved money. Many of them also said they now enjoy more reliable coverage, faster data service, and better customer service." Furthermore, "AT&T was the lowest-rated provider, earning our worst rating for value and reception."

In terms of major providers, T-Mobile and Verizon always seem to top AT&T on value, data, reception, and customer service. Interestingly, the top brand reviewed by Consumer Reports was Ting Mobile, which rated a score quite above the big three. Still, most providers offer very similar plans and options, so the key for consumers is finding the company that best aligns with their needs/values.

One final note about AT&T from AT&T Class Action Lawsuit and Settlement News: The company has been accused of "misleading new consumers by offering nonexistent, expired reward cards, selling customer data, streaming charges related to Direct TV, and Unlimited data excess charges while slowing data fees. AT&T is not loyal to customers and has a reputation of looking for profit rather than supporting the customer base." Happily, AT&T is spinning off the entertainment elements and claims to be refocusing on telecommunications. (See: AT&T CEO John Stankey Signals Exit From Entertainment, Telling Investors, "We're Focused On Looking Forward")

Finally, while I realize there will always be consumers who misunderstand the contracts, who take advantage of loopholes or other issues, I still believe companies should have a mandate that puts customers first. As both a marketer and a consumer, you would not believe how incredibly irritating and annoying it is to hear the customer service representative (or manager) claim there is nothing that can be done for you or your situation -- basically confirming that you mean nothing to the company... that's how it was for AT&T with us; on the other hand, Verizon has always been both friendly and helpful (and resourceful).

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