AT&T’s Use of Authorized Dealers Raises Concerns for Workers and Customers

By: Daniel Moore

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about how AT&T’s use of third-party dealers is harming workers and lowering customer service quality for consumers. Some highlights of the article:

AT&T and Verizon, along with rivals Sprint and T-Mobile, have increased their sales in recent years by appointing third-party dealers to open new retail locations selling their cell phones and other products.

In the case of telecom companies, the system is confusing some customers and drawing barbs from unions who see authorized retailers as rogue entities with little accountability for customer service and worker standards.

Because of different sales systems, it is possible that a phone purchased at an authorized retailer can not be returned to a corporate store or another authorized retailer. But because the stores are often set up to look similar, some customers don’t know they are talking to another company’s employee.

For the union representing AT&T workers, the debate — which has gone on for years — gets a little more heated during contract negotiations like the ones going on now. The Communication Workers of America is bargaining for a new contract on behalf of 21,000 AT&T wireless employees, who see authorized retailers as an existential threat to their jobs in corporate stores.

A few weeks ago, the union released a report and set up a “consumer alert” website highlighting the issue of authorized retailers offering different levels of service.

In a poll of its members who work at corporate stores and call centers, 76 percent reported that customers came to them with “problems caused by third-party stores multiple times per week.” In addition, 83 percent responded that third-party stores are referring their customers to corporate-owned stores when a service issue arises.

“There’s no standardized training method, there’s no accountability from the AT&T side,” said James Stiffey, a retail sales consultant for AT&T for six years who works in the Cranberry corporate store. He said he sees several customers a week who are upset or confused at the nearby Wexford store, operated by an authorized retailer.

Read the full piece here.