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AT&T wireless employees used shady tactics to drive streaming TV subscription sales

Published Jun 25th, 2018 5:14PM EDT
DirecTV Now review 2018

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Thanks to AT&T’s successful merger with Time Warner, your favorite wireless company certainly isn’t just a wireless company any more. AT&T has fingers in more pies than you can count, and the key to making its new (and newly indebted!) business successful is by pushing all of its services to all possible customers. For AT&T wireless stores, that means a focus on selling streaming content and HBO subscriptions alongside data plans.

That sounds great in theory, but as we’ve seen before, any time that you introduce ambitious sales quotas and heavily commission-based compensation into the system, you’re going to get some unintended results. Hawaii News Now spoke to a number of AT&T employees in the state that say the company pushed them to use unethical sales tactics to push DirecTV Now subscriptions, using tricks within the system to artificially boost their new DirecTV Now subscriber numbers.

According to the report, sales representatives would offer a trial of the service for free, and say that they would cancel the subscription on the customer’s behalf before any payments would become due. “The managers basically encouraged us and informed us of how to manipulate sales,” said Abraham Buonya, AT&T’s top salesperson in the state for two years. “We were told by managers to cancel it to avoid any future headaches but a lot slips through the cracks,” he said.

Offering automatic cancellation of a trial is against AT&T’s policies, as it innately pads a store’s numbers for subscriber additions without any realistic hope of retaining the customers. An AT&T store manager in new York confirmed to BGR that DirecTV Now “attaches” — adding the streaming service onto another sale — have been closely tracked, and numbers used as part of compensation agreements.

Hawaii News Now‘s report also suggests that managers identified a loophole in the system that allowed them to inflate numbers even further. DirecTV Now trials required a credit card and a unique email address, but the same credit card could be used for multiple trials, so long as the charges didn’t exceed $35 (the regular cost of a DirecTV Now subscription) per card. Limited-time promos sometimes dropped the cost of a DirecTV Now account to just $10, so managers would reportedly create fake email addresses and re-use the same card to create multiple accounts.

“My manager picked up my iPad, which was signed in under me, made a fake email and then activated a Direct TV Now subscription on that email and then said if I can do it, here you go, you can do the next one,” a fired AT&T employee told HNN.

“Last fall, we detected some simultaneous customer orders and cancellations of a free product trial,” an AT&T spokesperson told BGR. “We determined some employees had violated our policies and based on our findings we took appropriate action. We reversed any unauthorized activity in the very few cases where customers incurred charges.”

Cases of employees and store managers “gaming the system” to meet sales targets or earn commission are nothing new for the wireless industry. BGR has previously reported on widespread instances of cramming devices, insurance plans, or new lines across many T-Mobile stores. With store managers often under corporate pressure to meet sales targets or “attach rates” for specific products, individual workers and low-level managers often find unethical ways to hit specific targets, and the attentiveness — or lack thereof — of corporate oversight can make the difference in a good or bad sales culture.

DirecTV Now has grown faster than most people expected since being launched in November 2016. It’s the second-biggest live streaming service behind Sling, but much of that subscriber growth has come at the expense of profits. Industry sources have told BGR that AT&T is selling the bundle at or below cost, and the service has yet to make a profit.

Chris Mills
Chris Mills News Editor

Chris Mills has been a news editor and writer for over 15 years, starting at Future Publishing, Gawker Media, and then BGR. He studied at McGill University in Quebec, Canada.