T-Mobile Tackles Customer-Service Woes by Adding a Human Touch

(Bloomberg) -- In a rare setback for automation and chatbots, T-Mobile US Inc. aims to revamp its customer care by assigning actual service reps to answer questions and solve problems.

The third-largest U.S. wireless carrier unveiled what it claims is a patented customer-service program on Wednesday called Team of Experts. Subscribers who call or message for assistance will be assigned a group of employees to fix the issue.

The hope is that a more personalized approach will reduce callbacks and placate customers after decades of frustrating interactions with automated voice menus and dead ends in call centers.

T-Mobile is under pressure to sharpen its customer service -- in part because it wants to rely less on promotions to attract subscribers. It’s also preparing to go head-to-head with Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. with its own online TV service later this year.

T-Mobile hopes the new program will give it an edge as it enters the video industry. It’s a low bar: Cable and satellite TV providers are among the nation’s worst rated companies in that category.

T-Mobile says it developed the system over two years and will license it to other businesses for free.

Other companies have made their own attempts to improve customer assistance, with mixed results. Verizon Communications Inc. briefly hired Flextronics, now called Flex Ltd., to handle technical support in stores. Best Buy Co. has the Geek Squad, a mobile tech assistance service. And Apple Inc. features genius bars in its stores.

T-Mobile has been the fastest-growing mobile phone service, due largely to popular offers like free Netflix service and unlimited data plans. But its growth has been slowing for the past three years. It faces a mature wireless market and has sought to gain some scale through a proposed $26.5 billion takeover of No. 4 carrier Sprint Corp.

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